1 Samuel 28:1-19.
The Power of God's Grace

Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV

How far can one wander away from the LORD and still realize the gift of salvation?  Many people are taught that, though they sincerely accepted the Lordship of God sometime in their life, they have wandered away so far that they believe that only hell awaits them.  Some are taught that there are sins so great that one will lose their salvation through their commission.  Some teach that one will lose their salvation by committing any sin that is not repented, and consequently, they also teach that one cannot gain God’s gracious gift of salvation if they commit suicide. 

All these teachings base the loss of salvation on the commission of sin.  However, salvation is not obtained through the cessation of sin:  salvation is a gift of God, given to all who place their faith and trust in Him.  Note that the word, “sin” is not included in what God requires of us for salvation.  Those who have sincerely placed their faith and trust in God continue to sin, but their relationship to that sin changes as the Holy Spirit convicts the believer of their sinful behavior and provides the guidance and resources for repentance.  Obedience to the LORD is only found through repentance from sin.  However, once one has come to salvation, sin has lost the power to condemn them.[1]

There are certainly many consequences that are realized by a Christian who engages in sinful behavior.  Such behavior can compromise or even break relationships between themselves and others, as well as between themselves and God.  The consequences of sin will steal away the joy and peace that are part of the abundant life that Jesus promised.[2]  When sinful behavior has destructive consequences, such as those experienced with drug and alcohol abuse, the results can be devastating.  Sin also affects others when we hurt them through our own actions and words. 

The scriptures are filled with examples of faithful men and women who committed significant sins and suffered their consequences, yet they found forgiveness because of their faith in God.  Probably one of the most vivid examples of this is found in the life of Saul, the first king of Israel. 


Prior to Saul’s anointing as king, and shortly thereafter, Saul had several occasions when it is recorded that God “changed” his heart.  He prophesied with the elders, and indicated his submission to the LORD.[3]

The record of Saul’s salvation by faith is weak at best, and the historical record bears testimony to the weakness of his faith.  Once established as the king of Israel, Saul began to obsess with his defense of that status.  When David, the son of Jesse was brought to the king to play music for him, and then made a name for himself by the courage and faith he demonstrated in the killing of the Philistine soldier, Goliath, Saul’s jealousy and paranoia began to overwhelm him.  Though he had promoted David to a position of leadership in his army, and given the hand of one of his daughters in marriage, Saul soon became extremely jealous of David’s godly character, his courage, his military success, and his favor by the people.  Then he came to the realization that David, not his son Jonathan, would become the next king of Israel, he actively sought to kill David.  This realization, combined with Jonathan’s acceptance and approval of David’s succession, pushed Saul over the edge.  Saul made it his life’s mission to kill David.

Saul probably stooped to the lowest and most sinful state in his life when he accused the priests of Israel of assisting David when he was hiding in exile, ignored the truthfulness of their testimony of David’s innocence, and had them killed, along with their families.  After this, David realized that nobody in Israel would be safe with him in their community, so he fled to the Philistine lord, Achish, and pledged his loyalty to him if he would be provided safety from Saul.  David showed himself to be a man of integrity to Achish who gave Ziklag, a Philistine, village to David and his men to house them in their exile.

1 Samuel 28:1-2.  And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle, thou and thy men. 2And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do. And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever.

David’s integrity and his loyalty to Achish brought with it a significant dilemma:  he could potentially find himself, with his men, fighting against Israel and Saul, its king.  This paradoxical situation is one of the consequences of Saul’s sin.

Our sin can have dramatic consequences for those who are close to us.  Saul’s sin had an impact on virtually everyone he had contact with.


1 Samuel 28:3.  Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.

Sin always produces separation.  Saul’s sin formed an impenetrable wall that stood as a barrier between himself and his relationship with God.  Saul was so overwhelmed by his sinfulness that he could neither hear or see God, the One who had appointed him to the throne of Israel.  At this point in Saul’s life, he had gave no consideration to any personal need for God, instead depending upon Samuel to serve as his intermediary with God.  He would call upon Samuel to pray to the LORD for the nation, and to report to him any prophecies that would be to his benefit.  Though he sought to have Samuel invoke the grace of the LORD when Saul needed Him, he systematically rejected Samuel’s teaching, his advice, and any prophecy that he did not want to listen to. 

It is not God’s purpose that we would employ others to serve Him on our behalf.  One can easily observe how Saul’s life lacked a relationship with God when he made use of a substitute.  God desires a personal, faith-based relationship with His creation, much like the relationship that a father has with his beloved children.  This is why we refer to God as, “Father,” and are called the “sons of God.”[4]

When Samuel died, Saul lost his “sky pilot.”  Lacking a relationship with God, even the death of Samuel did not inspire him to seek the LORD himself.  We cannot depend upon someone else to “fill in” for us when it comes to the spiritual matters of our lives.  We cannot find salvation through someone else’s faith.  We will not receive the reward for someone else’s work.  With Samuel available to take care of the “spiritual” things concerning Israel, Saul gave them little thought.  Likewise when we expect our pastors and ministers to be a substitute for God’s call upon us we make the similar error.  We often think it is the pastor’s or minister’s “job” to share the love of Christ with the world; after all that is what we are paying him for, right?  Actually it is the calling of the pastor or minister to nurture those who are in his care, helping them to grow closer to the LORD, to learn and apply more of God’s Word in their lives, so that they can fulfill God’s purpose for them: to share His love in this lost world.  The pastor or minister shares the gospel in the community through those in his care.  His task is primarily focused upon the fellowship under his care, not on the community at large.  We expect much from our “church leaders,” requiring of them that which we choose not to do ourselves.  This was one of Saul’s errors, and a common error made by faithful Christians today.

One of the few honorable and appropriate things that Saul had done during his tenure as king was to remove the practitioners of witchcraft from Israel.  This is mentioned at this point in the narrative simply because, with the death of Samuel, Saul believed that he had nowhere to turn to restore his access to God, access that he desperately felt that he needed because of the impending conflict with the Philistines.  In this time of personal and national need, Saul needed Samuel.  His first effort was to try to “conjure up” the spirit of the LORD himself.

1 Samuel 28:4-6.  The Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. 5And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. 6And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.

Have you ever faced a crisis and sought the LORD only to hear silence?  When we surround ourselves with walls of sin that separate us from God, they can serve to overwhelm our ability to hear the LORD.  It is not so much that the LORD would separate Himself from us:  God has the attribute of omnipresence, and is always present everywhere.  The issue is that we cannot hear Him when we are in rebellion against him and choose to listen to every influence around ourselves except for Him.  Saul had no real experience with any form of personal relationship with the LORD.  The narrative that describes his introduction to the throne of Israel indicates that there was a weak faith, a “mustard seed” faith in the heart of Saul.[5]  However, it was never developed enough for him to seek the LORD himself.  Now that he needed the LORD he could not recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit through any means that he would try.  The scripture notes that he sought the LORD using methods that were common in Canaanite culture and adopted by the Israelites:  dreams, drawing of lots,[6] and prophets.  Note that none of the three methodologies employed by Saul to invoke a word from the LORD involved him seeking the LORD himself.  This simply was not part of Saul’s world view.


1 Samuel 28:7.  Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her.  And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. 

Unable to find anyone who can inquire of the LORD for him, Saul turned to an unlikely source for help:  witchcraft.  One does not need to search far in the biblical scriptures to find that the practice of witchcraft is described as one of the most heinous of sins because it draws one away from the LORD and opens one up to the influences of satan.[7]  Saul’s behavior certainly illustrates his inability to seek the LORD himself when he would break all manner of Mosaic Law and Israelite traditions and teachings to seek out a medium who could “conjure up” the spirit of Samuel for him.[8]

1 Samuel 28:8.  And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.

When we commit sin, we are quite aware that it is sin.  Even Saul knew that he was deliberately committing a grievous sin, demonstrated by his disguise and by coming to the woman of Endor in the night. 

Saul’s seeking out of a medium also reveals his lack of understanding concerning the nature of God.  The idea of a “familiar spirit” implies that it is under the authority of the one who calls it.  Certainly there have been many occasions when this methodology of “communicating with the dead” have been employed by necromancers, as the practice is older than recorded history itself.  However, the process is forbidden by the LORD and practiced only under the false authority of satan, the lord of death, and only spirits under his control are subject to him.  Consequently, it is not possible for a necromancer to call up the spirit of Samuel.  Only the LORD has the power to bring the righteous dead back to visit among the living if He should choose to do so.[9] Anyone who practices such dark arts is quite aware of their inability to actually call forward the spirit of the dead.  As a “medium” the necromancer would pretend to call up the spirit of the one who is requested by their client, and then pretend to speak for them, convincing the client that they are really representing the dead when they are simply using their skills of observation to provide their client what their client wants to hear.

1 Samuel 28:9-10.  And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die? 10And Saul sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing.

The “witch of Endor” was quite aware that her career as a necromancer had been cut short by a decree from the king of Israel that all who practice the dark arts had to leave Israel or face execution.  This woman chose to surrender her practice so that she could remain in Israel.  However, her reputation remained and now she faced a dilemma because of this stranger who came to her by night.  Showing more wisdom than this stranger, the woman immediately protested against this request that she return to her avocation.  Saul again demonstrates his own disobedience to the LORD by promising that she would not be prosecuted for returning to her sorcery, and actually had the audacity to call upon the name of the LORD to establish an oath, appropriating the authority of the LORD as if it is his own, a practice that is also sinful.[10]

1 Samuel 28:11.  Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.  12And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.

Some have argued that the spirit of Samuel was called up by this “witch of Endor,” using this occasion as a defense of the practice of necromancy.  However, the woman never made any effort to actually call up the “spirit” of Samuel, knowing full-well that she did not have any such power to do so.  Even the biblical narrative does not refer to her making any effort here to engage in the practice of necromancy.  When Saul mentioned the name of Samuel, Samuel appeared to the woman and the woman was obviously quite shocked, aware that something was going on here that she had never experienced and was entirely out of her control.

Samuel was known in all Israel as the entire nation had just grieved at his death.  When one thought of Samuel, they also thought of Saul, as the two were considered the administrators of the land, Saul the political, and Samuel the spiritual.  Consequently, when Samuel appeared, she immediately understood that this was Saul.  It was rather obvious to Saul that this woman is quite shaken and afraid.

1 Samuel 28:13-14.  And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. 14And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.

At this point the vision had not been given to Saul, but rather to the woman only.  Also, the vision was given to the woman in a way that would make sense to her.  She did not refer to the presence of someone coming out of Gehenna, but rather out of Sheol, the earth.  The ancient Israelites held that this latter resting place of the righteous was physically located somewhere down in the earth, so it was fitting that the woman would perceive a righteous person, here rendered as a “god” rising from sheol.

In response to Saul’s question concerning the appearance of the one who she saw, her description was that of a prophet.  The sincerity of her fear and shock led Saul to believe that her vision was true, and her description of the “spirit” that he believed that she had invoked could be none other than Samuel.  At this point Saul realized the import of what he had just done and literally dropped, prostrate, on the floor in humility. 

1 Samuel 28:15a.  And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?

The vision was now given to Saul.  There has been much debate concerning the “ghost” of Samuel, but the context and content of this passage clearly illustrates the LORD working with Saul through this experience.  Where the woman saw a vision, Saul heard the voice of Samuel.  The phrase “bring me up” is consistent with ancient Israelite tradition, and may lead one to understand that this, indeed, is a form of a vision.

1 Samuel 28:15b.  And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.

The level of Saul’s depravity is continually illustrated by his behavior.  He is experiencing something truly amazing, and he is still untruthful.  In answering the simple question posed to him he defended his behavior referring to the stress he is experiencing because of his inability to defend Israel against the coming army of the Philistines, and that he feels like God has abandoned him.  However, note that in his statement he notes that he sought God by through dreams and prophets, but neglected to state to Samuel that he also tried the Urim.  The Urim and Thummin were kept in the Ephod of the Priest’s robe, because it is the priest who would traditionally use them.  Saul had already alienated himself from the LORD by taking on the role of a priest in the burning of a sacrifice when he was too impatient to wait upon Samuel.  Note that he had neglected to tell Samuel that he had again taken upon himself the role of a priest.

1 Samuel 16-18.  Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?

How far had Saul fallen since he was called to serve as the king of Israel?  He took the position alongside the priests, prophesying and sharing the things of the LORD.  Yet, in a few short years his behavior had devolved to the point of becoming an “enemy” of God.  His life had become a continual succession of selfish and arrogant sinful acts that culminated in the murder of the priests of Israel.  He had moved so far away from God that he submitted himself to witchcraft.

Many of us may feel that we have done some things in our lives that are simply unforgiveable.  We would likely argue that Saul’s sins are unforgiveable.  However, none of us has betrayed the LORD when called upon to lead His people.  None of us as murdered the LORD’s priests.  None of us has come even close to the apostasy that is demonstrated in the life of king Saul, the first king of Israel.  Given our traditional understanding of salvation, we might hold that Saul is no more than an unsaved pagan and deserves to be separated from the LORD for eternity.  We might even identify with him when we look at the sin in our own lives and come to the conclusion that we will suffer the same “fate” as Saul will.

1 Samuel 28:17-18.  And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David: 18Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day.

We will always experience the consequences of our sin at some point in our lives.  It was now that point in Saul’s life where his sin had led him to a point of no return.  The LORD had always promised His hand of protection upon those who were faithful and obedient to Him.  He had also promised that His protection would be removed if the people turned away from Him.  Several times the nation of Israel suffered the consequence of their apostasy through this process, and what Israel is experiencing now is just one more cycle of repentance followed by apostasy that is recorded in the Old Testament book of Judges, historically immediately prior to the reign of Saul.  The nation would again be overrun by an enemy, this time the Philistines, and the nation would be brought to its knees so that it would turn back to Him in repentance, which it would do under the leadership of David, and made possible in a large part because of his current relationship with the lord of the Philistines.


It is Samuel’s next statement that is key to understanding the grace of God.

1 Samuel 28:19.  Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.

Samuel listed three prophecies. The first and third are similar: because the LORD’s hand of protection has been removed from Israel, both Saul and his armies will be destroyed by the Philistines.  The third is similar to the first, stating that all of the remainder of Israel will also be taken over by the Philistines.  All Israel will be overrun by the Philistines.

The second prophecy is the one that stands out when we consider the nature of Saul’s life.  Saul stated that “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.”  This statement cannot be taken lightly.  Samuel first is telling Saul that he and his sons are going to die tomorrow.  This alone would be an overwhelming prophecy for Saul.  He is now quite aware that his reign will end tomorrow, leaving Israel in the hands of the Philistines and David in line to recover the nation as its next king.

However, Samuel also states that they “will be with me.”  The ancient Israelites clearly understood the nature and surety of the final judgment that would separate the wicked from the righteous for eternity, with the righteous finding an eternal home with the LORD, and the wicked finding eternal separation from the LORD.  When we look at the life of Saul, we would assume that he would be separated from God from eternity because of his wickedness.  There are few, if any, Old Testament historical figures who were as wicked as Saul.  How could Samuel tell Saul that he would be in Sheol on the morrow and not in Gehenna?  This is exactly the same as stating that Saul will be with the LORD tomorrow in heaven rather than in hell, separated from God for eternity.

What we are witnessing here is an example of the nature of the grace of God.  The promise that God has made to all mankind is the same promise he made to Adam, Noah, Moses, Israel, the patriarchs, and finally through His Son, Jesus Christ:  Salvation is found by faith alone.  God’s promise, the good news of the gospel is simple enough for a child to understand:  if we will place our faith and trust in God, He will give us the gift of eternal salvation.  God did not say, “If you stop sinning I will save you.”  Salvation is a permanent gift given by God because of His love for His creation and His work of grace for all who place their trust in Him.

With this understanding, we may look at the life of Saul in a new light.  Saul found salvation through faith in God when he was first given the opportunity to do so.  However, he wandered far away from God, driven by circumstances that overwhelmed him.  We often think that the enemy of God is wicked people, and this is never true.  The enemy of God is satan who overwhelms people with his spirit of evil.  It was Saul’s choices when faced with conflict in his life that drove him away from the LORD, and during the period of his reign he seemingly wandered as far away from God as any person could do, even to the point of murdering the priests, and submitting to witchcraft only one day before he died.   As we continue to read the biblical narrative we find that Saul did not repent before he committed suicide by falling on his own sword.

When we look at the life of Saul, the king of Israel, we are reminded of the truth of the gospel:  salvation is by faith alone, not by the cessation of sin.   Consequently, sin no longer separates one from the promise of God.  This is the gospel, the good news that we celebrate.  This is the good news that inspires us to worship the LORD as He is worthy to be worshiped.  This is the good news that inspires us to live a life of obedience as we share God’s love with others so that all of us, with all of our flaws can be certain of the voracity of our salvation. 

Also this helps us to have compassion for those who are going through extremely tough experiences and have wandered away from God.  Just as the LORD stays by their side through their experience and brings them home to Himself, we can also continue to love those who have wandered away from God and seek their reconciliation rather than promote their demise. 

There is nothing that will separate the saved from realizing the promise of their faith:  eternity with God.


[1] Romans 8:1.

[2] John 10:10.

[3] 1 Samuel, Chapters 9-10.

[4] 1 John 3:1

[5] Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6.

[6] The Urim and Thummin were two objects that were used by Canaanite and Israelite priests to divine the answers to binary (yes/no, true/false) questions.  They were two similar but different colored objects that were placed in a bag.  When a question was to be answered, the priest would select one of the two from the bag to divine one of two answers.  For example, to determine someone’s guilt in a crime they would draw from the bag: if the Urim were drawn, the defendant was guilty.  If the Thummin were drawn, the defendant was innocent.  It is curious that, given this tradition, that only the Urim is noted here.  This tradition was perpetuated by sewing two tassels into the priest’s garment behind the ephod, the breastplate that contained twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel.  Like the drawing from a basket, the priest could draw these from his Ephod to “divine” the answers to questions. 

[7] Leviticus 19:26, 20:26-27; Deuteronomy 18:10-13; 1 Samuel 15:23; Isaiah 47:12-14; Micah 3:7, 5:11-12; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 18:23, 21:8,27;

[8] Sorcerers or necromancers, who professed to call up the dead to answer questions, were said to have a “familiar spirit” (Deut. 18:11; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chr. 33:6; Lev. 19:31; 20:6; Isa. 8:19; 29:4). Such a person was called by the Hebrews an 'ob, which properly means a leather bottle; for sorcerers were regarded as vessels containing the inspiring demon. This Hebrew word was equivalent to the pytho of the Greeks, and was used to denote both the person and the spirit which possessed him (Lev. 20:27; 1 Sam. 28:8; compare Acts 16:16). The word “familiar” is from the Latin familiaris, meaning a “household servant,” and was intended to express the idea that sorcerers had spirits as their servants, ready to obey their commands.  Matthew G. Easton.

[9] We will find an example of this in the transfiguration of Jesus Christ when Moses and Elijah met with Jesus and witnessed by Peter, James, and John.  Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2-3; Luke 9:28-36.

[10] James 5:12.