The downfall of Saul has been tragic to observe. He started off well, defeating the Ammonites and forming an army to fight the Philistines (1 Sam. 11; 13:1–4). Yet not long after, Saul made an unlawful sacrifice and did not kill the Amalekites as he was commanded, prompting the Lord to reject his sons as heirs of Israel’s throne and then to reject Saul himself from being king (13:8–23; 15). And then he fell into madness and murder, desperately trying to get rid of David and killing anyone who got in his way (chs. 18–26).
In today’s passage, we see that Saul descended even further toward the end of his life, prompting his final rejection by the Lord. The Philistines were on the march again, moving Saul to gather his army and come to Gilboa. This describes events happening in the northern part of the promised land, and the text includes the interesting note that Saul “had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land” (28:3–4). Given that Scripture strictly forbids engaging in witchcraft and the dark arts (Deut. 18:9–14), Saul had done well in expelling the practitioners of magic from the land. However, when Saul found himself unable to contact the Lord when he went up against the Philistines in the north, he got desperate and resolved to consult the dead in order to get some kind of assistance in his fight (1 Sam. 28:5–7).
So, Saul went at night to En-dor to consult with a medium, who was able to call up Samuel from the dead (vv. 8–14). Samuel’s appearance raises several questions. How was the medium able to do this? Was she normally able to make contact with the dead? Does Samuel’s appearance imply that her actions were right? First, we must note that Samuel’s appearance does not mean God approved of Saul’s consulting the medium. After all, Scripture condemns such actions. It seems that the Lord allowed Samuel to speak to Saul in order to confirm His judgment of the king. Samuel gave a word of condemnation, speaking God’s final rejection of Saul and promising his imminent demise (vv. 15–19). Moreover, the medium’s success says nothing positive about practicing necromancy. Scripture condemns such magical practices not because they are wholly ineffective but because they are contrary to the will of God.
This episode represents Saul at his very worst. He would end his life not only as a murderer but as a practitioner of dark magic. He ate a last meal given by the medium at En-dor and then went on his way (vv. 20–25).