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1 Samuel 28:1-31:12
Key Verse: 30:6

Thank God for helping us to learn about God’s training upon David. Through God’s continuous training David was shown as the one who revered God as God, not raising his hand against the LORD’s anointed on two independent, opportune occasion. Also, listening to Abigail, David did not avenge himself against Nabal, the Fool, who had paid him back evil for good. It was so that he might not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of avenging himself in his life and kingdom. All these events showed that David truly honoured and feared God as God. Without fear of God, one lives only in a self-centred world as a fool with no sense of history and with no eyes or insight to see what God is doing in and around him. May we receive God’s training with a right attitude so that we can be also shown as ones who truly honour God as God and live God-centred lives discerning God’s work and God’s purpose for us. Today’s passage shows the last contrast between Saul’s life and that of David. Saul’s life on the final night in this world is vividly described. It is a tragedy itself, with not contact with the Lord. Also, David’s life on an extremely hard day was described. It is from unbearable sorrowful to completely recovery in the Lord. The contrast is between a life without the Lord or with the Lord.

First, Saul’s final night (28). In 28:3, “Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.” Samuel’s departure and Saul’s expelling the mediums and spiritists was the background of the story in this chapter. Deuteronomy 18:9-11 says, “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you,…Let no one be found among you who…is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” So here what Saul did was according to God’s command. By divine law, mediums and spiritists were banned from Israel (Dt 18:11), and Israel was not to be defiled by them (Lev 19:31). Turning to them was tantamount to playing the harlot and would result in God setting His face against the offender and cutting him off from among his people (Lev 20:6). Any medium or spiritist, man or woman, was to be stoned to death (Lev 20:27).

Then the Philistines gathered to attacked the Israelites. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. Then with his terror-filled heart, he inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. This would be a most discouraging and frustrating thing in the life of a believer. In this situation, against the clear law of God that he himself had carried out, Saul had his men find a medium that he might inquire of her. According his request the woman brought up Samuel, who appeared as an old man wearing a robe. We don’t know how such a thing could be possible. Yet, we should try to get the message the author conveys. We need to pay attention to the conversation between Samuel and Saul, which shows Saul’s miserable state very vividly. Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul had disturbed Samuel enough while Samuel was living. Now even when Samuel was supposed to be in eternal rest, Saul was disturbing him. “I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.” When God turned away from Saul and no longer answered, Saul had no one to turn to among the living. So it happened that he consulted the dead, Samuel, his past shepherd, whom he had probably missed, especially in such a desperate situation. Then what did Samuel say to him? Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbours—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.” Perhaps when Saul consulted Samuel, he may have expected to hear some words of comfort or encouragement. But Samuel’s words were consistent to Saul as a truthful message from the LORD whether when he was living or dead. In Samuel’s short message, “LORD” is mentioned 7 times: “the LORD has turned away…”, “the LORD has done what he predicted”, “the LORD has torn the kingdom…” “Because you did not obey the LORD…”, “the LORD has done this…”, “the LORD will hand over,” and again “the LORD will hand over…” What the LORD has done cannot be undone. What the LORD has spoken cannot be changed. What the LORD has spoken is to be believed and obeyed in one’s life. Saul’s life was the consequence of rejecting the word of the LORD. Often times we want to hear some comforting or better-sounding words from people, rejecting the truthful consistent words of God. But closing our ears to the truth of God’s word is the downfall to the miserable life.

On hearing Samuel’s words, Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and night. Then by the food the woman provided, Saul mustered up his strength and that night he and his men left.

This was the final night of Saul’s life in this world, for he would die in the battle in the next day just as Samuel had said. It is too pitiful and deplorable to imagine. Yet, this is the vivid picture of those who remain broken relationship with God. Here we learn through the life of Saul that what we should dread most is broken relationship with God. Broken relationship with people is still okay as long as I have a right relationship with God. There can be temporary broken relationships among loved ones. But it is the most serious matter to remain broken relationship with God, having God turn away from me and so becoming my enemy, unresponsive to my prayer. The broken relationship must not go to the end of one’s life. It should be restored at any cost. This miserable termination of Saul’s life is written almost at the ending part of 1 Samuel, chapter 28 and he died in chapter 31. So 1 Samuel ends in sorrow. But 2 Samuel ends with the restoration of David after his sinning against God in his pride and his repentance. 24:25 says, “David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land.” What a beautiful ending of 2 Samuel contrasted to the ending of 1 Samuel!

There are many believers who remain broken relationship with God as they live according to their feelings and desires and situations rejecting the word of God. They cannot truly pray. They just stay in superficial human relationship. As time goes by, their broken state becomes harder and harder. But Isaiah 66:2 says, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” May God help us to be such people!

Second, David’s strength in the LORD (29-30). According to 27:7, David lived in Philistine territory a year and four months. Now in the battle between the Philistines and Israel David and his men were among the Philistines and were marching at the rear with Achish king of Gath. How could David fight with the LORD’s anointed and his own people of the Israelites? This was really an awkward situation. David could not avoid or get out of the dilemma by himself. Achish trusted in David fully, but the other Philistine commanders could not. They sensed David would suddenly turn against them in battle. Achish listened to other Philistine rulers. David and his men had to retreat before the fight. In this way God made a way out for David in his dilemma.

On the third day after leaving Achish, David and his men reached Ziklag where they had been staying, only to find the town destroyed by fire and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive by the Amalekites. What a shock! At this sight what could they do? Verse 4 says, “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.” David was not an exception in this terrible loss and weeping, for his own two wives had been also captured—Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David and six hundred men wept together until they had no more strength to weep. This one expression shows how much they were distressed. Could the situation become worse? Yes, to David. Verse 6a says, “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.” They were the people who had once been in distress or in debt or discontented. But David took care of them until they became fighting men having their own families with their wives and sons and daughters. When David fled from Saul here and there and were even close to death, they were loyal to David and comforters and strength to him. However, they could not be faithful to David in this particular situation. Now they were talking of stoning David in bitterness because of their unspeakable loss and sorrow. David became totally alone with no wife and no comrade, even in danger of being stoned. At this situation Jonathan was not available, who had helped him find strength in God while David was at Horesh in the Desert of Zin in the pursuit of Saul (23:16). This could be the most difficult situation David had ever been put in until that time.

What could he do in that situation? Did he try to find strength by sleeping a lot and eating gourmet food? Did he try to consult the dead by bringing up Samuel as Saul had done? No. In such a situation many turn away from God and abandon him, and become faithless and wicked. Each becomes a victim of the situation. But what did David do? Verse 6b says, “But David found strength in the LORD his God.” This is a very short description, but very meaningful. The process through which he found strength in God is not written. But we can imagine that it included many things, such as probably repenting of his sin of not inquiring of the LORD in escaping to the Philistine territory, although God had said through the prophet Gad, “Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah” (22:5), praying to God for hours and hours and crying out to him, meditating on and recounting the words of God, and contemplating on God, his love and faithfulness, and so on. He had a spiritual fight until he found strength in the LORD his God. The words, “The LORD his God” is notable. We can say that the purpose of God’s training for him was to have the LORD as his God and find strength in him in such a situation. According to the flow of 1 Samuel, this was the last training from God before he was anointed publicly king over Judah in Hebron (2 Sam 2:4). Surely, “Strengthened himself in the LORD his God” was the fruit of God’s training for him and the key to be a man after God’s own heart (cf. 1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). We see in Psalm David calling the LORD his God, in 25:1, “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust”, in 38:15, “Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God”, and in 109:26, “Help me, Lord my God; save me according to your unfailing love.” He confessed in Psalm 18:1, “I love you, O LORD, my strength.” The LORD himself was his strength.

In Genesis we read that God placed Jacob in a situation, in which he had to be separated from his wives and children and all that he had acquired and was left all alone. When Jacob was seized by fear in the thought of encountering his brother Esau, all such possessions only became burdensome to him. That night he wrestled with God and was changed from Jacob, a deceiver, into a new person Israel (32:22-28). As we studied in 2 Timothy, Apostle Paul said in 1:15, “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me.” And then he said in 4:16-18, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me…But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength…And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What a faith and confession! Even to Apostle Paul it was not easy to reach the heavenly kingdom. We needed strength from the LORD at each time of trial in his life journey. May we learn the spiritual fight until we also can found strength in the LORD my God, especially when we feel that we are left all alone. May we not become victims of butter situations, but find strength in the Lord our God and break through any situation.

After finding strength in the LORD his God, David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” Then David and the six hundred men began the pursuit. But a certain spot, two hundred men were too exhausted to further the pursuing. David and four hundred men continued. Afterward in a field they found an Egyptian slave who was abandoned by his master when he became ill. By helping this one sick salve to be revived, David and his six hundred men could be led to the very place where the raiding party were scattered over the countryside, eating, drinking and reveling. David fought them from dusk unto the evening of the next day. He recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. Nothing was missing. David brought everything back. In God there is full recovery. His men said, “This is David’s plunder.”

There were evil men and troublemakers among the four hundred who did not want to share the plunder. David corrected them, letting them know that the plunder was the LORD’s plunder to be shared with all alike. He sent some of the plunder to the elders of Judah who were his friends, and also sent the plunder to those in all the places where David and his men had roamed.

In this part we see David’s beautiful life in a day that could otherwise have been an extremely bitter day: finding strength in the LORD his God, inquiring of the LORD, helping a sick slave, fighting until he could recover everything and sharing the plunder with all the related people. This is the end of the 1 Samuel account of David’s life.

Third, the death of Saul (31). However, in the last chapter of 1 Samuel, chapter 31, Saul was critically wounded in the battle with the Philistines. He took his own sword and fell on it. This was a tragic death of suicidal. When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.

The Philistines cut off Saul’s head and stripped his armor. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan. When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard of what the Philistines had done to Saul, all their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days. The people of Jabesh Gilead were the ones whom Saul rescued from the Ammonites (11:9-12) just after he had been chosen as king of Israel. They remembered the grace they had received from Saul and showed kindness and respect to Saul.

When we think of Saul, he was surrounded with excellent people, his son Jonathan, his loyal armor-bearer and the people of Jabesh. Because of his pride and disobedience to God he remained in broken relationship with God and finally was led to such a tragic end.

May God help us to consider our relationship with God most important and dread the broken relationship with God and restore it at any cost. May we learn to find strength in the LORD our God not trying to find human solutions and human comfort, especially when we become very bitter over certain things and people or when we feel totally helpless and even abandoned.

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