Living on Dead-End Street
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Living on Dead-End Street

1 Samuel 28:3–25  (ID: 3442)

As the Philistines gathered their forces, King Saul was alone and desperate. Afraid for his life, he inquired of the Lord—but after years of ignoring God’s word, Saul received no answer. He then disguised himself and consulted a medium, only for an apparition of Samuel to tell him of his impending death. As Alistair Begg explains, Saul’s hopeless situation reflects our natural condition apart from Christ. If we hear God’s voice today, we must not harden our hearts.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 4

Whose Reign Is This? 1 Samuel 21:1–31:13 Series ID: 109014

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn to 1 Samuel and to chapter 28, and we’ll read from the first verse. First Samuel and 28:

“In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, ‘Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.’ David said to Achish, ‘Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.’ And Achish said to David, ‘Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.’

“Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.’ And his servants said to him, ‘Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.’

“So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night[,] and … said, ‘Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.’ The woman said to him, ‘Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?’ But Saul swore to her by the Lord, ‘As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.’ Then the woman said, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’ He said, ‘Bring up Samuel for me.’ When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, ‘Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.’ The king said to her, ‘Do not be afraid. What do you see?’ And the woman said to Saul, ‘I see a god coming up out of the earth.’ He said to her, ‘What is his appearance?’ And she said, ‘An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.’ And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

“Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’ Saul answered, ‘I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.’ And Samuel said, ‘Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.’

“Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, ‘Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and [I] have listened to what you have said to me. Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.’ He refused and said, ‘I will not eat.’ But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed. Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.”


Father, with our Bibles open before us, we humbly pray for the enabling of the Holy Spirit to speak, to listen, to understand, to believe, to live in the light of your truth. Help us to this end, we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, as we come now to the twenty-eighth chapter, I hope you will recall that we said last time that the writer, with a masterful approach to the unfolding of a story, presses the pause button just at the point where we’re hoping for resolution, just at the point where David seems to be trapped by his own cunning, because it has been determined by Achish that David and his men should march out on the side of the Philistines. And David, of course, has given in verse 2 that enigmatic reply, “Well, you shall know what your servant can do,” and all the time presumably saying to himself, “I wonder what I am going to do.” And as that is put on pause, we then return to the fact that Saul has an even greater dilemma, as we’re about to see, than the one that confronts David.

And in switching the focus from David to Saul, we’re about to discover that Saul is, we might say, living on Dead-End Street. There is—if you were to have borrowed David’s words from earlier in the story—he recognizes that there is but a step between himself and death. And the way in which the writer provides the context for us makes a number of things clear.

Saul Was Desperate

First of all, that his position was absolutely desperate. Absolutely desperate. There is a verse in the fourth chapter of Ecclesiastes which, in the NIV—not in the ESV but in the NIV—begins simply, “There was a man all alone.”[1] And as I came to this section in 28, that particular verse and phrase stood out to me. “There was a man all alone.” For certainly that’s the situation with Saul. He is absolutely overwhelmed by the sight that he sees of the Philistine forces being assembled against him. He is by this point a mere shadow of the young man to whom we were introduced when he was to be anointed as king.; Let me remind you, back in chapter 9, we’re told, “There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders [up] he was taller than any of the people.”[2]

But look at him now as we discover him here in this chapter. He is barely recognizable. He may only have shrunk a wee bit physically—I guess you lose so much in time—but he would still be a tall man. His physical stature may have been maintained, the structure of his bones and so on. But spiritually, what we are introduced to here is a man who is fading away. We’re introduced, actually, to a man who is dying from the inside out.

Saul sought guidance from the Lord faintly, too little, and too late. He didn’t realize what we all need to realize: that the Scriptures say, ‘Seek the Lord while he may be found.’

The circumstances as they’re described there in 3 and following are dangerous, they’re grave, and they give an explanation for his sense of hopelessness. Look at verse 5: “When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.” So, there are actually, when we think about his desperate circumstances, three factors that contribute to that.

The first, of course, is what I just mentioned—namely, the presence of the Philistines. This is, of course, nothing new. Back in chapter 14 we were reminded of the fact that “there was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul.”[3] But there are two aspects to this circumstance that add to his sense of desperation. One is the position in which the Philistines now find themselves. In some of the previous engagements, they have been in hilly territory. But now—and we needn’t delay on the geography of it—they’ve come, as it were, down onto the plain. They’ve put themselves in a position where the power of their force and of their chariots would be able to be put to the best use. So the position is one aspect, and then the personnel is the other, and particularly the addition of David and his six hundred men. David, we were told, has, already in chapter 27, arisen and gone over, and as a result of that, “when it was told [to] Saul … he no longer sought him.”[4]

So first of all, then, the presence of the Philistines. Secondly, the absence of Samuel. The absence of Samuel. This third verse is simply a repetition of the obituary that was provided for us—a very brief obituary—back in the first verse of chapter 25. Samuel had died. All Israel had mourned. They had buried him in his own city.

Now, quite fascinatingly, although Saul and Samuel had not been on speaking terms for quite a while, now that he is dead, Saul wishes that he could talk with him. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”[5] Well, that was true in this case. And this little sentence here that you find following on at the end of verse 3, “And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land,” you find yourself saying, “Well, I wonder why we have the mention of his clearing policy, as it were”—clearing out the witches and the divination that had crept in upon them. Well, we’re going to find out.

He’s desperate because of the presence of the Philistines, because of the absence of Samuel, and because, you will notice thirdly, the silence of God. The silence of God. “Saul inquired of the Lord,” but “the Lord,” verse 6, “did not answer him.”

Now, Saul would be able to recall the beginning of the journey, when, in the presence of Samuel, at the very outset of it all, Samuel had said to him back in chapter 9, “Stop here … for a while, [Saul,] that I may make known to you the word of [the Lord].”[6] Well, those days were long in the past now, when his heart was tender, when the word of the Lord was coming, when his engagement with Samuel was meaningful. But now he’s just a shrunken character. He now is living on Dead-End Street. He would have been able to identify with Cowper’s hymn, “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?” and the famous verse,

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.[7]

No, the Lord was not speaking, and he tells how this is categorical, that there is nothing outwith the realm of this silence: “The Lord did not answer him, either by dreams,” which was one of the ways of communication, “or by Urim,” which, you remember, was a process that was used by the priests in determining the will of God. Well, of course, how was he gonna get access to that? He had butchered the priests at Nob. And at the same time, he is trembling with fear on account of the fact that the prophet himself is dead.

So, the writer gives this to us in order that we might get this picture, that we might realize that Samuel is dead, the voice of God is silent, the Philistines are on the horizon, the end is in sight, he’s had the stuffing knocked out of him, and the question is, what is he going to do at this point? He’s come to another crossroads, and he has made his inquiry.

Interestingly, in the Chronicler—in 1 Chronicles 10:13–14—the Chronicler writes, “So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance.” And then it says, “He did not seek guidance from the Lord.” And here it says he sought guidance from the Lord.

Well, I don’t think there’s any contradiction. He sought guidance from the Lord, but it didn’t look like it at all. He sought it faintly. He sought it, if you like, with a backup plan. He sought it too little and he sought it too late. He didn’t realize what we all need to realize: that the Scriptures say, “Seek the Lord while he may be found.”[8] He didn’t. He was desperate. ;

Saul Was Disguised

Now, in verses 7–14 we find him disguised. Disguised. Saul said to his servants, said, “Here’s the crossroads, and here’s the answer to our question.” He’s struck by the silence of God, and so what he essentially says to his servants is, “Listen, if I can’t get an answer from heaven, let’s try hell. Find a woman,” he says, “find a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her. If I can’t hear from God, I’ll go hear from someone else. I’ll go to the dark side.”

And what he’s doing here is actually going against his own edict. Now we understand why the writer has given us that sentence there in verse 3: “And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land.” That was one of the high points of his rule as a king. He said, “We’re not going to tolerate all that heathen stuff in here. We’re going to get rid of them all.” And so he had forbidden it. And he had forbidden it because the law of God forbade it. And you can read about that yourself in Deuteronomy. God had forbidden the practice of divination by means of a medium or a necromancer.[9] And straightforwardly, the Lord did not allow them to do this. And now he says, “Well, we’re going to do it. Seek out for me a woman who’s a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.”

Now, notice how quickly the servants are able to respond: “And [the] servants said to him, ‘Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.’” Wow! That’s pretty fast! How did they know that? Presumably because the Canaanite practices were so embedded amongst the people. I mean, it would have been a far healthier situation if he had said, “Go find a woman,” they said, “Well, I’ll get back to you maybe in a month or two, because we haven’t had anything like that around here for the longest time.” But no, they said, they were able to reply immediately. Oh, I wish they could have said, “Nobody fits that description here, king!”

I remember talking with somebody years ago about the nature of revival and when revival had come to parts of Scotland or to Wales or to other places in the world. And the person made this strange observation, but significantly: they said, “You know, when revival comes, all the horoscope shops go.” How quickly you could find people that are listening to me now who would be able to tell you exactly where you can go in order to go to the dark side. And God forbid that some of those people are actually doing that.

So, given the fact that there is the possibility of information from that source, we’re told that “Saul disguised himself.” He disguised himself and he went. Now again, the geography of things is such that in order to go to En-dor, he would have to skirt the camp of the Philistines. And it wouldn’t be a smart move to go walking around in his kingly robes in the context of his enemy. But at the same time, his greater concern would surely be to make sure that nobody would ever know that he, the very one who had outlawed the practices, would be discovered seeking help at that same polluted spring.

So allow the text to descend upon your mind, and see him there, the king, the rejected king, sneaking off to meet the medium. “He’s a walking contradiction,” he’s “partly truth and mainly fiction.”[10] Look at him: no spear, no cloak, no hope. Actually, this is the final divesting of his kingly identity, isn’t it? The robe has been torn. He’s torn Samuel’s robe. His own robe is essentially in tatters; it’s been cut in the cave of Engedi. His spear was captured in the encounter in the earlier incident. And now look at him.

Well, you see, this is what happens. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”[11] Remember we said in our last study that he relied on his own insight. The Bible is clear: we’re supposed to use our insight, but we’re not supposed to lean on it. And he leaned on it: “If I can’t hear from God, I’ll go somewhere else.” It’s a bit like somebody, you know, with a terminal illness. And I don’t mean this in any wrong way, so please don’t take it wrongly. But sometimes, if we were to be diagnosed with a terminal illness, when all the approved medicine has failed, then it wouldn’t be surprising if we wanted to turn immediately to any possible solution. And that’s what’s happened to him here. There’s no dreams. There’s no Urim. There’s no word from God. Therefore, he’s going the only place he knows to go. His default is a bad default.

And so he and two of his buddies, “two men,” verse 8, “came to the woman by night.” Of course they did. Of course it was night. His request is very clear: “Divine for me by a spirit,” he said, “and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.”

Now, what a response on the part of the woman. How ironic is this? “The woman said to him, ‘Surely you know what Saul has done, [that] he has cut off [all] the mediums and the necromancers.’” She says, “You know, we’re not supposed to be doing this here. The king, he had an edict on this.” And then she says, “Are you sure this isn’t a setup? Are you laying a trap for my life?” Maybe she thinks he’s an agent of the king, and he’s doing a sort of follow-up to clean up the remaining renegades, as it were.

Saul says, “Don’t even worry about that. No. As the Lord lives”—he “swore to [it] by the Lord”—“as the Lord lives, no punishment shall come [to] you for this thing.” He has got no basis upon which to make a promise. He has no basis by which he can make that kind of pronouncement. It is incongruous at the slightest. The shameful incongruity of that reply: “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come [to] you for this”—in other words, including the Lord in his lies. The Midrash, in the Jewish writings, they capture this incongruity when they write, “Whom did Saul resemble at [this] moment? A woman who is with her lover and swears by the life of her husband.”[12] That is the level of the incongruity, that he requests for himself what he has prohibited for others.

Now, the woman might have thought to challenge his assurance in verse 10 but instead proceeds with the divination: “‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’ He said, ‘Bring up Samuel for me.’”

Now, just a word of caution. I’ll come back to this. The caution is this. You know when the garbage truck comes down your street, if it has to reverse, it makes that noise, beep-beep-beep-beep, ’cause you have to back up? Well, you imagine, as you get to this verse, you’re gonna do that: beep-beep-beep. Danger! Caution! Keep out! Why? Do not allow your curiosity to destroy the clarity of the main teaching of this passage. That’s the warning.

Now, we’ll come back to that, but we’re told what happened. And what happened was that Samuel appeared. And when Samuel appeared, in the language of the King James version, the woman was freaked out. Okay? “She cried out with a loud voice.”

Now, there’s so much in this that we’re not gonna touch, but I think—I actually think this had never happened to her in her entire life. Whether she was a charlatan or not, I don’t know, but this she could not believe. And she had reason not to believe it, and I’ll show you why I think so before we finish. But simultaneously, the woman realizes that she’s dealing with the king. She shouted in a loud voice, and she said to Saul, “You’ve deceived me. You’re Saul.” Now, we’re not told how she puts two and two together and gets that, but she accuses him of deception. And she’s absolutely right! He had deceived her. He is Saul.

And the king brushes that aside again, dismisses her concerns. He wants to know who it is she sees. “What do you see?” You see, who’s the righteous one in this? The medium! “We shouldn’t be doing this.” He should be saying, “We shouldn’t be doing this.” She said, “We shouldn’t be doing this.” It’s really—you know, when the world goes upside down, it really goes upside down. And the woman said to Saul, “You deceived me.” That’s true! You did deceive her. “Do[n’t] be afraid. What do you see?” She says, “[Well,] I see a god coming … out of the earth.”

Now, the word that is used here is actually the word elohim, which in its various forms—plural or singular and so on—is translated variously throughout the Old Testament. And basically, she speaks as a heathen. In other words, she realizes that what she’s encountering here is something that she cannot use sort of her routine language to convey. And so, not satisfied with that, you will notice Saul says to her, “Yeah, yeah, okay, okay, okay, but what is his appearance?” In other words, “Could you please be more specific?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” It sounds like a line from one of my grandchildren on a Saturday: “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew immediately it was Samuel.

Remember how we’ve said all along, right at the very beginning, that his mom made him a little robe and used to take it to him, and how this robe has featured in the story. And so it is that the appearance of Samuel scares the woman. But the extent to which she was fearful, I think, is minimal in comparison to the mention of the robe, which brings the big guy to his knees. “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” Oh, yeah, he knew the robe. He knew the robe, ’cause he tore the robe—15.[13] So the very mention of the robe would take him right back to that incident.

Listen, you can’t run and hide from that stuff. I don’t care how old you live. You can run, but you can’t hide. And he can disguise his clothes, but he can’t disguise his lying heart. “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day,” back in chapter 15, Samuel said to him, “and [he’s] given it to a neighbor … who is [greater] than you.”[14] And down here, for the first time, it finally comes out, and that neighbor is David himself. What a picture it is! “And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.”

Now, I don’t know whether Matthew Henry is onto something when he makes the comment that Saul, who refused to listen to the word of God, stooped to try and hear the “muttering voice.”[15] You say, “Well, where do you get the muttering voice from?” Well, that was one of the features of divination. Later on, the prophet Isaiah is going to remind the people that they need to stay away from all of this stuff. “And when they say to you,” says the Lord through Isaiah—this is 8 of Isaiah—“and when they say to you, ‘Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers,’” listen, “‘who chirp and mutter…’”[16] “Who chirp and mutter.” And Matthew Henry says he wouldn’t listen to the straight word of God, but he’s gonna bend his ear to listen to the chirping and the muttering. What a situation, huh?

Now, let me pause again before we just look at the final two sections. There is, as I’m pointing out to you, plenty in this passage to fascinate the curious. One commentator, in a masterful understatement, says, “This passage has caused many an exegete an uncomfortable moment or two.” Well, yeah, really? How about an uncomfortable week or two, or an hour or two? Yes. So what do we have to make sure we don’t do? Well, we have to resist the temptation to fill in the blanks. It’s not a retreat to say the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things. It is an honest acknowledgment ;of the fact that we are not given an explanation of how it was that Samuel appeared. And the reason we have no explanation is because we’re not supposed to have the explanation. What we know about necromancy and mediums and the occult is that it is absolutely verboten. It is completely forbidden. The Bible is clear about that. The Bible actually tells us nothing about how these things happened. And it is an absolute mistake to try and draw conclusions on those matters from this chapter.

A sovereign God, even in the midst of stupidity, darkness, and chaos, will still accomplish his purposes.

Now, I say that to you acknowledging the fact that many people do, and if you are of that kind of ilk, you will go to those people rather than be content with what I’m suggesting. You see, here’s the question: Did this woman have dark powers by which to bring Samuel back from the dead? Did she? The Bible doesn’t say so. Woodhouse, who is a salvation for me so many times, gave me a wonderful sentence when he pointed this out. He said this: “It seems far more likely to me that the Lord sent Samuel to Saul on this evening, just as on a very different occasion he sent Moses and Elijah to Jesus.”[17] In other words, a sovereign God, even in the midst of stupidity, darkness, and chaos, will still accomplish his purposes.

Saul Was Deserted

So, he is desperate, he’s disguised, and he is, in 15 and following, deserted. He’s deserted. Samuel’s now in the focus. Actually, Samuel is the main focus, in many ways, after Moses, all the way through these Old Testament sections. And “Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’” “I was having a very good sleep!” You see, this is true to his character. He’s an outspoken chap, Samuel, isn’t he? I mean, he’ll give it to you straight, I think. When he didn’t like something, he said it.

And Saul’s explanation in response is almost word-for-word with verse 6. Remember back in verse 6, we’re told that when Saul had inquired of the Lord, the Lord didn’t answer, either by dreams, by Urim, or by the prophets. Now, here, this is what he says: “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me”—that was the presence of the Philistines— “God has turned away from me”—that is the silence of God—“and [he] answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams.” What’s the missing one? The Urim. Why is there no Urim? ’Cause there ain’t no priests. Why are there no priests? Because Saul had them all slaughtered! So I imagine that he just said, “Pass over that one. I don’t want to mention the absence of the Urim. I mean, it’s gonna reflect poorly on me.” Probably just his guilty conscience.

Now, what he’s actually saying to Samuel, in common language, is, “I couldn’t get ahold of anyone else, so you’re my last resort. I’m sorry I had to wake you.” That’s what he’s saying. “And I am expecting you to tell me what to do. I’m expecting you to tell me what to do. That’s why I have summoned you.” You see the big guy again, giving out directions, summoning people and so on? He still thinks he’s in control. His life is dying from the inside out. “I have summoned you to tell me, what shall I do?” And Samuel said, “Well, why did you come and ask me? The Lord has turned from you. And I’m the prophet of the Lord. So if the Lord has turned from you, I’m with him. Therefore, I’ve got nothing to say to you. Because the prophet of the Lord cannot be separated from the message of the Lord. And the message of the Lord I gave to you back in chapter 15, when I told you, ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom from you.’”

Now, once again, it is important not to be diverted in considering this dialogue by speculating about the nature of the dialogue, about how this could actually happen, how it could take place. It is taking place. He’s not dealing with a specter.

The one who did not complete the destruction of the Amalekites, says Samuel, is about to be destroyed completely. Verse 18: “Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and [you] did[n’t] carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day.” In other words, he doesn’t have anything else to say. There is nothing else to say. He didn’t answer him. The reason he didn’t answer him is because what was he gonna tell him?

Here’s a cross-reference for you; you can follow it up on your own. But Luke records for us one of the most chilling little pieces of engagement that we have in relationship to Jesus and others. This is Luke 23: “When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean”—that is, Jesus, which he discovered that he was, that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction. And “he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time.” Now listen to this: “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer.”[18] He had nothing to say to Herod. It had all been said.

There are people listening to me preach now; they’re growing old listening to me say the same thing again and again. The Spirit of God will not always strive with you.[19] You may shut your ears for one last time to the word of the Lord and discover that never in your life will you ever have a sensitive moment to the word of God ever again. That’s what happened to Herod. That is what has happened to Saul. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.”[20]

Saul Was Done

The tragic picture of this man, the utter hopelessness of this man, painfully exposed. He’s desperate, he’s disguised, he’s deserted, and in 20–25, in a sentence or two, he’s done. He’s done. He who stood head and shoulders above most of the community is now flat on his face: “At once” he “fell … full length on the ground.” In other words, he didn’t ease himself down on his hands and knees and then laid down. No, bam, he went down, flattened, “filled with fear” because of Samuel’s words, “because of the words of Samuel.” You see that? “The words of Samuel.” The words of the prophet. The Word of God, sharper than a two-edged sword,[21] cutting into the very heart of things. That’s why we always say, “Listen, today, if you hear his voice…”[22] Oh yes, he heard his voice, and it was clear: “You and your sons are finished. You’re finished. You and your sons are going to be with me”—i.e., dead.

Now, somehow or another, this lady, whom I am suggesting to you is actually coming out pretty nice in this story, shows up again. And she, recognizing the predicament of Saul—that he’s not eaten, he’s dehydrated, he’s a shambles, he has no strength in him—realizing that he’s terrified, he’s got the shakes, she says, “You know, your servant has obeyed you. I’ve taken my life in my hand. I’ve listened to what you’ve said to me. Now, therefore, you should obey your servant.” And she encourages him to eat. He says he doesn’t want to eat. And then she encourages the servants to join her in the exhortation, and “he listened to their words. So he [rose] from the earth and sat on the bed.”

It’s beyond comprehension. If you can conjure this picture and be unmoved, then I feel bad for you. He began with such promise. Everybody thought he was the best. Now look at him, sitting on the bed like a shriveled mess, waiting on this lady to prepare this meal—preparing a meal fit for a king, for a man who wasn’t fit to be the king.

This is the end, you see. “There was a man all alone.” “He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land,” he’s “making all his nowhere plans for nobody.”[23]

“Well,” you say, “it’s a drama.” Of course it is! It’s striking. Of course it is. Yeah! But you know one of the features of our day? Hopelessness. Do you know the description that Paul gives of the Ephesians, which is true of all of us by nature: without God and without hope in the world?[24] In the introduction to the book Light of the World, the man who writes the foreword, George Weigel, describes our world; he says it is a world that’s “lost its story: a world in which the progress [that was] promised [over] the last three centuries is now gravely threatened” by an understanding of our humanity that reduces it to just “cosmic chemical accidents”—that ours is “a humanity with no intentional origin, no noble destiny, … no path to take through history.”[25]

And into that world of hopelessness, listen to the proud assertions of people in the realm of particularly academics and philosophy. Nineteen forty-six, the president of Dartmouth, John Sloan Dickey, says to the graduating class of Dartmouth, “There is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.”[26] And in 2010, the then-president of Dartmouth, Jim Yong Kim, says to the graduates, “You are the ‘better … beings’ that we’ve all been waiting for.”[27] Really? Really? No. It is a classic Old Testament picture of the predicament of man, without hope and without God in the world.

In the historical reality of the resurrection, there is hope for all time, for all people, in the one source—namely, Jesus himself.

Remember the two fellows who were going down the road to Emmaus, and their whole life had collapsed. Their story had collapsed with the death of Jesus of Nazareth: “We had hoped that he was [going to be] the one.”[28] And then, of course, he spoke, and their eyes were opened, and they realized that in the historical reality of the resurrection, there was not only for them hope in their hopelessness, but there is hope for all time, for all people, in the one source—namely, Jesus himself;.

Do you know that hope? If God is speaking to you today, if you hear his voice, do not, like Saul, harden your heart.

Father, thank you that all the things that were written in the past were written down so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.[29] Lord, we’re about to go out into our week again. The recurring theme of the prevailing, dominating sense of despair and discouragement and unknown-ness that is far greater than just about where we are and our physical predicament—no, it is a deep-seated emptiness that the gods of this age offer to us answers, but they can never fulfill. They tell us they can fix us, but they deplete us. They hold out hope that never is realized. Oh, but how we thank you that in Jesus there is a hope! God grant that we might turn to him and rest in him, for his name’s sake. Amen.

[1] Ecclesiastes 4:8 (NIV).

[2] 1 Samuel 9:2 (ESV).

[3] 1 Samuel 14:52 (ESV).

[4] 1 Samuel 27:4 (ESV).

[5] Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi” (1970).

[6] 1 Samuel 9:27 (ESV).

[7] William Cowper, “O for a Closer Walk with God” (1772).

[8] Isaiah 55:6 (ESV).

[9] See Deuteronomy 18:10–11.

[10] Kris Kristofferson, “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33” (1971). Lyrics lightly altered.

[11] Proverbs 14:12 (ESV).

[12] Yalkut Shimoni 2:247:139, quoted in Robert Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel (New York: Norton, 1999), 173.

[13] See 1 Samuel 15:27.

[14] 1 Samuel 15:28 (ESV).

[15] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (1706),

[16] Isaiah 8:19 (ESV).

[17] John Woodhouse, 1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader, Preaching the Word, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 515.

[18] Luke 23:6–9 (ESV).

[19] See Genesis 6:3.

[20] Galatians 6:7 (KJV).

[21] See Hebrews 4:12.

[22] See Hebrews 3:15.

[23] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Nowhere Man” (1965).

[24] See Ephesians 2:12.

[25] George Weigel, foreword to Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times; A Conversation with Peter Seewald, by Benedict XVI (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2010), x.

[26] John Sloan Dickey, convocation address (Hanover, NH, Dartmouth College, 1946).

[27] Jim Yong Kim, “Valedictory to the Seniors” (Hanover, NH, Dartmouth College, June 13, 2010).

[28] Luke 24:21 (ESV).

[29] See Romans 15:4.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.