Desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s something you’ve heard often, something maybe you’ve said yourself. I wonder if you’ve ever been as desperate as Saul was here in 1 Samuel 28?
Tonight’s message is going to be perhaps the most simple of the six that I preach to you. I’m going to give you a brief introduction, and then I’ll lead you to a deserted king, a distant God, a desperate decision, a dead prophet and a dark night. It’s perhaps not a surprise that I’ve called this sermon ‘D-Day’.
But we must start with a brief introduction. You’ll remember that Saul, the King of Israel started off so promisingly in chapter 11. He seemed such a man of God. The Bible tells us that the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and with God’s help, he achieved an amazing victory of the enemies of the Lord.
In those days he was supported by Samuel, the last of the judges, and a godly man. But things very quickly started to go down hill for Saul. Despite the wonderful start, Saul never seems to live up to his billing as the man God had chosen to be king of his people. He never again seemed to be touched by God in the way he had been in chapter 11. He never again seemed to burn with passion for God’s people. He was destined to be overtaken, to be replaced by another man of God’s choosing, by David. Here in chapter 28, we’re nearing the end of Saul’s short life. It’s time we looked at him a little closer, and that means our introduction was as brief as I promised you, and it’s time to look at
A deserted King
And maybe there are people here who feel a lot like Saul. Maybe there have been times in your life when it seemed as though the Spirit of God came upon you in power. Maybe you can look back to a time in church, or on camp, or in your own home when God seemed so close, and so real. But now, things are so very different. You realise, just like Saul, you’ve been on the slippery slope for some time, maybe for many years. You know too, that just like Saul, there have been opportunities to repent, to put things right with God, but so far you’ve passed up every opportunity. You sense, just like it seems Saul did here, that there aren’t going to be many more opportunities to put things right. Perhaps, sometimes, you even start to get a little desperate.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself. Desperation is our second point, and not our first. We’re supposed to be looking at a deserted king.
Can you see from the text why I call Saul a deserted king? It really is very clear. Firstly, look at the first verse we read together, verse three. There we see that Saul’s guide, Samuel, is dead. He’s actually been dead for sometime, he died back in chapter 25, but it’s obviously an important part of this story that we remember that he is dead.
Frankly, I’m not sure how much that mattered to Saul in verse 3. Do you remember from this morning that after Saul had rebelled against God’s work in chapter 15, Samuel saw him no more. It’s almost as if Samuel knew that Saul would not respond, so God’s prophet had been taken away from this deserted king.
The message is drummed in even more fiercely in the next few verses. The Philistines are once more on the offensive, as they have been so often in the story of Saul. There has been little rest for this warrior king. Always it seems that oppressive forces are ranged against him.
And, once more, Saul is terrified of them. He’s been afraid before, of course. Back in chapter 15, he was afraid of his own people. In chapter 18 he was afraid of David. The man who feels alone, the man who feels deserted is often a man who is afraid.
But unlike earlier chapters, there is no Samuel, not even any corrupt priests that can help him. He has merely a few attendants. But most worryingly of all for Saul, is that it appears that God has left him. He tries every trick in the book, but look at verse 6, the Lord did not answer him by prophets, by dreams, or by Urim.
Again, I wonder if you have ever been in that position? Deserted by everyone, deserted even by God.
Now Saul can hear the shouts and taunts of the Philistine army, but he cannot hear the voice of the Lord. But doesn’t God promise to answer the prayers of his people. Well yes, he does. But notice that Saul may not even pray to God here. Yes, he wants God to answer, but he seems to want supernatural direction, rather than a close relationship with God. And just as importantly, was Saul one of God’s people at all. God does promise to answer the prayers of his people, but he does not promise to answer the prayers of His enemies - with one vital exception. You know, if you are not a child of God, there is only one prayer that the Lord has promised to answer. And we’ll come on to that later. Suffice it to say, that it wasn’t the prayer that Saul prayed here.
Because Saul’s prayer - if it was a prayer - like so many prayers of other desperate men, is a prayer for himself. God, do this for me. God, heal my wife from cancer. God, don’t let my boss make me redundant. God, help my child recover from that road accident. God, show me what to do in this situation.
God, though, is silent. And that brings us onto our second point, because although we have seen a desperate king, secondly, we also see
A distant God
If we fast-forward to verse 17, we’ll find out why. Samuel says to Saul,
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.
Do you remember the story from this morning. Samuel’s answer is as startling as it is clear. The Lord is saying, “Because you rejected me, Saul, I rejected you.” Because you despise my word, I withdraw my word from you. Because you did not want to know me, I will become the God who is distant.
Too often I see situations when people have despised God’s word, and then he has taken it from them. People who have persistently refused to listen to God’s speech, and now have to endure God’s silence.
Earlier in this series I read to you the comments of Dale Ralph Davis, but they’re worth repeating here.
How crucial then are one’s first responses to the gospel, the initial call to enter the kingdom of God. Spurgeon tells of a man on his deathbed who sent for him. In his lifetime the man had jeered at Spurgeon, had often denounced him as a hypocrite. Now is desperation and in death he called for him. This is was Spurgeon wrote about him:
He had, when in health, wickedly refused Christ, yet in his death-agony, he had superstitiously sent for me. Too late, he sighed for the ministry of reconciliation, and sought to enter in at the closed door, but he was not able. There was no space left him then for repentance, for he had wasted the opportunities which God had long granted to him.
What could be worse? To know you need to repent — and can’t. It is horridly solemn. The most hopeless misery in all of life is to be abandoned by God.
But that’s exactly how Saul felt, and maybe that’s just how you feel tonight, too. Hopelessly miserable, terribly alone, abandoned by God.
Did you know there are two types of people who feel abandoned by God? If you feel that way, I wonder which type you are? It’s a vital question, we need to make sure we get the right answer because there could be eternal consequences if we get it wrong.
But there are two types of people who feel abandoned by God. The first type feel abandoned by him, but are not. They are God’s people. For some reason they’ve been praying to their God - maybe for days, maybe for months, sometimes for years, and yet God never seems to draw close to them. He always seems distant. You can read the Psalms and laments they have written in the Bible. Psalm 13:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
But I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
There are many others, many people who feel abandoned by God, but are not. They are the first group of people - people who wrongly think they are abandoned by God.
But there is another group, and I think Saul was in this category, another group who rightly think that they are abandoned by God. The man Spurgeon met was in this category too. People who have got it right. People who know for sure that the most hopeless misery in all of life is to be abandoned by God.
So if you feel abandoned by God tonight, which category are you in? Are you correct in saying that you are abandoned, or have you got in wrong?
To answer that question, we need to look a little longer at Saul, because at this point in our story, it’s crunch time. We’ve seen a deserted king. We’ve seen a distant God. Now, it’s time for:
A desperate decision
What a fool Saul is. And isn’t it amazing how foolish people can become when they’re desperate enough?
Saul is desperate. Desperate to find a way out of the situation he’s in. He knows nothing of waiting of God. Nothing of calm reflection, confident in his saviour. He’s a desperate man, and he’s about to make a desperate decision.
But we need to go back to that vital question I posed just a moment ago. So if you feel abandoned by God tonight, which category are you in? Are you correct in saying that you are abandoned, or have you got in wrong?
If you really do feel abandoned by God, then you too will need to make a desperate decision. You cannot be satisfied thinking that God has abandoned you. If you do not care, then I’m afraid I can have little hope for your soul. But if you care at all that God seems to have abandoned you, then just like Saul you will need to make a decision.
The decision is this: where do you turn? Where do you turn? Because if you read Psalm 13, and Psalm 88 again, you’ll find that those who thought they were abandoned by God were complaining not to the local vicar, not to sympathetic friends, not to anyone who would listen, but to God himself. Look back at Psalm 13, verse 1: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?”
Do you see what happens? What does the Psalmist do when he thinks that God has forgotten him, that God has turned his face away from him? Does he go to mediums, or spiritists, or check his horoscope? Far from it. You see, when believers fear that their God has abandoned them, there is only one place to turn, and that’s to cry to this God to answer because there is no place to go.
But that’s not what Saul does. He really has been abandoned by God, and he will remain abandoned, because he does not cry out to God, but turns instead to something the Lord hates. But he’s typical of some many.
Do you feel abandoned by God? I promise you that you won’t find Him in your horoscopes. I promise that you won’t find Him in human relationships. I promise that if you look for him in pubs and clubs, he won’t be there.
So where are you looking for him? I suggest that if you’re looking for him in these places, then maybe you are right. Maybe you have been abandoned by God. And the frightening thing for you is that you’ll stay abandoned until you cry out to him to rescue you.
That of course, is something that Saul did not do. His desperate decision was the wrong decision. It was also almost the last decision he ever made in his life. He now stands as a terrible warning to each of us. A warning you cannot afford to ignore when you make your desperate decision.
Because as our story continues, we see not only a desperate king, not just a distant God, and a desperate decision, but fourthly, we’re introduced to
A dead prophet
What a remarkable portion of God’s word this is. Saul’s desperate decision leads him to the witch of Endor. He, rightly, banished witches and mediums, but is seems all to easy for his attendants to find a witch who survived.
Saul, you see, is not really interested in meeting God, he just wants someone to help him know what to do. He remembers that Samuel, the man of God, was a wise man. He thinks that Samuel would know what to do.
But prophets are not there to pamper to pagan desires, even to the desires of kings. And in our generation, we will find that there are those who see something different about us because of our faith. Christians will seem to be more wise, more at rest, more able and willing to help than those who do not know God. At least, we ought to seem that way.
And if we do, then there will be those who come to us, wanting us to help solve their problems. There’s nothing wrong in that, but we are not Social Workers or counsellors. We neither work for the Samaritans, nor for the NHS. We’re simply Christians. We should seek to help, but we must also do as Samuel did here, and point people to the root of their problem, and their need of salvation. If we rescue them from marriage breakdown, but leave the blindly on the path to hell, we have been of no service at all.
But what do you make of this remarkable passage? Does the dead Samuel really come back to visit Saul? I’m not sure we can be 100% certain, but to me it seems fairly clear that he does. The story carries a stamp of reality, doesn’t it?
The sobering message the Samuel brings, certainly seems to bear all his hallmarks. The reactions of the witch and of Saul suggest they have met with powers they did not expect. And we must remember that Scripture speaks of magic like this as pagan, not as futile. God’s people are forbidden to practice sorcery not because it does not work, but because it is wicked.
How then do we explain such a thing? Simply be reminding ourselves that Samuel could not have come unless God had allowed him. God was not going to allow Saul’s sin to stop Him speaking his word to Saul. The message from this section is clear: do not in occult practices. They’re wicked, they’re powerful, and they lead to destruction.
But our story is not yet over. We’ve seen the deserted King, the distant God, the desperate decision and the dead prophet. It’s time now for the final piece of the jigsaw to be added. It’s time to see
A dark night
It’s a fitting end to a dark story, isn’t it? But it’s a woefully sad end, too. Here we see the King of Israel walking out of a witches house. He had gone there expecting a message of hope. Instead he had been confronted with God’s word, and a message of doom.
He who once showed so much promise, he would had experienced so much of God’s power, he who had been chosen by God to be part of a select band of men, had one last supper, before walking out into a dark night to his death.
I don’t think it’s stretching the story to far to ask you if it reminds you of another man, 1,000 years later.
Of a disciple of Jesus, a man who had heard preaching, the like of which we’ve never heard. A man who had seen miracles performed, a man who had performed them himself. A man who went into the upper room, and ate one last supper with the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. A man who betrayed his Lord, and would soon be dead.
You cannot read the story of Saul without also thinking of those aweful verses in John’s Gospel, “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.”
John was not simply telling us the time, was he? No, you remember the scene, and you remember where Judas was going. He really was going out into the darkness, he really was heading for outer darkness.
It’s a sobering thought to think that two men, so close to the message of hope, having heard so much, can turn their backs so clearly on the only one who can save them.
And there’s a danger, isn’t there, that we can feel ourselves too detached from this. We’re not as bad as Judas and Saul. We’re not as foolish, we deserve better than they. But we’re wrong of course. But for the grace of God, go I.
But maybe you’re not feeling detached. Maybe with turmoil in your heart, this story is all to real for you. Maybe you’re worried that if you leave this place tonight, then for you too, it will be night.
But I don’t want my message to end in darkness, because that’s not where God would have me end. Saul never took it, but there is
A Different Way
Because there is another who is a deserted king. There is another who experienced a distant God. There is another who made a desperate decision. There is a dead prophet, no more than a prophet, who this time came permanently back to life. There is another who endured a dark night of the soul.
His name, of course, is Jesus. He was the King, not just of Israel, but of the whole world. He too, knew just what it was like to be deserted during his final hours. Greater than any of us, he saw the desertion of all his friends as his enemies encircled him. He too knew God to be distant, more distant that we who are Christians will ever knew. Neither can we know the depths of pain that caused the eternal Son of God, who had been with His father since before time even began, cry out from the cross, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!’
He made a desperate decision to do what we had always come to do. He took the cup of his fathers wrath, and drank it all. He too experienced those hours of darkness as he hung dying on a Roman cross.
But miraculously, he is there no longer. Because unlike Samuel, the dead prophet, Jesus Christ did not simply pay a visit to the world of the living, but He came back from the dead and He rose again and even now sits at the right hand of the father.
And because He did all that, there is no longer any need for me to feel deserted. No longer any need for God to be distant. No longer a need for dead prophets. No longer any need to experience a dark night of the soul. Why? Because he has suffered it all, for me!
But there is a need for some here tonight to make a desperate decision. Will you allow Jesus Christ to suffer all that for you? He’s willing, you know! Even now, he’s pleading with souls like yours to accept all that he has to offer. Will you make that desperate decision to follow him, and find that there is a light that shines out of the darkness.