1 Samuel 28: Lessons from David and Saul on the Consequences of Living Without God

Introduction: Here, both David and Saul sinned as they lived and walked without God. David lived in bondage to his Philistine master and agreed to fight against the Jews. Saul turned to the occult and deception after God ignored his prayers. From the mistakes of David and Saul, God reveals seven deadly consequences of a life lived without Him. These include: (1) bondage; (2) hindered prayers; (3) demonic influences; (4) deception; (5) judgment; (6) death; and (7) despair.

First, for 16 months, David lived away from God’s people as a servant of the Philistine king Achish. During this time, he was slowly yoked into bondage with this pagan king. His bondage culminated with his agreement to wage war against God’s people. From David’s mistake, God reveals that living without Him leads to bondage. Second, during this same time, Saul also lived without God. When he sought God’s guidance in the face of the armies of the Philistines and David, God did not answer him. From Saul’s mistake, God reveals that living without Him can hinder your prayers when you cry out for help. Third, Saul did not repent so that God could hear him. Instead, he turned to a medium and demonic force to communicate with the deceased Samuel. From Saul’s mistake, God reveals that living without Him can eventually lead to living under demonic influences. Fourth, Saul had previously turned those who engaged in the occult into enemies. Thus, he had to deceive a medium from the city of En-dor to help him. From Saul’s mistake, God reveals that living without Him leads to lies and deception. Fifth, God allowed Saul to summon the deceased Samuel. But Samuel appeared merely to confirm God’s prior judgments upon Saul. From this account, God reveals that living without Him leads to judgment. Sixth, under the Law, living under the guidance of demonic forces instead of God brought the penalty of death. From Saul’s mistake, God reveals that (for the unsaved) living without Him and instead turning to demonic influences leads to death. Finally, Saul was despondent at God’s death sentence. There was simply nothing he could do to reverse God’s Word. From this, God reveals that living without Him leads to despair or hopelessness. Turning to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior is your only hope for salvation and eternal life.

1. Bondage: Living Without God Leads to Bondage. 1 Sam. 28:1-2.

  • David agreed to fight as the servant of a Philistine king against Israel. While living as a servant of a Philistine king and without any walk with God, David led a slow descent into sin. This culminated in his bondage to the Philistine king and his agreement to join in an attack on God’s people: “Now it came about in those days that the Philistines gathered their armed camps for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, ‘Know assuredly that you will go out with me in the camp, you and your men.’ David said to Achish, ‘Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.’ So Achish said to David, ‘Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.’” (1 Sam. 28:1-2). David did not start off in bondage. Instead, his bondage came as a result of multiple separate compromises or acts of backsliding in his walk. First, he doubted God’s protection and fled to his Philistine enemy (1 Sam. 27:1). The prophet Gad previously warned David to return from a pagan country and stay in his homeland in Judah (1 Sam. 22:5). At one point, David pleaded with Saul that forcing him to live in a pagan land would place him under a curse (1 Sam. 26:19). Second, he compromised in his walk by living a carnal life with his two wives under the same Philistine king that he once fled from (1 Sam. 27:2-3; 21:10). Third, he surrendered to the evil that he once fought against (1 Sam. 27:4). Fourth, he compromised with the Philistine king that he was meant to fight by calling himself the king’s “servant” and pleading for land in exchange for tribute (1 Sam. 27:5). Fifth, he lived in complacency for 16 months under the Philistine king without making any efforts to serve God (1 Sam. 27:6-7). Sixth, he lived as a lawless bandit raiding and murdering towns for his glory and not for God’s glory (1 Sam. 27:8-9). Finally, David concealed the targets of his banditry from the Philistines through lies and murder (1 Sam. 27:10-12). God would, however, use David’s evil acts to bring judgment upon Saul (Ro. 8:28).

David agreed to help the Philistine king fight against the nation of Israel1

  • Unrepentant sin can lead to bondage. Those who misuse God’s mercy and grace as a license to sin may also find themselves in a place of bondage. “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” (Ro. 1:24). “So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devices.” (Ps. 81:12). “and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” (Eph. 4:19). To avoid descending into the bondage of sin, you must renew your mind each day and focus on the things of God: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). You must also put to death your carnal desires: “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” (Col. 3:5). Are you misusing your freedoms by placing yourself back into bondage?

2. Hindered Prayers: Living Without God Leads to Hindered Prayers. 1 Sam. 28:3-6.

  • Saul’s prayers went unanswered. When faced with the combined threat of the forces of the Philistines and David, Saul sought God out in prayer. Yet, because he had decided to live outside of God’s will, God did not answer his prayers: “Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists. So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa. When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets.” (1 Sam. 28:3-6). “Urim” was one of the two stones that the priests used to discern God’s will (Ex. 28:30; Lev. 8:8). But the death of Samuel left Israel and Saul without a prophet to guide it (1 Sam. 25:1). And Saul’s decision to abandon God caused the Holy Spirit to depart from him (1 Sam. 16:14). After rejecting God, Saul found that God would not answer his prayers.

  • Unrepentant sin can “hinder” your prayers. Although God will not permanently forsake a believer (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5), He warns that He will temporarily hide His face from a believer in open rebellion: “But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods.” (Dt. 31:18; 32:19-20). When God hid His face from the Jews, He did not “hear” their prayers: “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.” (Is. 1:15; 8:17; Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9). In the New Testament, God also warns that sin can cause a believer’s prayers to be temporarily “hindered” or impaired (1 Pet. 3:7; Jo. 9:31). The reason for this is that sin cannot be in God’s presence, and He “cannot look on wickedness.” (Hab. 1:13). When you act righteously, your prayers are a sweet aroma to Him (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). Yet, when you are in open rebellion, your prayers are putrid to Him. If you are sinning and you repent of your sins, God is faithful to forgive you (1 Jo. 1:9). Are there any sins in your life that you need to repent of?

3. Demonic Influences: Living Without God Leads to Demonic Influences. 1 Sam. 28:7-8.

  • Saul sought out help through demonic sources. Instead of repenting so that God could hear his prayers, Saul sought out a medium and used demonic forces to communicate with the deceased Samuel: “Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Seek 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 woman who is a medium at En-dor.’ Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, ‘Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.’” (1 Sam. 28:7-8). Saul knew that consulting with demonic forces was against God’s Law (Lev. 19:31; 20:6; Dt. 18:10-12). Thus, during the time when he walked with God, he drove out those who channeled demonic forces (1 Sam. 28:3). He became blind to this sin by assuming that he could turn to this sin and that there would not be any consequences or punishment.

Saul’s secret trip to see the witch of Endor2

  • A believer should not do things that puts him or her in communion with demons. A believer should avoid activities that put the believer in communion with demons. These rules are found throughout the Torah: “‘Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.’” (Lev. 19:31). “As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.” (Lev. 20:6). “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord; and because of these detestable things the Lord your God will drive them out before you.” (Dt. 18:10-12). “When they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Is. 8:19; 2:6; Ex. 22:18). Believers are not to turn to horoscopes, mediums, astrologers, tarot card readers, hand readers, Ouija boards, and drugs. All these things place a believer in communion with demons (1 Cor. 10:19-20). Have you tolerated things in your life that put you in communion with demons?

4. Deception: Living Without God Leads to Lies and Deception. 1 Sam. 28:9-12.

  • Saul deceived a witch into breaking God’s law to conjure up Samuel’s spirit. Saul had fallen so far from God and had so many enemies that he had to even deceive a medium or witch from En-dor to receive her help: “But the woman said to him, ‘Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?’ 10 Saul vowed to her by the Lord, saying, ‘As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.’ 11 Then the woman said, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’ And he said, ‘Bring up Samuel for me.’ 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman spoke to Saul, saying, ‘Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul.’” (1 Sam. 28:9-12). Saul knew what was doing was wrong. Thus, he came to her at night time and in a disguise (1 Sam. 28:5). The medium or witch felt that she was being set up for charges to be brought against her. Saul tried to swear by God’s name that no punishment would come upon her for following his directions. But Saul did not have the authority to contradict God’s Word. The woman would later face God’s judgment under His Law. “27 ‘Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.’” (Lev. 20:27). “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.” (Ex. 22:18).

Saul deceived a witch from En-dor to help him3

  • Deceit and lies place you under Satan’s influence. By employing lies and deceit, Saul backslid even further in his walk. If you are using lies and deceit, you also have backslidden in your walk. Lies and deceit are Satan’s tools to turn people away from God (Dt. 11:16; 30:17). If you deceive or lie, you are also under Satan’s influence. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. . . Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jo. 8:44). Are there any lies or deception in your dealings with others?

5. Judgment: Living Without God Leads to Judgement. 1 Sam. 28:13-18.

  • Samuel confirmed God’s prior judgment upon Saul. God allowed Samuel to appear only to confirm His judgment upon Saul: “13 The king said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; but what do you see?’ And the woman said to Saul, ‘I see a divine being coming up out of the earth.’ 14 He said to her, ‘What is his form?’ And she said, ‘An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.’ And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage. 15 Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’ And Saul answered, ‘I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and no longer answers me, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do.’ 16 Samuel said, ‘Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has departed from you and has become your adversary? 17 The Lord has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. 18 As you did not obey the Lord and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the Lord has done this thing to you this day.” (1 Sam. 28:13-18). Samuel was once Saul’s spiritual mentor (1 Sam. 9:25-26). Yet, Saul should not have expected Samuel to bless him for violating God’s Law. Samuel had previously given God’s judgment because of Saul’s rebellion. “But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” (1 Sam. 13:14). Saul’s rebellion against God was a sin equal to the medium or witch’s sins in using the occult: “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.”’ (1 Sam. 15:23). “So Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you.”’ (1 Sam. 15:28). Now that Saul had engaged in the dual sins of rebellion and divination, Samuel confirmed God’s judgment by repeating it (Dt. 17:6). This may have further shortened the grace period that God had granted Saul before taking his kingdom from him. Although uncommon in the Bible, God allowed Samuel to make an appearance in the same way that He allowed Moses and Elijah to appear once with Jesus. “Some may say that it is impossible for Samuel to reappear in some way, coming from the world beyond back to this world. But Moses and Elijah also came from the world beyond back to this world when they appeared with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3)”. (David Guzik on 1 Sam. 28).4

Jacob van Oostsanen (1470-1533) “Saul and the Witch of Endor” (oil painting 1526)5

  • Don’t ignore God’s warnings of judgment. No person should treat sin lightly (Rom. 6:26). God is a consuming fire when in the presence of sin: “for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:29; 10:27; Ex. 24:17; Dt. 4:24; 9:3; Ps. 97:3; Is. 33:14; 2 Thess. 1:7). For those who do not repent, He warns: “I will pour out My indignation on you; I will blow on you with the fire of My wrath, . . .” (Ez. 21:31(a)). ‘“Is not My word like fire?’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock?’” (Jer. 23:29). “The soul who sins will die.” (Ez. 18:4(b)). Unless you accept that God will judge sin, you will feel no pressure to repent. Staying silent about His judgments also doesn’t help others. Are you helping others turn to Christ to spare them from judgment? (Matt. 28:16-20).

6. Death: Living Without God Leads to Death. 1 Sam. 28:19.

  • Samuel pronounces the death of Saul and his sons. Through Samuel, God then expanded upon His prior judgment of Saul because of Saul’s additional sin of pursuing the occult: “19 Moreover the Lord will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the Lord will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!’” (1 Sam. 28:19). Because Saul tested God by turning to a medium (1 Sam. 28:7-8), God responded in accordance with the Law by sentencing him to death. “So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse.” (1 Chron. 10:13-14). Moreover, because he was king, Saul’s new sins brought judgment upon other innocent parties. His sons would also die. And the Philistines would later defeat the Jews in battle. “The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua the sons of Saul.” (1 Sam. 31:2). But Saul’s death was not immediate. Out of mercy and grace, God gave Saul one more day to repent. Saul, however, would squander this last opportunity to repent.

Bernardo Cavallino (1616-1655) “Saul Invokes the Ghost of Samuel” (oil painting 1652)6

Samuel pronounced God’s judgment on Saul7

  • The wages of sin are death. Saul’s punishment should not be dismissed as a relic of the Old Testament. “For the wages of sin is death, . .” (Rom. 6:23). For the unsaved, allowing demonic forces into your life through drug abuse, alcohol, pornography, or the occult brings with it an eternal death penalty (Lev. 20:27; Ex. 22:18; Dt. 18:10-12). Only through faith in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross is salvation possible (Rom. 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:21). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, . . .” (Gal. 3:13). “for ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”’ (Ro. 10:13). When you sin, do you repent to Jesus?

7. Despair: Living Without God Leads to Despair. 1 Sam. 28:20-25.

  • Saul became filled with despair and hopelessness at his judgment. Living without God, Saul knew that there was no way to change God’s judgment. Thus, Saul became filled with despair and hopelessness: “20 Then Saul immediately fell full length upon the ground and was very afraid because of the words of Samuel; also there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day and all night. 21 The woman came to Saul and saw that he was terrified, and said to him, ‘Behold, your maidservant has obeyed you, and I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to your words which you spoke to me. 22 So now also, please listen to the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you that you may eat and have strength when you go on your way.’ 23 But he refused and said, ‘I will not eat.’ However, his servants together with the woman urged him, and he listened to them. So he arose from the ground and sat on the bed. 24 The woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly slaughtered it; and she took flour, kneaded it and baked unleavened bread from it. 25 She brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they arose and went away that night.” (1 Sam. 28:20-25). Saul felt sorrow and then found temporary comfort with his fellow sinners. But they had no power to lift his punishment. Instead of feeling sorrow or finding comfort with other sinners, Saul should have repented of his sins and pleaded with God to forgive him. David’s sin in agreeing to wage war against God’s people may have appeared to be an even worse sin. Likewise, his future adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah would certainly appear to be worse sins (2 Sam. 11:1-27). Yet, unlike Saul, David repented when God confronted him with his sins. Despite being a sinner, this made him a man after God’s heart. “After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’” (Acts 13:22).

Saul became filled with despair8

  • Living without God will also cause an individual or a nation to experience despair. Like Saul, if an individual or a nation rejects all of God’s efforts to bring them back, He will cause them to feel the same despair and hopelessness: “65 Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. 66 So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see. 68 The Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” (Dt. 28:65-68). “This you will have from My hand: you will lie down in torment.” (Is. 50:11(b)). “These two things have befallen you; who will mourn for you? The devastation and destruction, famine and sword; how shall I comfort you?” (Is. 51:19). “And it shall be that when they say to you, ‘where should we go?’ then you are to tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD: ‘Those destined for death, to death; and those destined for the sword, to the sword; and those destined for famine, to famine; and those destined for captivity, to captivity.’’ (Jer. 15:2). Have you warned your non-believing friends about the despair that awaits? Spreading the hope of eternal life in Jesus is the Great Commission given to all believers (Matt. 28:16-20).