FACED by an army of thousands of Philistines, Saul was desperately anxious to know how to escape what appeared to be certain defeat of Israel's forces. (I Samuel 28:1-6.) Having received no signs from God, he decided to go to a certain sorceress, a woman who reportedly could talk with the dead. He knew that it was wrong to have anything to do with people who had evil powers, but he was so fearful of the Philistines that he was willing to resort to anyone for advice.
Saul Breaks His Own Law!
Not wishing it to be generally known what he was doing, Saul chose only two of his officers to accompany him to the woman who was known as the witch of Endor. Dressed in ordinary clothes so that they wouldn't be recognized, they went by night northward to Mt. Tabor and the town of Endor. At the lonely home of the sorceress Saul was introduced only as one who desired to get in touch with the spirit of a dead friend. "Who told you that I could help you in such a thing?" the woman asked, suspiciously scrutinizing the three of them. "Don't you know that Saul has driven out of Canaan those who deal with the spirit realm? I could be put to death if a rumor were to start that I am a sorceress!" "We know that you are," one of Saul's men said. "You will be well rewarded for doing as this man asks, and no harm will come to you because of it. But if you refuse, we'll see that Saul sends men here to end your life!" The witch, by no means an ugly old hag, stared in fear at the men, and especially at the very tall one who kept his face half hidden with a scarf. "Come in," she said. "Tell me what you want me to do." "Don't be afraid of us," Saul said. "I promise that no harm will come to you if you will bring the spirit of Samuel, the late judge of Israel, up from the dead!" (I Samuel 28:7-11.) The woman was startled at this request, but she took them to a dimly lighted back room of her home and went through the pretentious motions and incantations that were mostly to impress those present. She knew that Samuel was dead and couldn't appear in any form, but it was her craft to contact demons who would produce illusions and voices to satisfy people who believed the ancient fable that dead people can travel about in spirit form and manifest themselves to live human beings. This pagan concept is still widely believed today even among people who term themselves Christians, although the Bible plainly states that the dead know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and that the earliest resurrection of true Christians is to eternal life as spirit beings will not be until Christ returns to Earth. (Revelation 20.) Saul must have known that the dead don't communicate with the living, but he was desperate enough to try anything. "I feel that someone in the spirit world is about to appear!" the woman droned as she sat as though in a trance. Suddenly she gave a wild shriek and leaped out of her chair. Gazing fearfully into a dark corner of the room, she backed slowly away. "Now I know that you are King Saul!" she shouted, pointing at Saul. "Why have you tried to fool me?" (I Samuel 28:12.) "I wanted my visit here to remain a secret," Saul explained. "I have no intention of driving you out or killing you because you deal with spirits. Now tell me how you knew me, and what you saw that frightened you."
A Spirit Imposter
"A voice told me who you are, and at the same moment I saw someone come up out of the Earth who seemed to be like a god or a judge!" the sorceress answered. "I was startled because I didn't expect anything like that. He was a stately elderly man with gleaming white hair, and he had on a beautiful mantle of the kind worn by men of high rank!" "Then it was Samuel!" Saul exclaimed excitedly. "Can you cause him to appear so that I can see him, too?" The woman mumbled something. Almost immediately the form of an elderly man began to materialize in patches of gray light against the dark wall. When Saul saw the increasingly glowing eyes staring at him, he shakily dropped to his knees and bowed his head to the floor while his two officers cringed in a corner. (I Samuel 28:13-14.) "Why have you caused me the trouble of coming up from my peaceful grave, Saul?" a quavery voice called out. Saul was even more aghast when he heard the voice that was a weak but misleading imitation of Samuel's. Although he had come to try to contact Samuel, it was difficult for Saul to believe that he was actually in touch with the old prophet. Finally he managed to reply to the strangely wavering form. "I'm calling on you because the Philistines threaten to conquer my army and take over all Israel," Saul hastily explained to the spirit imposter. "I've asked God what to do, but He hasn't answered me in any way. I had to turn to you to advise me how to save the nation from the enemy." "If God has refused to help you, why do you look to me?" the voice of the glowing figure asked. "By now you should understand that rulership of the kingdom of Israel has been taken from you and will be given to David, the man you have troubled so long. This is because you disobeyed God in many matters, including your refusal to destroy all the Amalekites and their belongings." "You told me that long ago," Saul broke in impatiently, "but I am still king of Israel. I want to know what I should do to defeat the Philistines." "You won't defeat the Philistines," the voice continued. "Tomorrow will be the day of battle, and tomorrow you and your three sons will be killed and join me in the state of the dead!" This shocking statement was too much for Saul, who was already in a weakened condition. He collapsed on the floor even before the glowing figure had faded into darkness. His officers leaped to him. (I Samuel 28:15-20.) "He hasn't eaten anything for a whole day," one of them said. "He needs food." "Let me get you something," the woman suggested to Saul as she knelt down by him. "I did as you told me. Now do as I respectfully ask you, and rest while I prepare something for you to eat. Otherwise you won't have strength to leave here."
The Spirit of Despair
"I don't want anything to eat," Saul muttered. "After what I saw and heard, food is the least of my interests." "But the woman is right, sir. Let her bring food for you," the officers pleaded. "Otherwise you might fail to make it back to camp, and the Philistines could attack at any time!" "All right! All right!" Saul murmured in a voice that carried both dejection and impatience. The message from that spirit had sapped Saul's will and determination. Saul's men helped him to bed. While the fatigued man rested, the sorceress worked swiftly in slaughtering and dressing a calf. As the meat cooked over hot coals, she also prepared unleavened bread and baked it. One might think that all this would require several hours, but many people in those times were very skilled in hastily preparing meat dishes all the way from the live animal, so the three men didn't have to wait a long time for the hot bread and steaming meat. (I Samuel 28:21-25.) Strengthened by the food, Saul was soon able to depart with his officers to return to the Israelite camp near Mt. Gilboa before dawn. Even though he had been told that he and his three sons would be killed within only a few hours, he began to hope that the statement wasn't true. He reasoned that the dead couldn't come to life in spirit form, and that all he saw and heard was an illusion and sound somehow created by the sorceress. Of course, the figure he saw wasn't that of Samuel, physical or spiritual. Samuel was dead and buried about sixty miles away, and wouldn't become conscious until more than three thousand years later when he will be resurrected to meet Christ when the Son of God returns from heaven to begin ruling the people on Earth. (Hebrews 11:32-35; I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:14-17.) The sorceress had not created an illusion by her own powers, but she had wrongly contacted evil spirits who were able to impersonate Samuel. All this, however, was under the control of someone else — the leader of evil spirits, or demons, who are sometimes referred to as fallen angels. That leader is Satan. But Satan cannot do anything that God does not allow him and his evil spirits to do. (Job 1:8-12.) God uses His obedient angels for many wondrous purposes. But He also allows the fallen ones, or evil spirits, to promote or carry out certain designs, inasmuch as they are in utter fear of their Creator. Satan and his demons ordinarily go their own evil way, just as many human beings do, but God limits their powers and exerts control over them whenever He decides that it's necessary. Because Saul looked to evil spirits for advice, God allowed a demon to inform Saul that he would die within a few hours. God doesn't want human beings to seek contact with evil spirits. (Deuteronomy 18:9-13.) Nevertheless, there are people even in these days, called mediums, who claim that they have the power to get in touch with the dead. They cleverly cause illusions and sounds through natural means. They can't contact the dead, but as in Saul's case, they are inviting evil spirits to contact them. Weary from the exertions and concerns of the past hours, Saul sank into a troubled sleep as soon as he reached his quarters at Mt. Gilboa, but his rest didn't last long. The dreaded alarm finally was sounded that the valley of Jezreel was filled with thousands of Philistines approaching from the west! (I Samuel 29:1.)
His Last Battle
Saul felt more like running than fighting, but he knew that he had to be an example to his soldiers. Within minutes he was marching with his three sons in the foremost ranks of the Israelites as they left Mt. Gilboa to meet the enemy. By this time David had been sent back home by the Philistine lords. As the two armies neared each other, the front ranks of each prepared to hurl waves of spears on command. Before the word was given to the Israelite spearmen, a cloud of arrows hissed up from the secondary ranks of the Philistines and showered down on the foremost Israelites. It was a deadly surprise for Saul and his men, who had no way of knowing that a throng of strong archers were hidden behind the enemy spearsmen. Israelites fell by the scores before they could throw their spears. Then another cloud of arrows came down on them, killing or wounding many more men. This was followed by a murderous wave of spears, and chaos swiftly developed among the Israelite troops. Their thinned front ranks began to retreat, thereby blocking the oncoming soldiers. Within minutes the whole Israelite army was moving back toward Mt. Gilboa with the Philistines in pursuit. (I Samuel 31:1.) When the Israelites reached the slopes of the mountains, they turned to battle their pursuers, but there was faint hope of holding out against superior numbers. It was then that Saul felt a burning pain in one shoulder. Furiously he jerked out the arrow that was embedded there, opening a lethal flow of blood down across his chest. "I don't want it to be said that I was killed by a Philistine!" Saul shouted to his armor-bearer. "Run me through with your sword before one of these heathen gets to me!" His armor-bearer shrank from the order. He couldn't bear the thought of killing his master and king, even in mercy. He also knew that if any of the Israelites should see him kill Saul, they wouldn't believe that Saul had requested it. "I can't do such a thing," the armor-bearer shouted back above the din of the battle. "I'm losing too much blood to live much longer!" Saul muttered. "Put an end to me now!" The armor-bearer shook his head and backed away. In spite of the wound, Saul leaped forward, snatched his sword from him, slipped the hilt to the ground and lunged downward on the upright point. The seven-foot Saul weighed close to three hundred pounds, and his falling weight caused the sword to pierce deep into his body.
Overrun by Heathen
The surprised attendant immediately yanked his sword out of Saul, but the Israelite leader was already dead. Glancing up, he saw with further dismay that Saul's three sons were sprawled on the ground, and that their slayers were closing in on him and Saul's remaining officers. Realizing that there was no chance to fight his way free, Saul's armor-bearer did as Saul had done and lunged to his death on his sword. (I Samuel 31:2-6.) Those of Saul's army who escaped the Philistines raced off the east. Some even went so far as to cross the Jordan River. When the Israelites who lived in this area south of the Sea of Chinnereth saw the scattered troops hurrying to the east, they assumed that the Philistines would soon be invading the land. They fled in terror along behind the soldiers. The sight of fleeing soldiers, and homeless old men, women and children struck fear into the inhabitants of several towns on both sides of the Jordan. The result was a growing exodus eastward across the territory of Gad and into that of Manasseh. Pursuing Philistines later seized the abandoned towns and took up residence in them. Because Israel had forsaken God's right ways, they no longer had His protection. The day after the battle, Philistine soldiers set out to strip the dead Israelites of their weapons and valuables. They removed the armor from the bodies of Saul and his three sons, and cut off their heads. The armor was sent to Philistia to show that there had been a great victory over Israel. The heads were taken to be displayed in the temples of Dagon, the most revered god of the Philistines. The headless bodies were fastened to the wall of the town of Beth-shan, an Israelite habitation taken over by the Philistines. (I Samuel 31:7-10.) Across the Jordan River southeast from Beth-shan was the town of Jabesh-gilead in the territory of Gad. Saul's first outstanding deed as leader of Israel, years previously, was to conscript an army and rescue the people of Jabesh-gilead from the soldiers of Nahash, king of the Ammonites. (I Samuel 11:1-11.) Since then the inhabitants of that town had greatly loved and respected Saul. When they learned what the Philistines had done to the remains of Saul and his sons, the more courageous men of Jabesh-gilead decided that something should be done about it. Moving westward by night across the Jordan River and the twelve miles to Beth-shan, the armed company of determined Israelites quietly crept close to their objective. Well after midnight they craftily closed in on one guard after another, hastily removed the bodies of Saul and his three sons from the wall and slipped away to return to Jabesh-gilead before dawn. It wasn't an Israelite custom to burn bodies, but the men of Jabesh-gilead didn't want the Philistines to recover what had been taken from that wall of Beth-shan. After the remains had been burned, the bones were buried under a tree. Satisfied that they had done their best to save their former king from further desecration by their enemies, the devoted men of Jabesh-gilead paid their last respects by fasting for seven days. (I Samuel 31:11-13.)
Thus the unpredictable Saul came to his end. Under his leadership Israel had both good and bad times, but if he had continued from his early kingship to be obedient to God, probably he would have lasted for many more years during which Israel would have prospered in safety. Israel's welfare wasn't completely determined by the conduct of its ruler. But, since the people follow a leader, if a ruler obeys God's laws, the people are more obedient. And obedience to God's ways always leads to happiness, prosperity and protection. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14.) After David and his men had returned from slaughtering the Amalekites, they set about repairing the burned parts of the fortress city of Ziklag. Three days after they had begun the task, a weary-looking stranger approached from the north and asked to speak to David. His clothes were torn and dirt was on his head — a sign of mourning in those times. After being directed to David, the young man fell to his knees and bowed his head to the ground. (II Samuel 1:1-2.) "Stand and tell me where you're from," David said. "I've come from the camp of the Israelites near Mt. Gilboa," was the reply. "The Philistines have demolished it! Their numbers were superior, and they had thousands of archers who quickly felled a great part of the Israelite army. Most of the Israelites turned back and fled to the east. The Philistines chased and slaughtered many more. Saul and his three sons are among the dead." David was shocked by that news. He regretted to hear that Saul, his enemy, was dead (Proverbs 24:17), and he was saddened to learn that Jonathan, his close friend, had been killed. Tragic as these events were, the report that the Philistines had triumphed was much more painful. It meant that all of Israel might soon be taken by the enemy. David could only hope that his informer was exaggerating these matters. "How do you know that Saul and his sons were killed?" David asked as he intently stared at the man. (II Samuel 1:3-5.) "I was fighting close by, and I saw the sons fall after being deeply pierced by arrows," was the answer. "But how about Saul?" David demanded. "Did you actually see him die?" "I did," the man lied, with a strange tone of pride in his voice. "I was the one who killed him!"