Women of the Bible - Monday, May 19, 2014

The Woman of Endor

Her character: Compassionate to Saul on the eve of his death, she exercised power by acting as a medium.
Her sorrow: To have delivered a hopeless message to Israel's king.
Key Scriptures: 1 Samuel 28:3-25

Her Story

It was a night for frightening apparitions. Squinting through the open doorway, the woman stiffened, retreating a step. A face loomed before her, floating on its own like a full white moon in the outer darkness. Before she could close the door, she felt fingers gripping her wrist.

"Please," the voice insisted, "consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one I name."

The large man pushed through the door, followed by two more men. She could smell his fear as he swept past her and sat down on the couch.

"Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?" she replied.

"As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this," he swore.

"Whom shall I bring up for you?"

"Bring up Samuel," he said.

So the woman sat down and yielded herself, making her soul a bridge for the dead to walk across.

Suddenly she screamed, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!"

The king calmed her, saying, "Don't be afraid. What do you see?"

"An old man wearing a robe is coming up," she said.

Saul bowed down and prostrated himself, his face in the dirt.

Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"

"I am in great distress," Saul replied. "The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do."

Samuel said, "Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has turned away from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines."

The woman shuddered, the message delivered. Little wonder the king had seemed so desolate. Fear had crushed the life out of his once-strong face, hollowing the eyes, etching deep lines across cheeks and forehead.

Taking pity, she spoke to him: "Look, your maidservant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way."

Kindly, she served what may have been Saul's last meal. The next day he was dead. Wounded in battle, he fell on his own sword, determined to finish the job before his enemies could reach him. True to form, Saul, who had always tried to control his destiny, controlled even the manner of his death. But he could not control what happened next. Discovering his body, the Philistines celebrated by severing his head and hanging it in the temple of their god. Then they tacked his naked corpse to the walls of a nearby town as a trophy. Israel's first king had become a gruesome spectacle.

The woman of Endor is a strange character, steeped in the occult yet kind and motherly in her attitude toward the tormented king. For some reason, God allowed her to call up the prophet Samuel even though necromancy (conjuring spirits for the purpose of knowing or influencing future events) was strictly forbidden in Israel.

Perhaps she had become a medium because women in those days had so little power. Or perhaps it seemed an outlet for her helpful nature. But by yielding her soul to spirits, she was abusing herself in the deepest possible way, distorting her dignity as a person for the sake of obtaining power. How fitting that Saul, who had always tried to control the future, spent his last moments consulting her, breaking his own law in the process. Step-by-step, his insecurities had taken control of him, reducing his soul and disabling his ability to depend on God rather than on himself.

That night the woman of Endor had looked into the eyes of the most powerful man in Israel and had seen the terror there. Did the vision shake her? Did she recognize herself in him? Did her encounter with a true prophet cause her to forsake her trade as a medium? We have no idea what became of her. Sadly, her meeting with Saul marks one of the lowest moments in the life of Israel's first king, revealing his disintegration as a man whose future was destroyed by disobedience.

Saul's tragic ending reminds us that the antidote to fear is always trust. Only faith can cure our worst nightmares, and faith is a gift that is either fed by obedience or starved by disobedience. Forsaking our own desire to manipulate and control people and circumstances, we must trust God to use his power on our behalf.

Her Promise

In a backhanded sort of way, the woman of Endor reveals for us our need to trust God. As human beings, many of us are like Saul, afraid of the future, estranged from our loved ones and God, willing to go anywhere for help. But God is our only true source of help and comfort. He has promised to guide and direct us and plan our steps. He doesn't promise to reveal the future to us, but he does promise to go with us as we step into it.

This devotional is drawn from Women of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Women in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda. Used with permission.

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