Saul consults a medium at Endor who conjures up the ghost of Samuel. When The judge who anointed the first two kings of Israel More announces Saul’s death and the defeat of Israel, The first king of Israel More is terror-stricken.
This is a strange and troubling text. Modern readers wonder about the occult aspects of Saul’s séance. This is especially so because Saul himself had banished all wizards and mediums from the land (vv. 3, 9) in obedience to such texts as Deuteronomy 18:10-11. Of course, the reason Saul resorts to this unusual (and forbidden) practice is that he has exhausted all other means of determining what he is to do. God has abandoned him and he is frantic. Close attention to the structure of this chapter yields other insights:
A Narrator’s introduction (vv. 3-6)
B Dialogue between Saul and the medium (vv. 7-14)
C Samuel announces Saul’s death (vv. 15-19)
C′ Saul’s response (v. 20)
B′ Dialogue between Saul and the medium (vv. 21-23)
A′ Narrator’s conclusion (vv. 24-25)
In addition to the information that Saul had banished all “mediums and wizards,” the narrator’s introduction also reminds us that “Samuel had died” (v. 3). It is ironic that Saul attempts to dabble in the dark arts in light of these facts. Further irony appears in the willingness of the medium to obey Saul’s prohibition of what Saul is asking her to do (v. 9), as well as her concern for Saul’s physical well-being, demonstrated by her serving Saul what would become his last meal (vv. 21-24).
But the most significant aspect of this text is found in the center: Samuel’s announcement of Saul’s imminent demise and that the routing of Israel will be fulfilled on Mount Gilboa (see chapter 31). More important, Samuel’s announcement terrifies Saul (vv. 15-20). The medium may be able to minister to Saul’s physical needs but, abandoned by God, he is at the mercy of his distraught spiritual situation.