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Sunday, February 09, 2014

[Matt's Messages] "Turning Away"

“Turning Away”
A Heart for the Heart of God: The Message of 1 Samuel
February 9, 2014 :: 1 Samuel 28:3-25

If you remember, last week was a cliffhanger.

David, the anointed but not yet king, is on the run from Saul, the one-time anointed but now failed king of Israel.

And David has run all the way into the arms of his enemy, the Philistines.

David has become a double agent, living in Philistine territory, pretending to be a mercenary for the Philistines. Every day he goes out on a raid and kills some other Canaanites but comes back and reports in to the evil boss that he was out killing Israelites.

And up till now, this dangerous strategy has worked. Achish, the Philistine king is convinced.

But it’s worked too well.  Achish has told David that he and his men will fight right alongside him in the upcoming war against Saul and Israel.

Uh oh.  Quick thinking David says, “You will see for yourself what your servant can do.” And now, we’re all wondering if and how David can get out of this one.

But then the writer of our book leaves us hanging on the cliff.

And he moves the camera into the camp of Saul. And shows us just how far Saul has fallen.

The title I’ve given this message is “Turning Away.”

This story is the beginning of the end for King Saul.

And it shows how far Saul has turned away from the LORD.

And, scarily, how far the LORD has turned away from Saul.

“Turning Away”

Before we read verse 3, I have a trivia question for you.

Does anybody know what is the first sentence of Charles Dickens famous novel, “A Christmas Carol?”

The answer is, “Marley was dead, to begin with...”

And that opening sentences alerts the reader that something strange was going to happened about this Marley was certainly dead to begin with.

Well, let’s read verse 3 of 1 Samuel 28.

“Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.”

Hmmm. That’s an interesting way to start a story.

We were told back in chapter 25, verse 1 that Samuel had died and that he had been buried in Ramah. This is not new information.

The second sentence is new.  “Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.”

King James, “Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.”

New Living Translation, “And Saul had banned all mediums and psychics from the land of Israel.”
This is in accord with what the Law of Moses said. Check out Deuteronomy 18 some time. Magic and spiritism and mediums and all of that kind of thing was to be banned from Israel, and Saul (in his good moments) had been faithful to do so during his reign.

Why are we told that?

We shall see.  Samuel was dead, to begin with.... v.4

“The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa.”

And the big question for David has been whether or not he will join the Philistines at this assembly.

But the big question for Saul is whether or not Israel has a chance in the fight. V.5

“When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.”

Why not?

It seems like a good thing that Saul would inquire of the LORD, right?

Why wouldn’t God answer with a personal dream or the Urim (the official way of getting an answer through the priest) or through a prophet?

The answer is:

#1. SAUL HAD TURNED AWAY FROM THE LORD.

So many times God had spoken to Saul, and Saul had not listened.

Saul was obedient to what he did know.

God wasn’t about to tell him more.

The Urim was connected with the priests.

How many priests are left in Israel?

We don’t know exactly, but after the massacre at Nob, there aren’t many left.

And the one who was most qualified to use the Urim, Abiathar, has defected and joined David.

No wonder Saul doesn’t get an answer.

And how about the prophets? What did Saul do when the prophet Samuel had given him instructions?  He disobeyed them.

That’s why the kingdom was being torn from his hand.

And here, Saul isn’t looking to repent. He’s looking for some way out of his predicament.

Where do you turn when you’re in a crisis?

Saul had turned away from the LORD. Even in inquiring of Him, he’s turning to the LORD, he’s just hoping to get some battle plan out of Him. He’s not repentant, he’s just desperate.

Where do you turn when you’re desperate?

Saul turned to magic. V.7

“Saul then said to his attendants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.’ ‘There is one in Endor,’ they said.”

Interesting that they know, isn't it?  This is supposed to be illegal.

The word translated “medium” stands for a person who “claimed the ability to contact the dead, either serving as intermediaries through whom the dead would speak or rousing the dead to speak for themselves” (Bergen, pg. 265).

This goes by other names like “necromancer” or “spiritist.”

And it’s very, very dangerous.

And it’s very, very wrong.

Saul knew better.

This is how low Saul has sunk.

Where do you turn when you are desperate?

So many people today in the world turn to things like spiritism. Channeling, crystals, horoscopes, psychics, Wicca, ghosts, astrology, seances, mediums.

You name it. It’s incredibly popular.

Saul had turned away from the Lord and had turned to what has traditionally been called “The Witch of Endor.”

I almost titled this message “The Wicked Witch of Endor.”

But we aren’t to think of a black tipped hat and a green face and a broomstick.

This is not something funny. This is dealing with the dead.

It’s thinking that someone might have the power to contact those who have died and, assuming that they know things we don’t, getting information from them.

It’s dangerous and it’s wrong. It is forbidden. But Saul again turns away from the LORD and slinks away to meet this woman at night.  V.8

“So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. ‘Consult a spirit for me,’ he said, ‘and bring up for me the one I name.’ But the woman said to him, ‘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 thinks it’s a sting operation. The Israelite Vice Squad is working on busting mediums. It’s a set-up. Saul has outlawed this! V.10

“Saul swore to her by the LORD, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.’”

That is one sad sentence. The anointed king promises in the name of the LORD that this woman will not receive the punishment that the LORD requires for this sin.

That’s blasphemy. But she believes him. V.11

“Then the woman asked, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’ ‘Bring up Samuel,’ he said. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, ‘Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!’”

What just happened?

Samuel actually appeared!

The way it reads to me, she didn’t expect it to work! At least not that good.

She might have been a fake, and all of her spiritism is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Or she might have some demonically-fueled power, but she’s never seen anything like this.

All of a sudden, as Samuel appears (comes up, whatever that means), she realizes that she’s dealing here with King Saul, the very one has outlawed spiritism.

“Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

Now, notice. The Bible is very careful not to explain how she did what she did, because it does not want us to try it at home.

The Bible does not forbid magic because it doesn’t work. It forbids magic because it is evil and wicked. It is turning away from the Lord.

There are dark forces at loose in the world and some of them are powerful. They are dangerous for our souls. We are not to turn to them.

Of course, God can do whatever He wants to do.

And it seems to me that God uses this moment as an exception to His general rule of breaking communication through from the dead to the living.

He loves to tell a rip-roaring story. Who would have ever guessed that old Samuel would make another appearance in this book? V.13

“The king said to her, ‘Don't be afraid. What do you see?’ The woman said, ‘I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.’

‘What does he look like?’ he asked. ‘An old man wearing a robe is coming up,’ she said.

Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.”

What does old Samuel have to say?

Samuel who heard the voice of the LORD as a young child and said, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”

What does Samuel have to say to Saul who never listened?  V.15

“Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’ ‘I am in great distress,’ Saul said. ‘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.’”

Please tell me what to do.

I don’t know what to do.

The Philistines are so many and so powerful.  I need a plan.

And God won’t talk to me any more.

God has turned away.

Saul had turned away from the Lord so,

#2. THE LORD TURNED AWAY FROM SAUL.

Again, Saul wasn’t looking to repent. Saul was looking for a get-out-of-jail-free-card.

He’s desperate and looking for any kind of help that he can get.

Even from a dead guy.

But this dead guy has no plan for him, only bad news. V.16

“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.

Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today.

The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.’”

There’s that phrase again (v.16), “The LORD has turned away from you” and even worse, “become your enemy.”

There is nothing more scary than that.

To have God as your enemy is unthinkably terrible.

Nothing scarier, nothing worse.

God had stopped speaking to Saul and was saying in essence, “I have nothing to say to you.”

And now He’s sent one more message, “I have turned away from you. You are my enemy. Tomorrow you die, and your kingdom will lose to the Philistines.”

That’s chilling.

It’s dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)

That sure puts David’s plight into perspective, doesn’t it?

He’s been chased but not caught. But the LORD has promised good to him. His word, David’s hope secures. He will his shield and portion be as long as life endures.

But not Saul. Saul has no shield. No portion. No word. No hope secured.

God will keep his promises–his threats–to Saul.

Why? V.18

“Because you did not obey the LORD ... the LORD has done this to you today.”

1 Chronicles 10:13 says it this way:

“Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance...”

That puts David’s troubles in perspective.

Does it put your troubles into perspective, too?

If you are a follower of Christ, you’re a David, not a Saul.

So, however bad you have it, however painful life is right now, you’re not where Saul was–and that’s worth rejoicing!

Because there’s nothing worse than having God as your enemy.

The LORD turned away from Saul. V.20

“Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel's words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and night.

When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, ‘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.’

He refused and said, ‘I will not eat.’ But his men joined the woman in urging him, and he listened to them. He got up from the ground and sat on the couch.

The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left.”

Saul had one more feast fit for a king and then headed out into the night and to his fate.

And it’s another cliffhanger.

We still don’t know if David will be in the army facing Saul or killed by Achish for disobeying.

And we don’t know exactly what will happen in tomorrow’s battle.

But we do know that Saul has turned away from the LORD and the LORD has turned away from him.

And it’s the scariest thing in the world.

What should be our response to this?

What is the application?

Three quick thoughts:

- TURN TO THE LORD WHILE YOU STILL CAN.

There may come a time when you can’t repent.

Esau was like that. He got to the point where there was no turning back.

But don’t let yourself get there.

Turn while you still can.

If you are running away from the LORD. I know you’re at church today, but in your heart, you may be running the opposite direction...if you’re running away from the LORD, stop and re-pent. Turn to the LORD while you still can.

He is calling you to come home.

You don’t want God as your enemy.

And He doesn’t have to be. Jesus died so that you don’t have to have God against you any more.

- TRUST IN THE ONE WHO WAS ABANDONED FOR YOU.

What did Jesus say when He was hanging on the cross?

“‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’– which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46).

God, in essence, turned away, not just from Saul, but from Jesus. And for that time when He was on the Cross, He was experiencing the wrath of God as if God the Father was His enemy.

Because He went through that you and I don’t have to.

Trust in the One who was abandoned for you.

GLORY IN THE FACT THAT IN CHRIST GOD IS NOT YOUR ENEMY.

Verse 16 is so scary, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy?”

If that doesn’t scare someone, then nothing will.

But the opposite is true for all believers in Christ.

Listen to Colossians 1:21-23.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”

The gospel changes our status from enemy to beloved.

And we should glory in it.

And it’s the gospel is powerful enough to do it for any who will repent.

When Heather and I were in college, we were friends with a former witch.

Her name was Rosa.

When Rosa was a teenager, she was wrapped up in black magic.  In fact, she was a witch.  She loved the power that she felt she had because she knew “spells” which would curse those who had hurt her.

But one Summer she ended up at a Christian camp working in housecleaning. And the director of the camp noticed that she dressed all in black and had hate written all over her face.  And the director showed her love and led her to Jesus.

And Jesus changed her life. Rosa went home and cleaned out her room.  Everything in the room had to go.  Posters, music, books of spells, horror movies on video, nearly everything in her room except her bed.  And she carted it out behind her house and burned it all.

And when we knew her, she was the sweetest young lady we ever knew.

She had left all that behind and was no longer at enmity with God.

She gloried in the fact that God was not her enemy.

That she had experienced amazing grace and that it changed everything.

If you belong to Jesus, it’s true for you, too.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation...”

Glory in it!

***
19. Turning Away

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