Today we finish the book of 1 Samuel. Chapter 28 begins with the Philistines preparing to go to war with Israel (28:1). The king wants David to fight for him (vv. 1-2). This narrative will pick up in the next chapter. First, we revisit the death of Samuel (v. 3). As we saw, Samuel was the prophet of Israel, and without him, it was on Saul to lead alone. Saul is ill-prepared for that. We are told that all of the occult seers had already been banished from Israel (v. 3 – see Lev. 20:6, 27). So when Saul needs a word from God about fighting against the formidable Philistines, he has nowhere to get that word (vv. 5-6). So he resorts to the occult (v. 6). Kind of. He wants a medium to channel Samuel for him (v. 11). In verse 12, the woman is frightened when her black magic actually works.* But this is a work of God. When Samuel (see, I told you he’d be back!) speaks to Saul, we tells him what everyone else knows, and what even Saul seems to know at times: God is not with him; God is with David (vv. 16-18). What’s more, Saul is going to die (v. 19), perhaps as punishment for turning to this medium for help. And Israel will be defeated by the Philistines.
Now back to the Philistines. In Chapter 29, we see that David is with the Philistine army (29:2). We don’t know exactly what David’s intentions were, but based on what we know of him, he did not intend to fight against Israel. But the hand of God intervenes, and the rest of the Philistine leaders will not allow him to go to battle, because they know he will not fight against Israel. This was God, perhaps, protecting David from being misunderstood by the men Israel if they saw him with the Philistines. So David leaves and does not go to battle (v. 11).
And we see that the hand of God worked all of this in chapter 30. David returns to the land of the Philistine to find out that the Amalekites had attacked Ziklag and taken everyone captive while the army was away (30:1-3). In verse 6, we see that David’s men blame him for this. Note they were “bitter in soul,” which is how they were described back in 22:2, and is why they joined David in the first place. Also note that David turns to God as his refuge.
Now notice the stark contrasts between David and Saul being described. Saul wanted to hear from God about going to battle, but God was not with him (28:6). Here, God is with David and provides guidance (30:8). When Saul does find a way to hear from God, he is assured of defeat (28:19). Here, David is assured of victory (30:8). Through the encounter with the medium, God sovereignly provided for Saul to fail miserably. Here, through the “chance” encounter with the Egyptian slave (30:11-15), God sovereignly provided for David to succeed. Whereas Saul’s greatest failure was not defeating the Amalekites according to God’s command (28:18 – see 15:9), David is given victory against the Amalekites (30:16-20).
When David returns, those who went into battle did not think it fair to share the spoils with the 200 men who stayed behind (vv. 21-22). But David knows that God is the provider here (v. 23), and God does not just provide abundantly, but as He pleases. Everyone, no matter how “small” a part they play in the work of the kingdom, gets their reward. This is strikingly similar to the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16). David even shares the spoils with his brothers of Judah (vv. 26-31).
The book ends in chapter 31 with the fulfillment of Samuel’s final prophecy (see 28:19). Sadly, Jonathan is killed in battle (31:2). After being hit by an arrow in battle (v. 3), Saul does what was custom in the ancient world: he asks to be killed by one of his own (v. 4). Usually, it was to not give the credit (or the satisfaction) to the enemy that they had struck the fatal blow.** Here, Saul asks out of fear. When his armor bearer is too afraid to kill Saul, Saul falls on his own sword (v. 5). And the Philistines not only win the battle, they regain land they had lost to Israel (v. 7).
The book ends with Israel regressing in their obedience to God, especially in taking the land. But it is all under the control of a sovereign God. God did what David would not do himself, but what he trusted God to do. God did what David prayed for in all of his Psalms that we have read. God was the righteous judge of David’s enemies. And He provided for David according to His promises. And He would now provide the kingdom to David, His anointed king.
*This passage is not normative. In other words, it does not mean that occult practices actually work. They do not. While most of it is a scam by dishonest people, the unfortunate truth is that when these practices “work” and people believe they actually “contact spirits,” they are the ones being scammed by demonic forces. They draw people in to keep them playing games with the occult to keep them from turning to God.
**Much like Russia is unwilling to say their flagship battleship was destroyed by enemy fire, but would rather blame a self-caused explosion and a bad storm.