In the strange exchange between Achish and David, we are given an insight into Christ’s work in relation to the enemy, Satan. David had already met Achish once before (1 Samuel 21), feigning as a madman, David himself aware of how famous he is in Gath. Not once, but twice, David has managed to appear as a fool before Achish, the last verses of chapter 27 exposing Achish’s gullible thought: “He has made himself an utter stench to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant”. Yet, although David may currently appear to have been removed from his people Israel, and from his LORD God of Israel, his heart is still that of the Anointed Elect One who cut off the head and mediator of Gath.
The irony of chapter 28 is therefore that of the Anointed One currently being on the side of the Philistines feigning as their servant; contrary to Saul who, though being on the side of Israel, actually commits to sinning. David of Gath fighting for Israel, and Saul of Israel whose heart is akin to the men of Gath. The irony is further amplified given that the whole chapter (alongside chapter 29) represents the death and resurrection of the Christ – that He appeared to have been bound in death to Satan in His own death on the cross, though soon to return to Israel as the true king upon being released from his ‘apparent’ service to Achish. It is this period of the apparent “death” of David that Saul should go to call up another dead man, Samuel – but that is not the focus. The focus is that Saul should go to another medium, another mediator, besides that of Jesus Christ. Instead of going to the rejected mediator David, he went to another rejected mediator – rejected from Israel not because it is pleasing in the LORD’s eyes like David’s temporary rejection, but because it is a sin as explicitly recorded in Deuteronomy 18:11 not to seek the wisdom of such mediums.
What stupidity it is for Saul to seek wisdom from Samuel through a false medium! His inquiry of the LORD through dreams, Urim and the prophets is compared to David’s inquiry of the LORD through the ephod – the garb of the priest (chapter 30:7). How different it is that David should inquire as a priest of God, as opposed to Saul who failed to go through the priestly mediator? Saul who had only turned to these elements, and even to Samuel who had already died, for the sake of fleshly victory over the Philistines – the Saul of War (1 Samuel 14:52)? How different this is to David who “strengthened himself in the LORD his God” (chapter 30:6) that Saul, instead of strengthening himself in the LORD before inquiring (just as David had done in chapter 30), was afraid of men and trembled because of men (Luke 12).
Though it is unimportant whether it is truly Samuel who appeared before him as an apparition, the same message is preached throughout the book so far – that Saul is to serve David the true king. V.16 is express enough – the LORD has rejected Saul, for the LORD has become Saul’s enemy; the LORD has torn the kingdom from Saul’s hand and given it to David (v.17), David who has been destroying the Amalekites (chapter 27:8) as a resident of Ziklag whilst Saul’s mercy against his enemy is seen as a compromise which no Israelite king should make.
Yet, there is still some necessity to focus on the interesting nature of the medium of En-dor and what exactly it is she saw. Unlike 1 Kings 22:20 where we see a spirit acting as an evil agent before the LORD to cause the fall of Ahab, instead we should look at the language used by the woman – “Whom shall I bring up for you? (‘alah עלה– to ascend, to rise up)” as if the woman has power to bring up anyone from the dead, from the earth (c.f. Psalm 71:20) when it is our LORD Christ who was brought up and risen from the earth, not by the woman but by the Father and the Sprit. What is most interesting is that this woman saw “gods” (the ESV renders it as ‘a god’ though the Hebrew uses the word Elohim, the plural singular used to describe God in Genesis 1) rising out of the earth and yet He is an old man coming up, wrapped in a robe. The question which arises is, whether Saul has been sanctified and glorified like the Christ? There is no indication that this is Satan masquerading as an angel of light for Satan does not speak the word of truth about the tearing of the kingdom from Saul’s grips. It would seem as if Samuel, now sitting in the midst of the communion of the Triune God, rises like the creator God himself from the earth (though it was Christ who first rose from the dead); and his proclamation concerning Saul and his sons’ death is supposedly a joyous proclamation, though the army of Israel is given into the hand of the Philistines. Saul, and all people, would have known that this mighty priest by whose name the book is labelled after is sitting in the midst of Yahweh as opposed to ‘fellowshipping’ with the enemy Satan. For Samuel to proclaim that Saul and his sons will be with Samuel, furthermore that Samuel is shrouded with the glory of God himself, should be enticing to Saul.
Therefore, the true heart of Saul is revealed in his mourning – not for his people, but for his own earthly kingdom which was ripped from his hands and placed firmly under the headship of David, the typological Christ. Instead of meditating upon the kingdom of righteousness and the true kingdom of heaven (Matthew 6:33), he sought to establish earthly victory and earthly power. And this is the true exchange of the chapter – that David shall return to Israel as part of Israel’s restoration, whilst Saul and his sons shall die by the hands of the Philistines, though they have the option of fellowshipping with Samuel in the kingdom of heaven. Should not Saul mourn for his people as opposed to his earthly predicament? Why should he ‘obey’ the heretical medium (v.22) when he should be worshipping the true mediator who shrouded Samuel with glory and is the True Man who will bring all of us up out of the earth? Why should he be forced to eat, when he should be fasting and praying to the LORD for forgiveness, the LORD who can remove transgressions (Psalm 103:12)?