Dying in darkness

Bible Readings

  • John 13:18-30;
  • 1Samuel 28:4-19;
  • 1Chronicles 10:13-14


What is hopelessness?  What is despair? One can reach a point when nothing seems to be positive, everything is dark and deep, distant and impossible. That’s depression. But there is another form of hopelessness and despair.  Paul writes to the Ephesians:

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ … without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:12, NIV)

Sir Harry Lauder was a British entertainer who proved highly popular throughout the English speaking world both before, during and after World War One.

During World War One Lauder worked tirelessly to organise and recruit performers for shows given to troops serving abroad.

When Sir Harry Lauder’s only son was killed in WWI, he said to a friend:

“When a man comes to a thing like this, there are just three ways out of it—there is drink, there is despair, and there is God. By His grace, the last is for me.”

Was king Saul accountable?

Just this week we heard of the coup d’etat in Zimbabwe and the house arrest of the 93 year old President Robert Mugabe.  Some reports say he is senile, others say he could not retain his anger, while others claim that he could not stand opposition.  Now at 93, can he be held accountable for corruption, torture, murder, theft and bad economical management which impoverished his people?

How would psycho-analysists describe the behaviour of Saul?

We’ve been studying the life of Saul, the first king of Israel. He seems to be a man with a complex personality.  He almost had his own son killed because he dared to dip the tip of his sword in honey to refresh himself in the midst of battle.  Sometimes he needed David to play on the lyre to calm him; other times he wanted to pin David to the wall with his sword; there was the time that he almost succeeded in killing David.  He once wanted to kill his own son, and called him “the son of a perverse and rebellious woman” (1Samuel 20:30-33).

Saul was anointed as king by Samuel and soon after that he found himself in the midsts of a group of prophets singing the praises of God.  When he was inaugurated he singed on the dotted line to rule according to the stipulations of God’s Law.

Saul had one major victory, but soon after that he was overcome by fear; he became directionless.  When he felt that God and Samuel left him alone, he committed the sin of assuming the office of priest.  After the next battle he built a monument is his own honour (1Samuel 15:12). When Samuel announced that God would tear his kingdom from him, he pleaded with Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command…” and asked Samuel to not leave him alone.  “I have sinned.  But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.”  (1Samuel 15:24, 30) And so he did; he worshipped the Lord.

Jealousy got hold of him  and the rest of his live he fluctuated between deep sorrow and flagrant hatred.  He would say, “As surely as the Lord lives, David will not be put to death.” (1Samuel 19:6); but the next moment his anger would erupt and he would send soldiers to kill David (19:11).

In a fit of rage born out of jealousy, he called his men together and said:  “Why you have all conspired against me? No one tells me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse [David]. None of you is concerned about me or tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me, as he does today.” (1 Samuel 22:8, NIV) He then ordered that the High Priest and his family be killed: “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.” (1 Samuel 22:17, NIV)  if this was not enough the whole town where the priests lived was destroyed, with only one to escape.

David spared the life of Saul and Saul had this to say,

“You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. (1 Samuel 24:17–18, NIV)

Their paths parted and later David spared Saul’s life again.  Although Saul had 3,000 men to help him find and kill David, David did not repay evil with evil.  And Saul said (you guessed it!), “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have been terribly wrong.” (1 Samuel 26:21, NIV)

What is going on in the life of Saul?  Was he depressed?  Maybe he suffered from bipolar disorder.  Maybe he should have been institutionalised.  The main question then, could he be held accountable?

Saul and God

Not all Saul did was bad.  We read,

Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land. (1 Samuel 28:3, NIV)

This probably happened not long after he became king.  That was a good thing. It was in accordance with the Law of God,

The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. (Deuteronomy 18:14, NIV)

Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:31, NIV)“ 

I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people. (Leviticus 20:6, NIV) 

A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.’ ” (Leviticus 20:27, NIV)

Necromancers, mediums and spiritists were occultists.  They claimed to, through rituals and muttering, have contact with the dead who had knowledge about the future.  They were the modern day crystal ball readers, carrot cards readers, palm readers, psychics, and star sign readers.  It was against the law of God then, and it is still the case.  Don’t dabble in these things; it is a terrible sin which invokes the wrath of God. Stay away! Christians trust and know God holds the future, and that’s enough!

Three tings help us to understand what leads to Saul’s dark and despairing end:

  • The prophet Samuel died.  Saul could not ask for his advice anymore
  • Saul killed all priests though whom he could enquire God’s will; the one who escaped Saul’s sword was with David
  • The Philistines in their thousands gathered for war and scared the daylights out of Saul. “When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart.” (1 Samuel 28:5, NIV)

Saul was terrified.  Why?  Listen:

I am in great distress. The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. (1 Samuel 28:15, NIV)

That’s loneliness; that’s hopelessness!

He disguised him, he disrobed himself so that he would not be recognised as the one who expelled the spiritists and mediums, he sneaked through enemy territory by night to get to a witch who camped in a cave with her crystal ball; and he begged her to get Samuel.  When she objected, listen to what he said:  “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.” (1 Samuel 28:10, NIV)

Really?  How could he give her the assurance?  He abused and misused the holy Name of God to justify his transgression of God’s law in order to see if he could get something from the man of God to bring some calm in his soul! How deep can a man fall?  This is a picture of the anguish of a soul who knows what it means to see only the back of God.

I must admit, the whole episode with the witch is puzzling, and no commentator come up with absolute answers.  Let’s just make these observations:

  • There is indeed an underworld which is dark, sinister, and frightening
  • God’s command to not be involved in the occult implies that agents of occultic activities are enemies of God in service of Satan
  • Occultic activities are sinful and are a trap to Christians
  • The episode of Saul and the witch is by no means an example; it serves as a warning
  • The witch in Saul’s case was a powerless medium:  she might have thought otherwise, but she was an instrument in God’s hands.  She was frightened to the extreme herself
  • Saul was not consoled by what he had hoped to hear; in fact, he lost all hope
  • Saul had no opportunity to repent.  He died the next day.

What made Saul fall to the ground, was confirmation what he expected:  The Lord has turned away from him (1Samuel 28:16).  This is confirmed in Chronicles:

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, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse. (1 Chronicles 10:13–14, NIV)

He left the witch and stepped into a ferocious battle with the Philistines. Israel fled and the Philistines pursued Saul and first wounded him critically.  He then committed suicide by falling on his sword.  With him his three sons died; Jonathan, David close friend and confidant,  was one.

Saul’s life was wasted.  He was supposed to drive out the Philistines, but the day he died things were just the same, apart from the shame that head of Israel’s king was hanging in the temple of Dagon (1Chronicles 10:10)


Was Saul accountable, or could he be excused on account of the fact that he seemed psychologically disturbed?

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, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse. (1 Chronicles 10:13–14, NIV)

In darkness Saul died, almost like Judas.  A man with so much privilege, so much grace, so much opportunity.

And it begs the question: what about us? What about you? Do you live to die in darkness, lonely in despair and hopelessness?

I close to tell you about another King:  His name is Jesus Christ.  He did everything his Father sent Him to do to set sinners free and bring them  eternal light; and after He did so, He died lonely—“Why have You forsaken Me?”—but He conquered death and He now stands before the throne of God.

If you want to see life, you have to meet Him, you have to trust Him, believe in Him and love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  Don’t face death without Him.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 November 2017


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: