“It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.” (Proverbs 25:2)
If Saul spoke to Samuel in 1 Samuel 28, Christians have an incredible problem: They can never be sure that their rest will be complete in the Lord, because — who knows? — someone might “bring them up” through a spirit medium. Thus, the 1 Samuel 28 passage is also inconsistent with the “spirit” actually being that of Samuel, for this reason. (See yesterday’s devotional for two other reasons.) But, praise God, you never need to worry that once you have gone to be with the Lord anyone can bother you again. You are free forever from the pains and struggles of this world, and completely safe and secure in the Lord’s arms, for to be absent from the body for the Christian means to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). And I am sure that Samuel, too, was “with the Lord,” and not in the presence of Saul at the time of Saul’s alleged encounter with the spirit of Samuel in 1 Samuel 28.
Now if Saul (and the witch) was deceived, in 1 Samuel 28, I say that the evidence clearly points to it being God who was doing the “deceiving” — if you want to call it that — rather than a deceiving spirit. Compare, for example, a passage like 1 Kings 22:19-23 (or 2 Chronicles 18:18-22) in which the “lying spirit” sent out by God fills the mouth of the false prophets. What do these false prophets say? They speak victory on behalf of king Ahab of Israel, and king Jehoshaphat of Judah, who, in this case, have formed an alliance. The truth of the matter is that they will not have victory at all — they will be defeated in battle. This, the [true] prophet Micaiah makes clear to them, and indeed, this is what happens (Ahab dies in battle — the opposite to what the lying spirit had said to him).
Thus, a deceiving spirit will tell you what is false, to try and get you to have a false sense of assurance — to try and get you to do something that is against God’s will, so that you will be deceived and led astray in your pride and your rebellion. But what happens in the 1 Samuel 28 passage is far from that. Rather than trying to give king Saul a false sense of assurance, or to get him to be further led away in his rebellion, or to get him to do something that is against God’s will, the “spirit” that speaks to Saul condemns him, and tells him that he will surely die the next day on account of his disobedience (1 Samuel 28:19). This is much more like Micaiah in the 1 Kings 22:19-23 passage than it is the false prophets! Thus, we have a predicament. We have a case where there appears to be deception or a “veiling” of some sort, yet with a true, righteous, judgment being given in the midst of it all. Saul is going to die. Saul has been disobedient. Saul is condemned. Surely we cannot classify this as being in the same case as the lying spirit found in 1 Kings 22:19-23.
The resolution: God veiled himself, in the form of Samuel, appealing to both the witch’s and Saul’s understanding of what it meant to “bring up” a spirit from the dead, so that he could deliver his last judgment to Saul before he died (this is a scary thought, but I believe it is the only conclusion we can reasonably come to). Why would God “veil” himself in the form of Samuel? Because he wanted to keep Saul’s spirit open, so he could deliver the judgment to him in an effective, pursuasive, manner. Remember, Saul was not willing to speak to the Lord. God knew this. But he was willing to speak to Samuel — for it was Samuel that he was seeking. Thus, God veiled himself in the form of Samuel — he played a “trick” on Saul and the witch, if you will (while Samuel continued to take it easy in heaven). He “deceived” him, in this sense.
But, really, what God did was not deception, in the Bible terms of what deception really means. In the Bible, deception always means being led astray, further from the truth. In this case, however, truth was delivered. It was for the sake of Saul, if anything, that the judgment was delivered in this way. For, who knows? Perhaps there was even a miniscule chance that Saul would have even repented after he heard this judgment. Despite God’s wrath, and desire to “judge” Saul for his disobedience, we must leave that possibility open as well. For God is also gracious in the midst of his judgment, and desires that “all come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But in reality, it appears that it was too late.
Again, in Jeremiah 20:7, we read Jeremiah crying out to his Lord, “O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived” (KJV). But other versions use the word “persuaded” instead of “deceived”. The idea here, I think, is that God will use various means in order to try and persuade us of what is right and noble — even if those means are somewhat “less than orthodox” in our way of thinking. Yes, he will even use the mouth of a donkey to speak forth what is right. And in this case, I believe he “played along” with the plan of Saul and the witch, veiling himself by providing for them what they wanted to see: a spirit that came out of the earth, a spirit in the likeness of Samuel, that might even complain a little about being “bothered” and “disturbed” — but in reality, God spoke behind the veil.