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Living on Dead–End Street (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
May 13, 2024 4:00 am

Living on Dead–End Street (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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May 13, 2024 4:00 am

Some people disregard God until they’re caught up in a crisis, then expect immediate answers to urgent prayers. But will God always answer? We’ll find out as we look at a desperate moment in King Saul’s life, on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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There are many people who disregard God until they're facing a crisis and then all of a sudden they expect an immediate answer to their urgent prayer.

But does God always provide an answer? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg tells us about an urgent prayer King Saul prayed at a desperate moment in his life, and we'll see how God responded to him. For Samuel and 28, In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army. David said to Achish, Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.

And Achish said to David, Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life. Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa.

When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by urim or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servant, Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her. And his servant said to him, Behold, there is a medium at Endor. So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went.

He and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night and said, Divine for me, buy a spirit and bring up from me whomever I shall name to you. The woman said to him, Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why, then, are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death? But Saul swore to her by the Lord.

As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing. Then the woman said, Whom shall I bring up for you? He said, Bring up Samuel for me. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, Why have you deceived me? You are Saul. The king said to her, Do not be afraid.

What do you see? And the woman said to Saul, I see a god coming up out of the earth. He said to her, What is his appearance?

And she said, An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe. And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. Then Samuel said to Saul, Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up? Saul answered, I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams.

Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do. And Samuel said, Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines. Then Saul fell at once full-length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel.

And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand, and I have listened to what you have said to me. Now therefore, you also obey your servant.

Let me set a morsel of bread before you and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way. He refused and said, I will not eat. But his servants together with the woman urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed.

Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, and she put it before Saul and his servants and the eight. Then they rose and went away that night. Amen. Father, with our Bibles open before us, we humbly pray for the enabling of the Holy Spirit to speak, to listen, to understand, to believe, to live in the light of your truth. Help us to this end, we pray, for Jesus' sake.

Amen. Well, as we come now to the twentieth chapter, I hope you will recall that we said last time that the writer, with a masterful approach to the unfolding of a story, presses the pause button just at the point where David seems to be trapped by his own cunning, because it has been determined by Achish that David and his men should march out on the side of the Philistines. And David, of course, has given in verse 2 that enigmatic reply, Well, you shall know what your servant can do, and all the time presumably saying to himself, I wonder what I am going to do. And as that is put on pause, we then return to the fact that Saul has an even greater dilemma than the one that confronts David. And in switching the focus from David to Saul, we're about to discover that Saul is, we might say, living on Dead End Street. There is, if you were to have borrowed David's words from earlier in the story, he recognizes that there is but a step between himself and death. And the way in which the writer provides the context for us makes a number of things clear.

First of all, that his position was absolutely desperate. There is a verse in the fourth chapter of Ecclesiastes which in the NIV—not in the ESV, but in the NIV—begins simply, There was a man all alone. And as I came to this section in 28, that particular verse and phrase stood out to me.

There was a man all alone. For certainly that's the situation with Saul. He is absolutely overwhelmed by the sight that he sees of the Philistine forces being assembled against him. He is by this point a mere shadow of the young man to whom we were introduced when he was to be anointed as king. Let me remind you, back in chapter 9, we're told, There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders up he was taller than any of the people. But look at him now as we discover him here in this chapter.

He's barely recognizable. He may only have shrunk a wee bit physically—I guess you lose so much in time—but he would still be a tall man. His physical stature may have been maintained, the structure of his bones, and so on. But spiritually, what we are introduced to here is a man who is fading away. We're introduced, actually, to a man who is dying from the inside out. The circumstances, as they're described there in 3 and following, are dangerous, they're grave, and they give an explanation for his sense of hopelessness.

Look at verse 5. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. So there are actually, when we think about his desperate circumstances, three factors that contribute to that. The first, of course, is what I've just mentioned—namely, the presence of the Philistines.

This is, of course, nothing new. Back in chapter 14, we were reminded of the fact that there was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul. But there are two aspects to this circumstance that add to his sense of desperation. One is the position in which the Philistines now find themselves. In some of the previous engagements, they have been in hilly territory.

But now—and we needn't delay on the geography of it—they've come, as it were, down onto the plain. They've put themselves in a position where the power of their force and of their chariots would be able to put to the best use. So the position is one aspect, and then the personnel is the other, and particularly the addition of David and his six hundred men. David, we were told, has already, in chapter 27, arisen and gone over. And as a result of that, when it was told to Saul, he no longer sought him.

So, first of all, then, the presence of the Philistines. Secondly, the absence of Samuel. The absence of Samuel. This third verse is simply a repetition of the obituary that was provided for us—a very brief obituary—back in the first verse of chapter 25. Samuel had died. All Israel had mourned.

They had buried him in his own city. Now, quite fascinatingly, although Saul and Samuel had not been on speaking terms for quite a while, now that he is dead, Saul wishes that he could talk with him. They don't always seem to go. They don't know what you've got till it's gone. Well, that was true in this case. And this little sentence here that you find following on, at the end of verse 3, and Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land, you find yourself saying, Well, I wonder why we have the mention of his clearing policy, as it were—clearing out the witches and the divination that had crept in upon them.

Well, we're going to find out. He's desperate because of the presence of the Philistines, because of the absence of Samuel, and because, you will notice, thirdly, the silence of God. The silence of God. Saul inquired of the Lord, but the Lord, verse 6, did not answer him. Now, Saul would be able to recall the beginning of the journey when, in the presence of Samuel, at the very outset of it all, Samuel had said to him back in chapter 9, Stop here for a while, Saul, that I may make known to you the word of the Lord. Well, those days were long in the past now. When his heart was tender, when the word of the Lord was coming, when his engagement with Samuel was meaningful. But now he's just a shrunken character.

He now is living on Dead End Street. He would have been able to identify with Cowper's hymn, Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? And the famous verse, What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!

How sweet their memories still, That they have left an aching void The world can never fill! No, the Lord was not speaking, and he tells how this is categorical, that there is nothing out with the realm of this silence. The Lord did not answer him, either by dreams—which was one of the ways of communication—or by urim, which, you remember, was a process that was used by the priests in determining the will of God.

Well, of course, how was he gonna get access to that? He had butchered the priests at Nob, and at the same time, he is trembling with fear on account of the fact that the prophet himself is dead. So the writer gives this to us in order that we might get this picture, that we might realize that Samuel is dead, the voice of God is silent, the Philistines are on the horizon, the end is in sight, he's had the stuffing knocked out of him, and the question is, what is he going to do at this point?

He's come to another crossroads, and he has made his inquiry. Interestingly, in 1 Chronicles 10 and 13 and 14, the chronicler writes, So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the LORD, in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium seeking guidance. And then it says, He did not seek guidance from the LORD. And here it says he sought guidance from the LORD.

Well, I don't think there's any contradiction. He sought guidance from the LORD, but it didn't look like it at all. He sought it faintly. He sought it, if you like, with a backup plan. He sought it too little, and he sought it too late. He didn't realize what we all need to realize, that the Scriptures say, Seek the LORD while he may be found.

He didn't. He was desperate. Now, in verses 7–14, we find him disguised.

Disguised. Saul said to his servants—said, Here's the crossroads, and here's the answer to our question. He's struck by the silence of God, and so what he essentially says to his servants is, Listen, if I can't get an answer from heaven, let's try hell. Find a woman, he says.

Find a woman who is a medium that I may go to her and inquire of her. If I can't hear from God, I'll go hear from someone else. I'll go to the dark side. And what he's doing here is actually going against his own edict. Now, we understand why the writer has given us that sentence there in verse 3, and Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. That was one of the high points of his rule as a king. He said, We're not going to tolerate all that heathen stuff in here.

We're going to get rid of them all. And so he had forbidden it. And he had forbidden it because the law of God forbade it. And you can read of that yourself in Deuteronomy. God had forbidden the practice of divination by means of a medium or a necromancer. And straightforwardly, the Lord did not allow them to do this. And now he says, Well, we're going to do it.

Seek out for me a woman who is a medium that I may go to her and inquire of her. Now, notice how quickly the servants are able to respond. And the servant said to him, Behold, there is a medium at Endor.

Wow! That's pretty fast. How did they know that?

Presumably because the Canaanite practices were so embedded amongst the people. I mean, it would have been a far healthier situation. If he'd said, Go find a woman, they'd say, Well, I'll get back to you maybe in a month or two, because we haven't had anything like that around here for the longest time.

But no, they said they were able to reply immediately. Oh, I wish they could have said, Nobody fits that description here, king. I remember talking with somebody years ago about the nature of revival and when revival had come to parts of Scotland or to Wales or to other places in the world, and the person made this strange observation, but significantly. He said, You know, when revival comes, all the horoscope shops go. How quickly you could find people that are listening to me now who would be able to tell you exactly where you can go in order to go to the dark side.

And God forbid that some of those people are actually doing that. So, given the fact that there is the possibility of information from that source, we're told that Saul disguised himself. He disguised himself and he went. Now, again, the geography of things is such that in order to go to Endor, he would have to skirt the camp of the Philistines. And it wouldn't be a smart move to go walking around in his kingly robes in the context of his enemy.

But at the same time, his greater concern would surely be to make sure that nobody would ever know—that he, the very one who had outlawed the practices, would be discovered seeking help at that same polluted spring. So allow the text to descend upon your mind and see him there, the king, the rejected king, sneaking off to meet the medium. He's a walking contradiction.

He's partly truth and mainly fiction. Look at him. No spear. No cloak.

No hope. Actually, this is the final divesting of his kingly identity, isn't it? The robe has been torn. He's torn Samuel's robe. His own robe is essentially in tatters. It's been cut in the cave of Engedi. His spear was captured in the encounter in the earlier incident. And now look at him.

Well, you see, this is what happens. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Remember we said in our last study that he relied on his own insight. The Bible is clear. We're supposed to use our insight, but we're not supposed to lean on it.

And he leaned on it. If I can't hear from God, I'll go somewhere else. It's a bit like somebody, you know, with a terminal illness—and I don't mean this in any wrong way, so please don't take it wrongly—but sometimes, if we were to be diagnosed with a terminal illness, when all the approved medicine has failed, then it wouldn't be surprising if we wanted to turn immediately to any possible solution. And that's what's happened to him here. There's no dreams, there's no Urim, there's no word from God, therefore he's going the only place he knows to go.

His default is a bad default. And so he and two of his buddies, two men, verse 8, came to the woman by night. His request is very clear. "'Divine for me by a spirit,' he said, and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you." Now, what a response on the part of the woman.

How ironic is this? The woman said to him, "'Surely you know what Saul has done, that he has cut off all the mediums in the necromancers.'" I mean, she says, you know, we're not supposed to be doing this here.

The king, he had an edict on this. And then she says, are you sure this isn't a setup? Are you laying a trap for my life?

Maybe she thinks he's an agent of the king, and he's doing a sort of follow-up to clean up the remaining renegades, as it were. Now, Saul says, don't even worry about that. Oh. "'As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come to you for this thing.'" He has got no basis upon which to make the promise. He has no basis by which he can make that kind of pronouncement. It is incongruous at the slightest.

The shameful incongruity of that reply. "'As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come to you for this.'" In other words, including the Lord in his lies, the midrash in the Jewish writings, they capture this incongruity when they write, "'Whom did Saul resemble at this moment? A woman who is with her lover and swears by the life of her husband.'" That is the level of the incongruity, that he requests for himself what he has prohibited for others. You're listening to Truth for Life.

That is Alistair Begg with the message he's titled, Living on Dead End Street. We'll hear more about Saul's dilemma tomorrow. There are so many incredibly valuable lessons in this study in 1 Samuel. It's remarkable how much of what we are hearing applies to our lives today. That's why reading the Bible, understanding it, applying it, that's why it's so important as we come to crucial crossroads in our lives like King Saul did in today's message. We need to be able to rely on Scripture, to turn to Scripture, to keep us on the right path. One of the ways we do that is by memorizing Scripture. Committing God's Word to memory is so vital. That's why we're recommending a book titled, How to Memorize Scripture for Life. Some of you are thinking, I've tried memorizing Scripture, I'm just no good at it. This book will take you through a series of steps that you can follow along with. And over the course of four days, you will have committed sections of God's Word to memory.

You'll be surprised at how easy it is. When you follow the pattern in this booklet, you're not only able to memorize short verses, you'll be able to tackle whole chapters of the Bible. And in the back of the book, there's a schedule for memorizing the entire book of Ephesians. Ask for your copy of How to Memorize Scripture for Life.

When you donate to Truth for Life, you can give through the mobile app or online at truthforlife.org slash donate, or you can call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening. Ever had someone tell you that they want to live life their way and maybe when they're older, they'll think more seriously about faith? That describes you or someone you know. Join us tomorrow to find out how dangerous that kind of a presumption can be. Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-13 05:22:09 / 2024-05-13 05:30:59 / 9

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