1 Samuel, chapter 28, contains what must be one of the strangest stories in the Bible.
The prophet Samuel was dead and the king, Saul, with the Israelite army, found himself going to war with a fast-approaching Philistine army.
Although Saul was an experienced soldier and army commander, on this day he “was afraid; terror filled his heart” (v 5). So, we are told, “He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets” (v 6).
Saul tried accepted ways of seeking God at the time. For example, he would have known the story of Joseph and how God spoke by way of a dream to Pharaoh. Perhaps Saul and his men had slept, and no dream had presented itself.
The Urim and Thummin were stones or sticks, one black and one white, kept in the high priest’s breastplate that were tossed to the ground to seek God for a yes or No answer. We are not quite sure how it worked but obviously, it did not give a satisfactory result for Saul.
Saul would have known about Balaam as a prophet and more recently Samuel as people able to interpret the times through prophecy. If there were prophets present – nothing helpful was given that day.
Saul inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer.
And that can be true for us. God may never answer us about some things (For example, why did this or that happen?) Or if He does answer, it may not be straight away.
Sometimes the Lord answers, but we fail to hear, or understand.
What might we do during such times?
Most would agree that Saul’s next decision was the worst one ever. He found a medium, explicitly against God’s law (“Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God” – Lev 19:31), and the woman obeyed Saul’s command to “bring up Samuel” (1 Sam 28: 11).
Putting aside theological questions about whether a dead person can be “brought up” (a separate devotion, perhaps?) Samuel proceeded to repeat words that the Lord had previously spoken through him while he had been alive but went further to inform Saul that the battle with Philistia will not turn out well. In fact, he and his sons will die.
I wonder if he regretted consulting the medium!
So, what can we learn here? What can we do when God is or appears to be silent? Let me suggest two things.
First, as we study 1 Samuel, we see that Saul was not a humble man, and his downfall came as a result of disobedience to God’s instructions. So, let’s learn from that and adopt a posture of humility. For some, that might mean confessing sins. For all of us it surely means taking time to worship God.
Second, we can obey him. Maybe God has spoken to you in the past and you haven’t yet done what He said. We can also go back to Bible verses or stories that have spoken to you in the past and meditate on them.
Job was a man who hit the silence of God. For 37 chapters, we saw him sitting in pain, having lost everything; desperate for answers; battling with unhelpful advice from his friends, and feeling that even God had abandoned him – and not knowing why.
But God did eventually speak to Job and although He didn’t answer all of his questions, he said enough to remind him that the Lord is sovereign over all the Earth.
Sometimes, when God is silent, that’s all we need to know.