It was a long, perilous, evil road from Ramah, where the prophet Samuel lived, to the place where the witch of Endor lived. Of course, she had no business living there, or anywhere else, for the Mosaic Law decreed that witches be put to death. But live she did, and the path to her door was the path King Saul trod. It took him forty years to get there, and it cost him dearly when he did. The milestones he passed on that long, winding, downward road still mark out the way. There are a half dozen of them all told.
The first milestone marked Saul's undeveloped potential (1 Sam. 11–12). He seems to have cut an impressive figure in his younger days and was chosen by the people to be king because he looked so very much a man. And he started well enough, rescuing the city of Jabesh-gilead from the power of the Ammonite king. The victory encouraged the aging Samuel to retire, for Saul, it seemed, had the potential to be a good king. Sadly, Saul allowed it to all go to waste.
The second milestone marked Saul's unpardonable presumption (1 Sam. 13). War broke out with the Philistines. The aged Samuel promised to come and bless Saul's men and he set a time for doing so. The appointed week wore on. Men began to desert, and still Samuel tarried.
Saul felt he was losing his army and became impatient, so he took it on himself to act as priest. If Samuel wanted to dillydally, then that was too bad for Samuel. Saul intruded into the priests' exclusive domain and sacrificed his offering himself. It never seemed to occur to him that God was testing him by Samuel's divinely appointed delay. The smoke was still ascending from his altar when Samuel appeared. He denounced Saul and told him he had forfeited the kingdom. Moreover, God had Saul's successor in mind, "a man after God's own heart."
The third milestone marked Saul's untimely procrastination (1 Sam. 14). The desultory war with the Philistines needed to be brought to a head, but Saul had no stomach for fighting Philistines. So Jonathan, Saul's son, took the lead. What was King Saul doing? He w as tarrying, we are told, in the uttermost part of Gibeah, under a pomegranate tree. He was wasting his time. He had failed once by presumption. He failed now by procrastination.
The fourth milestone marked his unsatisfactory performance (1 Sam. 15). The time had come to visit God's judgment on the Amalekites for their bitter hostility to the people of God. "Slay utterly," was God's command. They must deal with this relentless foe once and for all. (In Bible typology Amalek represents the flesh. God tells us to deal with it as drastically as Saul was to deal with Amalek.)
Saul triumphed, indeed, but he spared Agag the Amalekite king and the best of the flocks and herds. Saul had failed another test. Samuel angrily brushed off Saul's excuses. He called him a rebel. "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft," said Samuel, with a prophetic eye on the future and final fate of King Saul. Truly this was a notable milestone. The incident marked the end of any further divine validity to Saul's reign and the beginning of a life of crime.
The fifth milestone marked his undisguised paralysis (1 Sam. 17). The Philistines declared war and put forth their giant, Goliath. He challenged Saul (a giant himself) to come and fight him man to man. Saul shook in his shoes. He was so petrified with terror that he let a young lad, David by name, go and fight the giant for him. The people soon sized up that act of cowardice.
The sixth milestone marked his unremitting persecution of the one who had taken his place in the valley of death. No less than twenty-four times King Saul tried to kill David. One black day, he massacred a whole company of priests, accusing them of high treason because their leader had given David some small loaves of bread and Goliath's sword, to help him out of the country.
And so, at last, King Saul came to Endor, where lived a witch. Samuel was dead. Heaven was silent when Saul prayed. And once again the Philistines were preparing to invade. The new, puppet high priest Saul had installed could get no answer from God, either, when he tried to intercede. So Saul turned to the witch. He had knocked on heaven's door in vain. He decided to knock instead on the door of hell. God opened that door suddenly and startlingly. Instead of the witch's familiar spirit showing up, the dead Samuel did—to sentence Saul to death. So, having opened a normally barred and bolted door, God pushed Saul through it to a lost eternity.
Centuries earlier the hireling prophet, Balaam, said: "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" (Num. 23:10). He, too, died under the judgment of God. We cannot die the death of the righteous if we do not live the life of the righteous. And that King Saul never did.