header photo

Los Lunas Cornerstone

Church of the Nazarene

Foxhole Desperation (1 Samuel 28)


    In 1942, U.S. military chaplain William Thomas Cummings, preached a sermon on the field during the Battle of Bataan. During this field sermon, it is said that chaplain Cummings first uttered the statement that, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” The phrase caught fire, and just 12 years later, even President Eisenhower was repeating the phrase.
    The idea behind the phrase is that in moments of desperation, moments of hopelessness and confusion, moments when one is confronted by death, all people will believe in or hope for a higher power, turning even the staunchest atheist.
    There might be some truth to this, and any true turning of the heart to God will not go unanswered. So, is there anything wrong with so called “foxhole confessions” or even “deathbed confessions” if they turn people to God? Ultimately, no, but they miss a lot of the joys that come with a life surrendered to God, and that’s not something you want to miss.
    1 Samuel 28 is going to give us an example of Saul’s foxhole desperation moment this morning, and there’s a lot we can learn about what is missed when we wait to call on the name of the Lord. Let’s jump in.
    There’s two significant things that lead Saul to his moment of “foxhole desperation” in this chapter. Look at verse 3, “Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists.”
    The first significant thing we need to know about for this story today is that Samuel had died. He lived a long life, full of service for the Lord. But, he was gone. What did that mean for Israel? It’s pretty simple, it meant that there was no longer a prophet of God to speak the Word of the Lord, at least none that anyone was aware of at this point. Samuel had been it. Without Samuel, not only was the nation without someone who would speak to them on God’s behalf, and vice-versa, but the nation was also left without someone who would give its leaders God-honoring advice.
    This put the nation of Israel in a really bad place. With all that we’ve learned about Israel, we know that the nation would always go in the direction of their leader. If they had a good leader who pointed them toward God, the people would move closer to God. If they had a bad leader who lead them away from God, the people would unfortunately follow. So without anyone to try to guide Saul in the right direction, the last glimmer of hope that Saul might turn things around fades.
    Verse 4 has the second significant thing we need to know about this story today. “So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa.” The second significant thing for this story is that the Philistines were once again gathered for war. The next verse tells us that when Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. He’s thrust into a moment of desperation, a “foxhole” moment, when despite the fact that he had long forgotten God and no longer called on the name of the Lord, he was looking for a supernatural intervention to help him gain the victory over the enemy. Saul was desperate for an answer, but Samuel had died, so Saul had to go straight to the source.
    “When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets.” Saul asked the LORD for advice. Lord is your first blank in your bulletin this morning. It was indeed a desperate time for Saul. He tried everything he could to get a hold of God.
    Now we see that there were other prophets in the land, none of whom are mentioned by name, so we know that they weren’t as prominent as Samuel. But God did not speak to Saul through them. Saul also must have brought the matter before the High Priest, because the High Priest would wear the Urim and Thummim mentioned here on his breastplate. Now, it’s interesting to me, that only the Urim is mentioned in this passage, but that’s for a specific reason. It seems that the Urim and Thummim were used as a tool that God would speak and direct through to determine if a person was guilty or innocent in a given matter.
    I say that it’s interesting that the Urim only is mentioned because the Urim would tell the High Priest that a person was guilty. By this passage only mentioning the Urim, we’re supposed to understand that Saul was found guilty. Of what, we don’t yet know, but because Saul was guilty, he received no answer from God on what to do about the Philistines who were gathered for war.
    Now, I have to give Saul some credit. At least this time he tried to ask God, tried to get God’s guidance on what he should do. I can’t help but think that maybe if he had done that back when Goliath issued his challenge, maybe things might have gone more favorably for Saul, personally.
    But, he’s found guilty, and God does not speak to him.
    Saul is desperate indeed, because here’s what he did next, verse  7, “Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.”
    Saul settled for a MEDIUM. That’s your next blank. Saul settled for a medium. The first verse we read this morning, verse 3, told us that Saul had previously banished all the spiritualists and mediums in the land, but with God not answering him, he turned to a medium to get the supernatural guidance that he needed in his “foxhole desperation”.
    The medium has one purpose in this story, and that is to call up the spirits of the dead. That’s what mediums do.That’s why they had been banned from the land not only this time, but throughout much of Israel’s history spiritualists and mediums were banned because they spoke to the dead. This was a big offense.
    Verse 14, “He said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage.”
    The spirit Saul has the medium call up is Samuel.
    Samuel definitely had words for Saul, his truly final words. “Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” And Saul answered, “I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and no longer answers me, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do.” Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has departed from you and has become your adversary? The Lord has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. As you did not obey the Lord and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the Lord will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the Lord will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!” (15-19).
    Samuel’s spirit tells Saul two important things. He confirms that the Lord had indeed departed from Saul and that the Lord had become Saul’s enemy. ENEMY is your next bulletin blank. The Lord turned Himself against Saul.
    Here’s the thing: I believe that in any person’s moment of “foxhole desperation” that if they genuinely turned their heart to God, He would hear them. But I also know that there are Biblical instances of people waiting and waiting until it was too late for themselves, and God did not hear. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would never want to find out when that point is when it’s too late, and I would never want anyone I know and care about to find out when that point is when it’s too late. I’d rather stay far on the side of being safe and knowing that I made the decision to follow God and honor God in my life, and not because I was desperate and it was a last ditch effort.
    Here’s the other important thing that Samuel told Saul, that the reason the Lord had stopped listening to Saul and stopped answering Saul was because Saul did not OBEY the Lord. That’s your next bulletin blank. Saul didn’t obey what the Lord had told him to do, so the Lord no longer answered Saul’s cries, even his cries from “foxhole desperation”.
    Like I said, I don’t want to find out where that point is. I don’t want my actions to jeopardize my eternal security. I don’t want that for anyone.
    But it’s not just that. It’s not just wanting to make sure that we get into eternity. If that was the only good thing about following Christ, then confessions of “foxhole desperation” and “deathbed confessions” would be more than enough.
    The problem with waiting is that we miss out on all the good things about following Jesus now, on earth, as well. There’s more than one.
    John 10:10 tells us that Jesus came not only to give us eternal life, but to give us ABUNDANT life on earth. That’s your next blank. Jesus came to give us abundant life. All the best that God wants for us, He wants to give us. Life like we could never imagine.
    If we wait until that moment of desperation, we also miss the power that we could have over the enemy. Luke 10:19 says, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” Any attack the enemy could possibly think to throw our way, He has given us the power to thwart those attacks. He has given us the power to overcome sin, all through what Christ did.
    If we wait until our “foxhole desperation” moment, we may miss out on the use of the GIFTS of the Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:4-10 details what some of those gifts are. Gifts that can be used to encourage others when they are going through a challenging time. Gifts that can be used to teach others and help them deepen their knowledge of spiritual things. Gifts that can be used to give others wisdom and discernment when they are confused and misguided. I preached a few weeks ago on the importance of each person in the body of Christ, partly because of the gifts we are meant to use to help others. It would be a shame to miss out on the purpose that we have through our gifts.
    Ephesians 1:3 says that Christ has given us every spiritual blessing. If we wait, how many of those spiritual BLESSINGS, which is your next bulletin blank, how many of those blessings will we miss out on? I don’t want to find out, frankly. This life has many challenges, sometimes they seem overwhelming and they threaten to sink us, and I can’t imagine how hopeless and pointless life would be without the blessings the Lord gives us.
    We’d also miss out REST for our soul, which is your final blank. In the midst of trials and challenges, in the midst of the storms, in the midst of the anxiety and stress, He gives us peace and rest. He helps us just be still in His presence, which is certainly something this world needs desperately.
    These are just a few things that we’d miss if we don’t come to the Lord when we have ample opportunity. Let’s not follow Saul’s example. Let’s not wait until the time has passed. Let’s not wait until that moment of “foxhole desperation”.

1. If eternal life were the only benefit Jesus has to give His followers and nothing more, would you still have desired to be a disciple? Why?

2. What is the danger in waiting for moments of “foxhole desperation” to ask for the Lord’s guidance?

3. What are steps you can do to walk in such a way that you avoid “foxhole desperation”?

Go Back