Soli Deo Gloria!

(all glory be to God)

Month: November, 2010

On “Mediums” and the Bible

The Shade of Samuel Invoked by Saul

Shade of Samuel?

Since our son was born a few days ago, I’ve been at home this week. My wife was flipping through the cesspool known as Daytime TV, and we landed on a talk show that had a ‘medium’ on it. You know the routine, folks like these claim to have the power to contact ‘the other side’, and have the ability to talk to your loved ones. This woman was no different, she did the same old schtick that went something like this:

‘Psychic’: I’m getting a letter, someone with a J or a G. Does anyone know anyone who has passed with a name that starts with a J or a G?

Victim: Oh yeah, my grandfather George! He recently passed away!

‘Psychic’: Yes, it is your grandfather George — and he has this message to tell you: “He loves you very much, and knows that you miss him – but some day you will be together with him”

Victim: <sobs, overcome with tears, in remembrance of their loved one and the loving, affirming message to them>

Call me a skeptic, but this is really a very simple parlor trick – albeit one that takes a bit of skill (and fast talking skills) to do well. For those of you who haven’t caught on yet — this is known as Cold Reading (Wikipedia). Check the article out at some point, but three curious observations of my own:

  1. The psychic never has a clear reading on who they have contacted ‘on the other side’, but requires a victim in the audience to tell them who they are talking to. Weirdly enough ‘spirits’ give you their first letter of their name.
  2. As soon as the victim tells the ‘psychic’ the name of the loved one, they immediately have an incredibly clear revelation to give! They go from vague to direct in the span of a minute or less!
  3. And then they always have some sort of feel-good syrupy message. Has anyone ever given a message like: “I am angry that your sister Mary Beth is a drunk and beats her kids – tell her to stop it!”. And the spirits seem to never want to engage in a conversation, instead they just dispense your fortune like a cookie in a Chinese restaurant.

For all of these reasons and more, it is easy to discern what actually is (or is not) happening when one of these charlatans shows up.

But thinking about this led me to recall an incident in the Bible – it is the time when Saul went to seek a medium (something prohibited by the Mosaic Law, and punishable by death) to contact the Prophet Samuel about battle plans against the Philistines. The LORD had refused to answer Saul when consulted via prophets, and so he took the unusual and illegal move to contact a medium. From 1 Samuel 28:

8 So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

9 But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”

10 Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.”

11 Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

“Bring up Samuel,” he said.

12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

Now this passage is actually a bit controversial in the realm of Biblical Scholarship. Some believe that the Witch of Endor (yes, this medium lived in Endor – and not the ones with the Ewoks) did not actually contact Samuel, but that an evil spirit instead came up (some great theologians such as Matthew Henry and John Calvin took this position). Others believe that it was indeed Samuel (in fact, this is probably the modern prevailing opinion) as that is what the text states. That is a topic for another day. However, I wanted to zero in on the bold/italic portion of the text.

I think this woman was a charlatan, and was surprised that she was able to actually conjure up a spirit. I think she was probably another huckster separating fools from their money. To actually see Samuel come up made her cry out loud.

I wonder what would happen if these phonies actually did encounter whatever it is that they attempted to communicate with. They’d probably need a change of underwear.

Look at verse 10 for the hubris and arrogance of Saul. He makes an oath to her on the LORD(!) telling her that she would not be punished. This is outrageous, given that it is God who gives the command that those who practice such things should be put to death. And this is hypocritical of Saul when it was he who had been cleansing the land of mediums (1 Samuel 28:3)! This is interesting isn’t it and seems to speak to our fallen human nature. We are often eager to follow God’s laws until it causes conflict of self-interest. In that case, anything goes. I know it’s a struggle that I have had to deal with.

That said, I want to look at the Mosaic Law briefly. The law against mediums and the like are repeated in a couple of places in the Pentateuch, but I like Deuteronomy 18:9-13:

9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.

To bring this back to be relevant to the New Covenant / Old Covenants shedding light on each other theme I started with the previous post – I want to speak briefly about the concept that the “New Testament God” has a different character from “The Old Testament God”. Some of these objections have to do with the fact that God commanded the Israelites to conquer the promised land.

But look at verse 9 here – there is no moral equivalence between the Israelites and the inhabitants of the land that they conquered. It is not right to burn your sons and daughters to your ‘god’. And that was a common practice in the land that the Israelites were to enter into. For those of you who believe that all cultures are equivalent: Does a culture that burns their infants on a pyre to their god in the hopes to appease them have the same moral standing as a culture that states: “Love your neighbor as yourself”?


In the New Testament, the Old unfolds

St. Augustine wrote this:

Novum Testamentum in vetere latet
Vetus in novo patet

For those of us who don’t understand Latin (like myself), this is translated:

Only in the New Covenant does the Old unfold,
And hidden lies the New Testament in the Old.

This is a very important principle to understand, as it is the New Testament that sheds light on the Old Testament. And what Augustine says here is key — the New Testament is hidden inside of the Old. As this has become a recurring theme in my studies as of late,  I thought I’d create a series of posts about how the Old Testament unfolds in light of  of the New Testament.

But first, some words from Jesus. There is an important verse in John’s Gospel account. It is John 17:6:

6 “I have revealed you [the Father] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

and continuing down to verse 26:

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

So there is this sense that God the Father was never really made known, until Jesus revealed Him to us. This has vast implications of course, one of the major ones is that the Nation of Israel (the firstborn son in Exodus) didn’t truly understand the Father, even with the Revelation at Sinai and the continuing revelations throughout the Prophets.

And so, here again is this consistent theme in that the Old Testament has to be interpreted in light of the revelation brought to us through the Christ (Messiah). Also important to note: the New Testament never contradicts the Old Testament, but it casts light and Reveals what is contained inside of it. And once Christ is shown in the New Testament, suddenly things become much clearer in the Old and the shadowy archetypes in the Old Testament are shown to be pointers to Christ.

As a simple example of this, let’s look at a classic passage from the Fall of Man. Genesis 3:15 (I prefer NASB’s translation here, we’ll see why in a moment):

And I [God] will put enmity
Between you [the serpent/Satan] and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

This is a great passage, and is considered to be the proto-evangelium (first gospel). If you discard the New Testament from your Bible, then this passage appears to be nothing more than a description about the descendants of the snake and the descendants of the woman. And who can argue that snakes and men have a fairly contentious relationship?

However, the fascinating portion of this is how seed is considered a singular. Note how it states “He shall bruise you on the head”. Is it curious that the descendant of the woman will bruise the snake God is talking to? And not the descendants of the snake?

And notice how God is talking of the woman’s seed. Curious. Usually, we speak of the man’s seed. Hold that thought.

Anyway, if you read this passage in the Old Testament, you might brush this off as some sort of poetic license or something. But if you flip over to the New Testament, it appears as if the authors see something more meaningful here.

Galatians 3:16

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that he will give the land to his offspring (literally: seed). Paul says, “No” — he meant seed in the singular, not the plural. Which makes sense if you believe that the Messiah was to come from Abraham’s lineage, and would fulfill the following:

I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you

That the seed would be a blessing for all peoples on earth. That’s precisely what we believe Jesus Christ’s ministry did, allowing all people (not just those of Jewish descent) to have a relationship with the Living God. This is a profound promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12, and one that the Nation of Israel surely did not fulfill on its own. Instead, a single descendant of Abraham was responsible for spreading the Word of God to all nations. Representatives from almost every nation now sing Psalms of worship to the One True God. And it is all due to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, look a few verses down in Galatians:

Galatians 4:4

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,

One cannot help but think that Paul was thinking of Genesis 3:15 when he wrote this. The promise of the seed of the woman has been fulfilled in Christ. Jesus was born only of Mary’s ‘seed’, and was conceived via the Holy Spirit. Therefore, He truly fulfills the promise given to Eve in the Garden by God. Given Paul’s argument of Abraham’s seed – one cannot help but think that this is the same argument he would be making in interpreting Genesis 3:15.

Since we did touch on the promises given to Abraham a little bit here, look at what Jesus says about Abraham:

John 8:56

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

Abraham rejoiced — he clearly saw that the promise of the blessing was fulfilled in Christ!

So once again — the New Testament is not in any way contradicting the Old Testament, but instead it reveals much more clearly what was being promised in Genesis. We often think of this promise in Genesis 3:15 as being given to Eve (and yes, it was) — but equally it was given to the serpent, who is also called the following in the book of Revelation:

Revelation 12:9

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Remember, God keeps His promises. Even to Satan.

Romans 5:12-21

Zampieri - Adam et Ève (détail)

“The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” -Genesis 3:12 (Adam blames God and Eve for his own sin. So it begins!)

Sometimes I gloss over a passage of scripture, especially when I think to myself, “Yeah, I know this doctrine” and then find myself breezing over the text. Reading Systematic Theologies, learning doctrine, etc. can sometimes make me speed read through Scripture. I’m trying to be more deliberate as of late, and have been doing so in some passages of the theological masterpiece that is the book of Romans.

I was reading through Romans 5:12-21 and the lightbulb just suddenly clicked in my head the other day, and I thought I’d share it. Not only does Paul describe the doctrine of Original Sin in this passage, but he proves it and I’d forgotten how good Paul is at doing that. This is what I love about the epistles in the New Testament. It isn’t simply thus saith the Lord, but it treats us as thinking, rational adults and often seeks to show us why something is true.

In this passage, Paul will prove to us why it is that God counts us guilty in Adam even if we could somehow avoid transgressions against the Law. And he will prove it by showing us that once upon a time, there was a group of people who could avoid having their personal sins counted against them!

Romans 5:12-21

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.

16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.

17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Here is a summation of what Paul is saying. Remember, this is very important!

  1. Sin and death entered the world through Adam (v.12)
    1. Remember, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Death comes about due to sin.
    2. Adam was warned that death would come to him if he violated God’s commandment: If you eat of the fruit, you will surely die.
  2. However, sin cannot be imputed when there is no Law (v.13)
    1. Also see Romans 4:15: “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation
  3. Yet there was death between the time of Adam and the time of Moses! (v. 14)
    1. Note: The one law that was given to Adam and Eve could not be violated by their descendants, as their descendants could not eat the fruit. Therefore, their descendants could not sin in that fashion. And their other sins (murder, adultery, etc.) could not be held against them because the Law had not been given yet. And still, they died!
  4. We also note: the single transgression of Adam resulted in condemnation to all (v. 15)


The conclusion one is left with is that in some sense mankind is held guilty in Adam even during the time period in which sin couldn’t be counted against us (before the Law of Moses). This is the doctrine of Original Sin. We are held guilty in some sense because of Adam, our forefather. That we share in his guilt even though we ourselves didn’t physically eat from the fruit!

To be fair, this is a hard doctrine for Western man to accept. Liberal Christianity seems to have abandoned it, or relegate it to the same pile of ‘unpleasantness’ as predestination, Hell, etc. But this is pretty clearly what Paul is teaching. This argument is buttressed even further with Paul’s comparison between Adam and Christ.

And in some ways, the most important part is the flip side of guilt in Adam. For, if condemnation came through the first Adam, and it brought death — a powerful force, then how much greater will the gift come to those who are in the Second Adam (Christ)!

Remember, this is the same formula used. If we are found in Christ, then His righteousness is imputed onto us (v. 17-19). And all we have to do is receive this free gift (16). One act of disobedience brought death (Adam). One act of obedience brought life (Christ).

So who represents you before God? Adam, or Christ?