Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message on Prayer School – On Lesson 03 – Rebellion As Witchcraft; Bible: King Saul (1 Samuel); Date: 2 May 2010

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Is Witchcraft

 

Some time ago I read the transcript of an interview with a local witch who had become a Christian. She said that she and others in witchcraft had been praying and fasting against certain Toowoomba churches. Last year Pastor Herman Ruyters alerted us to the fact that they had found evidence of recent pagan rituals on the building site of their church. They dug up witchcraft artefacts which had curses on them against the Christians of the Rangeville church. One pastor shared that he sat next to a satanist in an airplane. He (the satanist) was going to a witchcraft convention and he was quite open about their declared goal to see the church of Jesus Christ destroyed.

Right. This is not nice. Witchcraft is threatening us but – for us here today – there is no reason to act surprised because the Bible confirms that we are indeed on opposing sides. Faith in Jesus Christ and witchcraft do not mix. God absolutely detests and abhors anything that makes us tap into the powers of darkness.

I read from the Bible – Deuteronomy 18:9-14: “ … 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, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord … The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord has not permitted you to do so.” Galatians 5:19-21: “ … idolatry, witchcraft, … and the like.  I warn you … that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:14-22: “ … flee from idolatry … the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons … ”

God cannot and does not tolerate any of us to commune with demons or seek “help” from demons. Our God reigns and commands absolute allegiance and he has a right to do so. According to the Bible – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “ … you are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God … ” God made a huge investment in us. He sent his much loved Son Jesus Christ into this world as a man who then died as the sacrifice for your sins to purchase for you freedom from the devil and all of his demons. In case you do not know: Any unforgiven sin keeps you in bondage to Satan [the penalty of sin is eternal death] but – because Jesus poured out his blood on the cross – your sin can and will be forgiven. This morning – if you turn away from your sin and ask Jesus to forgive you, he will do so because he paid the highest price for you. His holy blood was poured out for you on the cross.

Therefore – with this background – it is not surprising that God forbids us to have anything to do with Satan and demons. Faith in Jesus Christ and witchcraft do not mix. This is not surprising but – and this is surprising – almost in every church there is witchcraft nevertheless. It is not the kind of witchcraft which actively seeks out demons. This kind of witchcraft is more unintentional and often remains unacknowledged (not even recognized) but it is operating and there are Christians – often mature Christians (in almost in every church) – exercising witchcraft power.

I know that this is a radical statement but the assessment is shared by others. For instance, Pastor David Wilkerson – the author of the “The Cross And The Switch Blade” writes: “ … this message has to do with a kind of witchcraft that is . even more dangerous … It is brought into the church not by … witches – but by multitudes of Christians who don’t know they are under the spell of witchcraft! The kind of witchcraft I want to expose is present here … and in every church in America! In fact, it is in every church in the world, to some measure … You ask, ‘How could the devil possibly deceive God’s elect? With occult seductions?’ No! That’s too obvious. We could easily discern the devices of Satan in that area. No, he comes to us in another way. His attack is so very subtle that few Christians ever recognize it.” (http://www.tscpulpitseries.org/english/1990s/ts900305.html).

In the Bible – at one time – the king of God’s people – the leader with the Spirit of God on him – descended into witchcraft in a manner which is familiar to us all. We are not unlike him and this is what happened. Saul was a shy young man but God picked him to be the king of his people – 1 Samuel 10:9-13: “As Saul turned … God changed Saul’s heart … When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying … So it became a saying [among the people]: ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’” God was with Saul who – later on – still rather shy – was hiding among the luggage when they wanted to crown him king (1 Samuel 10:22).

However, Saul soon grew in stature and then it did not take long for him to make two fundamental mistakes which cost him everything and made him descend into witchcraft. 1) He disobeyed God in the face of a major conflict when he did not wait for the prophet Samuel to offer sacrifices to God – 1 Samuel 13:5-15: “The Philistines assembled [thousands of them] … and camped at Micmash … When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns … Saul remained … and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, ‘Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.’ And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. ‘What have you done?’ asked Samuel … ”

Samuel did not even have time for a greeting but immediately confronted Saul with his disobedience: “What have you doneFrom your perspective – from my perspective – how should Saul have answered the question? “What had he doneSamuel would be relentless in his accusations but was there any reason to get so upset with Saul? No! He had waited for seven days – the time set by Samuel – and only then – on the seventh day – looked for an alternative to Samuel making the sacrifices. He did okay and missed Samuel only by minutes and was this not also Samuel’s fault because he waited until the very end of the seventh day before he came.

Saul was under pressure. The enemy was assembled and his own army was scattering in fear. He needed to do something and rallying the troops around God was not such a bad idea. It’s not as if he forgot about God or toyed with other forms of worship. He sacrificed the animals like Samuel would have done.

He pleaded with Samuel – 1 Samuel 13:11-12: “When I saw that the men were scattering … I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me … and I have not sought the Lord’s favour. So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.’”

Yet, the verdict and judgement on Saul were harsh – 1 Samuel 13:5-15: “ … ‘You acted foolishly,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; … because you have not kept the Lord’s command.’ … ”

[Saul was overwhelmed in a momentary crisis situation but his behaviour on a certain day of pressure determined his long-term calling and the future of his kingdom. He did not have this perspective and who can blame him? Is this fair?]

2) The second mistake of Saul was that he again disobeyed God – (this time not before but after a major conflict) – when he did not completely destroy all of the Amalekites and all of their livestock. The Lord had told him – 1 Samuel 15:3: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy [them and] everything that belongs to them … ” However, then the Bible records – 1 Samuel 15:9: “But Saul and the army spared Agag [the king of the Amalekites] and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs – everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed

What should we say about this second failure of Saul? There was almost complete obedience. Every person but one was killed. Saul was a good Christian. He did not seem to have a bad conscience, greeting Samuel with enthusiasm – 1 Samuel 15:13: “When Samuel reached him, Saul said, ‘The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.’” Yes – the best of the livestock was spared but this is how he argued – 1 Samuel 15:20: “‘But I did obey the Lord,’ Saul said. ‘I went on the mission the Lord assigned to me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.’”

Today – in our church and most other churches in the world – we could live with this explanation. There is something unpleasant about crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” in the quest for total obedience. We like church a little more relaxed and looking at a person like Saul we would have to say: “He did a good job. He fought a good battle. Let him have one prisoner and let him have some freedom in worship. Yes – he should not have used the livestock from the Amalekites for the sacrifices but a sheep is a sheep and cow is a cow. God will be pleased

Yet, the verdict and judgement on Saul were once again harsh – maybe almost incomprehensible for us today – 1 Samuel 15:22-23: “But Samuel replied: ‘Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft [or a more accurate translation from the Hebrew would be: For rebellion is witchcraft] and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.’”

How are you hearing this? This cannot be right. How can Saul’s behaviour be in the same league as witchcraft and in fact operate in witchcraft? I don’t know how Saul processed the accusation but he did not query his involvement in witchcraft. It’s almost as if Samuel’s words did not register with him. He never seemed to grasp the full extent of the charges against him.

When Samuel told him after his first mistake that his kingdom would not endure, Saul kept going with his work as king and after the campaign against the Amalekites – before he even sacrificed the livestock which he had spared – he was busy building a monument to himself (1 Samuel 15:12). He did not seem to be worried about the previous rebuke and now – after the second mistake – he only worried about the here and now – not God’s rejection of him as the king but his reputation before his men on this day – 1 Samuel 15:24-31: “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned. I have violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.’ But Samuel said to him, ‘I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of God, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!’ As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe … Saul replied, ‘I have sinned. But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.’ So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshipped the Lord

Rebellion is witchcraft and while it may not begin with evident demonic power (Galatians 5:20), rebellion against God – ongoing stubborn pride against God – invites demons in and then the practice of witchcraft and the bondage to witchcraft (even in the church) intensifies.

So far we may have harboured sympathies for Saul because the verdict and judgement on him were so harsh. Samuel and God seemed to be picky in their enforcement of rules. However, the ongoing story of Saul demonstrates how the seed of witchcraft in his two mistakes of disobedience – his rebellion – grows into an ever worsening condition of slavery to witchcraft. A demon comes to reside in Saul. I read from the Bible – 1 Samuel 16:14: “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit [a demon] … tormented himUnder the influence of this demon Saul goes from bad to worse and at the height of his madness butchers eighty-five priests – appointed servants of God – and also kills all of their families (1 Samuel 22). Finally – on the night before he would die – within the last twenty-four hours of his life – Saul and the witchcraft in him would be fully exposed. (The seed of witchcraft had ripened to this.) Under the cover of secrecy Saul – the anointed king of God’s people – did go and consult a witch – 1 Samuel 28:8: “ … ‘Consult a spirit for me,’ he said, ‘and bring up for me the one I name.’”

As soon as he rebelled against God, witchcraft was in him – maybe hidden at first – but then grew more and more into open rebellion and open witchcraft. Rebellion – our rebellion – is the problem. It was so from the beginning. Our first human ancestors – Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden – rebelled against God by eating from the forbidden fruit. Are you rebellious against God? Am I rebellious? As good church people we may not think so.

When Saul got first into trouble – if someone had suggested to him at that time, that he should go and consult a witch, he would have shrunk back in horror. You cannot do this as a Christian. This is obvious. However, the devil is a bit more cunning than confronting us directly with disobedience. The devil took his time with Saul and step by step he deceived him more – enslaved him more – until it became okay to make use of open witchcraft – go to a witch (and now all of us read about it in the Bible). What was he thinking? [He consulted a witch to hear one more time from God through Samuel!] (On a certain level) he had become desensitized.

Likewise, in the garden of Eden the devil did not say: “God said not to eat from this tree but I tell you: Ignore God and eat from itThis would have been too blatant. Instead, the devil was sly and deceiving: “Did God really forbid you to eat from this tree? Would God really punish you for eating a piece of fruit? Why shouldn’t it be okayThe devil made Adam and Eve question God’s directions – (let’s debate this) – and then the whole matter became “fuzzy” around the edges and then disobedience became more and more acceptable.

Saul went down the same track. Deception took hold of him: “Why would it be so bad, if I offered the sacrifices instead of Samuel? He’s not here and we need to worship now. If he had known about his delay, he would have recommended the same thing. Why would it be so bad to leave just one survivor from the campaign against the Amalekites? Let the king witness God’s justice and did God really say that you cannot even leave the best animals for the sacrifices? He must have forgotten that these sacrifices would honour him?”

As good church people we may not think that we are rebellious against God but are we deceived? Are you deceived about your true spiritual condition? I am asking especially the mature Christians among us because Saul was the king. The Spirit of God was on him and he was more advanced than the others. Yet, he was the one practising witchcraft. He was deceived? Are you? Am I? This is where it gets tricky because deceived people are absolutely sure that they are doing the right thing. (Many a time) they cannot be told that they are deceived. Saul said to Samuel: “But I did obey the Lord. I have carried out the Lord’s instructions. I went on the mission the Lord assigned to me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at GilgalWrong. God had said: “Destroy everything

What are some of the tell-tale signs that rebellion and witchcraft are beginning to have a foothold in your life? Look at Saul. It’s all there. The circumstances of his two mistakes reveal everything. 1) He was a proud man. At first he was very shy (hiding among the luggage when they wanted to make him king) but sometimes even shyness is a concealed way of being proud. It’s about you. Did I come across okay? What will people think of me? When Saul’s confidence grew, his proud nature became more obvious. He built a monument to himself before he praised God for his latest victory and he was proud enough to modify God and Samuel’s instructions. When he was pressured into repentance, his repentance was not heartfelt – did not go deep. He only said “sorry” because he continued with his own proud agenda  – 1 Samuel 15:24-31: “ . Saul said to Samuel, ‘ … I have sinned. But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me …’” Whatever it takes to be honoured!

2) He feared people and circumstances more than God. He had no true revelation of God. First, his army was scared and scattering which made him so worried about losing the battle against the Philistines that he disobeyed God and offered the sacrifices himself in order to encourage his troops. Then, he spared some of the livestock from the Amalekites, saying – 1 Samuel 15:24-31: “ … I have violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them … ” Finally, even his repentance served to win favour with the people. He was still worried more about what they were thinking about him than God: “Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me … honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel … ”

Rebellion and witchcraft began to have a foothold in Saul’s life because he was proud and feared people and circumstances rather than God. Okay then: How proud are we? And how much do we worry about what other people think of us? Do we need to look good in church – among God’s people?

The result of Saul’s pride and misplaced fear was isolation. The prophet Samuel retreated from him and with him the Word of God. Saul no longer heard from God and – for a season – he may have welcomed that Samuel stopped bothering him with further instructions from God but – in the end – witchcraft leads to desperation and Saul consulted a witch for the very purpose of hearing again from Samuel. The witch was to conjure up Samuel from the grave (he had died in the meantime) that Samuel would speak once more the Word of God to Saul.

Are you isolated? Are you isolated in the church? It may not be that Samuel and the leadership have retreated from you but maybe you have retreated from them. Saul was rebellious against God and Samuel and sometimes when we are rebellious, we spit the dummy – saying: “I have had it with this church. They are so wrong. I am hearing from God but they don’t. The services are wrong. The prayer meetings are wrong. The emphasis is wrong. From now on I just do my own thing. It’s between me and God now. I don’t need anyone elseThis kind of thinking is dangerous because it is proud and leads into dangerous isolation and should make us wary of witchcraft.

As the pastor of this church I am accountable to every one here (all are meant to listen to the preaching with discernment) and then the leadership of Living Grace. Further, I am accountable to pastors and presidents in our denomination and other local pastors in the Toowoomba Christian Leaders’ Network. If I ever spit the dummy and say: “Living Grace is my church [not God’s but my church] and I am going to break away from all other Lutherans and all other local pastors because they are all wrong. I am just tired of being held back all of the time. I am doing it my way nowCatch me in this kind of attitude – this kind of rebellion – and you know that witchcraft is not far from me (crouching at the door) – even in my office as the pastor of this church.

Let me spell it out in a more concrete form. Rebellion is witchcraft but in the church it does not always look like rebellion. Saul remained the king of God’s people and – for all intents and purposes – he remained loyal to the worship of God but – (truth is) – in his rebellion – worship became a means to manipulate and control people. He offered sacrifices that the soldiers would not run away. He used the lifestock of the Amalekites to sacrifice to God so that his people would not be upset. He repented and had Samuel with him at worship so that he would be honoured by the people. Even when he consulted a witch, he manipulated her by making a vow in the name of God – 1 Samuel 28:10: “ … As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for thisTherefore, when people in the church pray, preach or prophesy with the intention of manipulating and controlling others, it is no longer about God but the beginnings of witchcraft. We check ourselves.

[A few years ago a person from the Gold Coast told me about her prayer group which was made up of a number of spirit-filled people from a number of churches in the area. One church received a new pastor. At first everything was okay but then this group resolved to pray against this pastor because they wanted someone better or more suited to their agenda. This group was unaccountable to any leadership and blatantly disobeyed God’s command to bless leaders and not curse them (Romans 12:17-13:2). They were rebellious and proud and isolated. Then, the pastor in question became sick. (If I remember correctly) boils broke out all over his body. He had headaches and then a brain tumour. The person that shared with me said that the prayer group was naughty. She saw the pastor’s affliction as a result of the group’s prayers. However – if that is true – then the behaviour of the praying women was not naughty but witchcraft.]

Take an even closer look at Saul. We unpack this further. Before his rebellion – at a time when he was not yet isolated – he prophesied in the company of other prophets – 1 Samuel 10:9-13: “ … When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying … So it became a saying [among the people]: ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’” [Against his own wishes Saul would have the same experience later in life (1 Samuel 19:23-24). Overcome by the Spirit in the company of other prophets, he would again prophesy for a solid day in Samuel’s presence.”]

Yet – later – in the midst of his rebellion and isolation – Saul still prophesied (it may have looked like the real thing) but it had become witchcraft – 1 Samuel 18:8-12: “Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. ‘They have credited David with tens of thousands,’ he thought, ‘but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?’ And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David. The next day an evil spirit … came forcefully upon Saul. He was prophesying in his house, while David was playing the harp, as he usually did. Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, ‘I’ll pin David to the wall.’ But David eluded him twice. Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him but had left Saul

His pride and his fear of people (what they would think of him) made Saul stumble again. He became jealous of David. He worried that the nation would love David more than him. He was rebellious and isolated and then – as David was playing the harp – as David was (presumably) worshipping God which had previously banished all demons from Saul (1 Samuel 16:23) – in this atmosphere of worship – Saul was prophesying again but it was witchcraft because an evil spirit had forcefully come upon Saul.

We may not think that this could be reality in churches but I think that Saul is not so different from us. Pride, jealousy, worries about our reputation, manipulation, control, spitting the dummy, isolation – rebellion is among us too. Therefore some of our prophetic words, some of our prayers, some of our worship, some of our words in this building may very well be witchcraft. There is a power behind the declarations which is not of God.

In closing, what are we to do? Avoid the mistakes of Saul. We are careful to obey all of God’s instructions and not be “fuzzy” around the edges. We fear God and do not worry about our own reputation or how a crisis situation may turn out. [If everyone runs away from the Philistines, then this is God’s problem – not ours.] We trust God. We obey him.

Further, we keep a close watch on our pride. We humble ourselves and submit to God. We listen to Samuel. We make ourselves accountable to each other. Under no circumstances do we become isolated from each other and the counsel of God in our midst. [Deception comes to the proud.]

Rebellion is witchcraft – and may it just be the beginning of it – but obedience operates in the power of God. May it become pleasant in our church to cross every “t” and dot every “i” in our quest for total obedience to God. Amen.