An incredible Taboo broken by Saul.
(1 Samuel 28:3-24)
OK! OK! OK! Here we are at what is among the most bizarre passages of the entire Bible, if not, the most macabre and grotesque. What happens in this chapter is just plain weird. Although, to be strict, I have to say it is the uproar that this chapter causes in many commentaries, books, sermons and the belief systems that are used to explain it all that have made the passage so high profile among both Jewish and Christian apologists. It really is a bit of a phenomenon! If one Googles, “1 Samuel 28,” or, “The Witch at Endor,” or anything similar, one will see huge lists of sites written by those who are normally cool, calm and collected Christian writers sounding off quite strongly, with some of them going wild, writing strange unqualified comments concerning this piece of biblical history. They are all suddenly experts on the occult and necromancy in an attempt to justify their presupposition that “the dead cannot be contacted.” They seem to be concerned that people will read this chapter and all turn to necromantic beliefs. As if the Bible couldn’t stand on its own two feet. Without doubt, this scripture highlights something very strange. However, like Joe Public who pays a few pounds in order to watch a football match and is absolutely convinced he knows more than the manager, coach and players who are paid a million pounds a month each to arrange the team, Christians who have never encountered demons in ministry never mind a necromancer or medium, claim expertise when any issue touches or concerns their favourite pet doctrine.
On the other hand we can take heart in the living proof that all these Christian writers, including some high profile names, haven’t got a clue as to how the occult practice of necromancy (contacting dead human beings) works or functions. For that we thank God.
While getting my mind around Samuel, his life, his character and his impact on Israeli society in biblical times over the last twenty-five plus years whilst scribbling the notes that have made up this blog, I have to say that some profound psychological bias has stopped me from camping on 1 Samuel 28 and getting to grips with it. I even wondered about ending this blog at 1 Samuel 25:1 and ignoring the witch at Endor saga and her calling up of the great prophet from the realm of the dead.
However, since I started seriously chewing over Samuel’s life somewhere in the 1990’s, I have spent time in Ikotun Egbe, Lagos, Nigeria with a renowned prophet and seen hundreds of deliverances, and heard dozens of testimonies of converted witchdoctors and self-proclaimed agents of Satan. And what an incredible education that has been! In Nigeria they are referred to as “Ogbanjes.” I am told that “ogbanje” is Yuruba for “Agent of Satan.” The Prophet’s way was, and still is, to have the entire congregation learn as much as possible from the testimonies of converted and delivered witch doctors, necromancers and ogbanjes. I, along with thousands of others in the congregation have witnessed him question them publicly concerning their motives and modus operandi in while they were lost in such dark dealings. It was always a revelation to hear the logic used by ex-participants in witchcraft, their manner of operation and the things they believed in and held dear.
I say all this not to claim any profound expertise in either the knowledge of necromancy or the casting out of such spirits, but simply to say I have heard the story of quite a few, and since those experiences I find myself reading 1 Samuel 28 in a totally new light and gaining a different perspective from anything I have read or heard before, and definitely gained a different viewpoint from that which I held when I started this series of writings. I intend to grasp the white hot iron of the story of the Witch at Endor with my own naked hand and explain what I understand concerning Saul, the medium, as well as the evil practice of attempting to contact the dead.
The story starts ominously at verse 3 when the scripture reads; Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land.
It is my thesis that Samuel was consulted from all the corners of Israel on every level and on every kind of issue during his lifetime. It is my belief that Samuel walked in the Spirit of prophecy in a much more prolific way than the scripture actually explicitly states. My justification for that statement is the 24 hour period of Saul and his servant looking for three lost donkeys and meeting Samuel for the first time. The whole story is recounted throughout 1 Samuel 9 and through to chapter 10:16. Samuel knew all that was happening before it happened, and made statements that inform us of the depth and breadth of his prophetic scan. It reads as if Samuel was in a complete state of relaxation as he received knowledge of all kinds of stuff in people’s lives. I believe that Samuel’s life was lived out at an incredibly high level of visions, dreams and revelations of things that had happened in his absence, things he saw clearly before they occurred, and answers to questions that people posed to him before any question was asked. I am suggesting that the flow of prophetic vision and insight that are exhibited with Saul encountering Samuel for the first time, was nothing but a normal day at the office for Samuel. On the basis of the prophetic word being available “on tap” as it were, with a man like Samuel about the country, even though he died having spent many years tutoring other prophets in apprenticeship, many people relied on the supernatural guidance they received and the decisions they made based on Samuel’s prophetic counsel. He was the Life Coach of an entire nation. He continually heard from God drinking from an ever flowing river.
I believe that a life at this level of prophetic output were clearly seen in the life of people like William Branham, John G Lake, and witnessed to by myself in the life of TB Joshua. Branham had prophetic visions, sometimes 30 to 40 a day, some trivial and some mammoth, but for the recipients of those prophetic words, downright marvellous and accurate. His own son tells the story of how his father came to a town utterly ignorant of where he was staying. His son arrived late at the airport to meet his father only to discover that his father had arrived but had left the airport in a taxi. The son was distraught and spent several hours searching for his “missing father” all over the town, touching base with local pastors and churches. Nobody knew where his father was. In distress he returned to his hotel to get his list of phone numbers and addresses of folks he knew in order to continue his search, only to find his father in the room sleeping in bed. When he awoke, his son asked him how he knew where to go. He simply replied he had seen the hotel in a vision. It was in this kind of spiritual environment Branham lived.
Similarly with TB Joshua, I have been present with him when passing unknown people, and he stops to give them a message about something he had seen in the Spirit, or some direction God wanted to point them towards. This kind of thing happened often when I was with him, and I wasn’t with him all the time. To my witness, he was never incorrect or misinterpreting anything in the situations he saw in people’s lives.
My point in referring to these accounts is to suggest that the prophet Samuel must have lived even above these two, “modern day,”prophets, and so I conclude that the prolific bread and butter of Samuel’s prophetic visions and directive advice must have been extremely common and widespread. For this reason, the untutored and ignorant could possibly have considered spiritism for supernatural direction after Samuel’s death, and for that reason Saul may have decreed all witches, wizards, sorcerers and necromancers to be exiled out of Israel.
When considering whether or not Samuel encouraged Saul to make necromancy and witchcraft an exiled culture, I rather fancy that if Samuel had said anything at all, he would have asked Saul why he was allowing such people to live, seeing as Moses had written that witches, mediums, necromancers and those with familiar spirits should be put to death. For that reason, I believe that Saul was in a deep concern that the messages and guidance from the divine Spirit of Yahweh would dry up in Samuel’s absence and that many unlearned people would resort to spiritism for verbally inspired direction “like” they had been receiving from Samuel. 1 Samuel 28:3 suggests that it was immediately after Samuel’s death that the exile of the witches was royally decreed. The meaning very much seems to direct us to the conclusion that it all happened after Samuel’s death.
In the lead up to the ghastly request that Saul made, we see warfare about to break out yet again. “The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa” (1 Samuel 28:4). The Philistines were waiting for all their fighting force to fully congregate at the place called Shunem. “The Philistines assembled,” means the entire military population of the sea peoples was ready to fight to the death. Saul was gathering, “all Israel.” The books of Samuel are full of battles, wars and altercations between some of Israel and some of the Philistines, but one does not have to be a Professor in biblical studies to understand that in 1 Samuel’s last four chapters, this line up at Shunem and Gilboa was intended to be the mother of all Philistine-Israeli battles. This was, the Philistines had decided, the moment for total out and out war. Its’ sense of finality is also suggested because of the site chosen by the Philistines for the fight. This showdown encounter was to take place north of the Philistine’s core territory and well north of Saul’s capital. The Philistines begin to mass their troops in the Jezreel Valley. It wasn’t even near to Aphek or anywhere else more southerly or closer to the occupied Philistine territory as it had been in all previous clashes. The Philistines had decided to meet near Jezreel for, as far as I can see, at least four reasons:
- The battlefield was more spacious for a larger contingent to fight and kill. It was Jezreel in between Gilboa and Shunem. The field to fight in was huge, as was the space for the Philistines to camp in.
- If the Philistines were to win this battle, they would have so much of the middle land in Israel that they would have geographically virtually split Israel into two distinct parts, thus dominating the whole of the Jewish nation. If Saul was to survive after losing this battle, the Philistines would be seriously weakening Israel’s first king by physically and literally splitting off the Israelite tribes south of the Valley of Jezreel (Ephraim, Benjamin, Judah (Simeon)) from those north of it, around the Sea of Galilee (East Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali). Saul was forced to fight on this ground simply because the Philistines were camped there, or he would lose control over much of his kingdom seemingly without contesting their claim.
- Reason number two (immediately above) meant that the oncoming battle of Gilboa was an opportunity for a completely decisive battle for either side- and the Israeli’s were incredibly outnumbered. If the Philistines could conceivably defeat Saul in this conflict they would be in a comfortable position to utterly subdue Israel in the not too distant future and take over Judean towns in the Shephelah to the east of the coastal plain where the Philistines lived. All this reasoning facilitates the big picture of what was definitely shaping up before Saul’s eyes. This was not to be just another skirmish to add to the archives, but the ultimate battle pitting the entire massed troops of the Philistine confederation of the five cities together with their vassals, against the less organized, smaller, and poorly equipped force that Saul was able to put out on the field. Add to this the fact that the Philistines had more advanced weaponry (iron versus Bronze) this Armageddon, not far from the literal Armageddon (Megiddo), could bring total Philistine dominance to the region for decades to come, if not longer. Knowing the end of the story, as we do, we see how, if it was not for the regrouping of Israel around David, this battle might have been cataclysmically negative for the future of Israel.
- There was also a definite advantage for chariots on this larger battlefield. The flat river valley was a much better place for the 3,000 Philistine chariots to prosecute their cause (1 Samuel 13:5). At this moment of time Israel had no chariots at all. Chariots couldn’t operate effectively in the hill country where Saul lived, and Israel had neither the finance nor the skills to make battle chariots. Purely from the Philistine perspective, the choice of killing field was a wise one. The odds were clearly against Israel. And Saul knew it – hence this account in 1 Samuel 28.
Saul, by all the political and military norms of the day had absolutely no choice but to fight. He would utterly lose face if he refused to engage the enemy, not to mention losing his kingdom. His chances of winning, apart from God’s intervention were worse than poor. As the flash of lightning reveals the hidden scenery in an otherwise black night, so the revelation of this devastating and momentous situation suddenly reveals Saul’s true character. Saul’s army is encamped on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. He and his troops were in a position to look across the valley bed and see the enormous camp of the Philistines. And it was still growing daily. More and more Philistines were marching northwards from Philistia in Gaza, through the old battlefield of Aphek and up to Shunem.
“When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly” (1 Samuel 28:5). Oh the devastation to life, mental, physical, emotional and spiritual, that fear wreaks in a human being. It robs mankind of vision, dignity, drive and sometimes, even sanity. Saul looked across the valley and literally shook with fear. Nothing deteriorates a person more thoroughly, and more speedily than fear.
In the midst of this fear, there was no Samuel to call on. How significant it is that this mother of all battles was initiated by the Philistines soon after Samuel’s death. Perhaps the news of the prophet’s demise had reached the corridors of power within the Philistine political circles. Possibly they were more concerned about the presence and the prayers of Samuel than Israel was. Is it feasible that once it was announced to the five kings of Philistia that the man who prayed and defeated them by invisible means was dead, they might stand a better chance of winning against Saul? “Oh! Great! If Samuel’s dead the odds are for us Philistines winning easily!” Possible?
Saul had been in battles before. He had faced death before and he was a fighting man. The problem, however, at this moment, was faith and assurance in his cause and character. The problem was that the anointing was no longer manifesting itself to his enablement, not having been fed and obeyed. The anointing of God always needs to be fed, worked and obeyed. Where once Saul may have lifted his faith, his heart and his voice to take on huge armies, he now felt himself simply fading in unbelief and resignation. Israel’s first king must have been nearing 80 years of age at this moment in the timeline. Did his age have anything to do with it? Failing faculties?
What was going to happen to the king of Israel? In his fear, he wanted to know from heaven who was going to win, or even if there was any particular battle manoeuvre he should employ. Then again, perhaps there might even be some legitimate word from God that would allow him to withdraw from certain death for himself and many thousands of his countrymen. What was he to do?
There were, of course, still the ever available chosen means of communication with Yahweh. He could resort to prayer; or ask if any of his counsellors had received any dreams, or if any of the prophet seers from the schools of the prophets had gleaned anything from hearing or seeing heaven’s declarations. There was also the Urim (often referred to as the “Urim and the Thummin) where somehow, light would reflect on the High Priest’s Ephod in answer to questions that required a, “Yes,” or a “No” answer. However, the scripture exposes the peak of Saul’s heavenly rejection by informing us that, “When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets” (1 Samuel 28:6).
There are certain principles that govern the effective use of prayer and relationship with God in the crises of life. Repentance, humility, faith and a discerning heart that knows the will of God and can hear the voice of God are all contributing factors to those principles. Saul had none of these characteristics at this moment. The writer of First Samuel, in these last four chapters, is definitely comparing David’s response to crises with Saul’s. David, in the ups and downs of life, in the righteous and unrighteous deeds of his existence always fell on his knees wilfully facing God. In a life of similar turmoil and strife, Saul developed a penchant for wilfully turning his back on God. That is the entire message of the last four chapters of the ninth book of the Bible. It is a message we all need to assimilate. We need to face life head on by facing God head on.
The son of Kish was thrown into an internal panic attack. The fear was speaking to him loudly and dominating his thinking. It was driving him to do something desperate. He pondered deeply, only for something utterly dreadful to arise in his heart.
Where was Samuel? If he was here he would be severe and hard, but he would know what to do! In all Saul’s early difficulties of a similar circumstance to this one, he had sought Samuel, or Samuel had sought him. Now, however, Saul was bereft. The prophet’s voice had been hushed by the angel of death. Few people estimate faithful advisers at their proper value, especially when they speak at their most assertive. Saul had no Samuel now. Yet, the King wanted words from the prophet at this time more than he ever had done. Saul however did not know the presence of God. His desolation was indescribable. His own deeds had closed the pathways along which God’s angel of mercy had wanted to traverse in order to meet him. When in an agony of lack, even the worst of human nature cannot cling to atheism. Saul the desolate, Saul the moody, Saul the depressed, and Saul with the presentiment of death hanging over his very existence like a Diocletian sword, knelt before God with self-will, pride and resentment lurking between the lines of his petitions to the Almighty (1 Samuel 28:15). He simply had not the slightest desire to know God’s will for his life. Saul only wanted to know how he could save his life and win a battle, or even flee.
It was then that the fearfully awful idea that entered his heart, found expression through his mouth. Surely it must have been said in private to the choicest of his trustworthy servants. The sperm of the thought was conceived in the egg of a plan concocted in the silent womb of Saul’s fear. The gestation process demanded words to be spoken and immediate action taken. The most unutterable evil was about to be uttered. He must have faltered with butterflies in the belly, or even the desire to vomit before he even dared to say the words. If it was being filmed, I am sure a skilful cameraman would have zoomed in to the King’s mouth as he, with a slow, deep guttural voice spoke the words of horror. “Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her” (1 Samuel 28:7). With that royal command, Saul’s depravity had reached an all time low.
Oh! What delusion was this? What leap into the darkness of fear and demonic encircling had Saul embraced to himself by one single uttered sentence? The religious insanity that places some kind of confidence in “ghosts” and the so called “spirits of the departed,” is too ridiculous to counter with intelligent discussion. One medium asked me once (in the UK) after I had encouraged him to have faith in God, “How can I trust a God who doesn’t speak to me, when I can speak to my dead relatives who do want to speak to me?” No matter how laughable I thought his remarks were, I kept a straight face. God is found by a clean and open heart. When He is found by someone in that mode, His voice is heard. I told the medium so, that day in my home town.
As far as Saul was concerned, he had spoken with Samuel, and he obviously knew something of God’s mind about mediums to have made them illegal in Israel. God’s word, however, demanded such people to be executed. Saul was aware of what God thinks of all these kinds of delusion. Saul knew plainly that God thinks so severely of them that he never speaks of them in the law of Moses but with a livid thunder of indignation. He says: “I will be a swift witness against the sorcerer” (Malachi 3:5). That may be Malachi a few hundred years later than both Moses and Saul, but it carries the same Spirit of God. He says: “You shall not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18). Just in case one might make some important distinction between Spiritualism and witchcraft, God says, in so many words: “There shall not be found among you anyone that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer, for all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12a). Saul was Israel’s first king. He had been tutored by Samuel. He knew God’s mind on this kind of spiritual aberration. In the king’s deep seated fear, however, the real depth of his understanding emerged. Saul was lost to the kingdom. David’s day was about to burst upon Israel.
When push comes to shove, the entire system of spiritism and witchcraft is founded on the deluded thought processes that reckon on the insufficiency of the Word of God as a revelation. In the broadest possible parameters of the teaching of the word of God, its depth of content and the comprehensive nature of its message is sufficient for all we need to know about the realm of the spirit as well as life and death. One simply cannot walk through life with the Bible at home in one’s heart, cohabiting with spiritualism. One or the other will slip out of your grasp, depend upon it. Loving, lifelong spiritual interaction with any other invisible spirit other than God Himself is simply damned in the strongest possible language in the Bible.
What is more pathetic, and worse, if it could be, is that Saul was entertaining and dealing with a method of gaining foreknowledge of the future by getting dead souls to declare what they know. It was a selfish cry from his heart. In those earlier days when his vision was clear and his heart was open to divine teaching, he abhorred this kind of sin. But now, driven by fear, jealousy, and pride, refusing to humble himself before God, he was about to send his servants to find “one that consults a familiar spirit.” His confidence in the Almighty had left the building of his heart. Superstition had rushed in to lie in the same bed that had erstwhile been kept warm by the presence of true obedient faith in God. It is the desperation of the human heart, when refusing God’s terms of relating with Him that jumps into the deep abyss of spiritism. Saul wilfully jumped.
“And his servants said to him, “Actually, a woman who is a medium lives at En Dor.” (1 Samuel 28:7) How did his servants know such a thing? If they knew this as a fact, why hadn’t they informed the king that one of his laws was not being complied with? The king doesn’t seem to be interested in his servant’s private lives, or their secret knowledge of broken laws. Their master grabs the proffered meeting. “So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night.” (1 Samuel 28:8a)
The whole thing is so clandestine that it is shrouded in darkness even before the night fell. Saul disguised himself not only to prevent this medium from recognising him, but to prevent any Philistine from catching a glimpse of him. By looking at the map we can see that Saul could have travelled from Gilboa to Endor without actually going too near to Shunem where the enemy was camped. But more and more Philistine troops were being added to the camp continually. The king’s route needed to be slightly elongated and bowed in order to make sure he would not encounter any enemy watchmen. The fact that Saul disguised himself as well as putting on common clothes is almost humourous, especially as one of the translations of a “familiar spirit” is simply, “Ventriloquist.” The image of Saul becoming a dressed up, disguised ventriloquists dummy, being manipulated by the powers of darkness fills me with giggles. But the picture is not funny really.
Saul and his two servants travelled in the dark night to wherever the medium’s abode was at Endor. How did they know where her home was? This fact of spiritual, mental and physical darkness is very portentous to it all. Witches engage in their magical practices only in the dark. Witches covens and suchlike are always known to be meeting in the middle of the night and never in the day time. I am not au fait with the social circles of witches and mediums, and for all I know they may meet more often in the daytime than they do in the night, however, night time, darkness, and things being hidden because of the dark all seem very appropriate for what was going on with Saul’s quest. Josephus mitigates Saul’s motives by suggesting that the king’s desire was to conceal his absence from his army, i.e. he did not want his army to think he had fled in fear before the battle. If any of his own soldiers had stumbled upon him in disguise with non kingly robes leaving the camp, the most obvious conclusion would have been that the King was going AWOL. That picture did not bear thinking about. Darkness was essential for the medium’s business as well as for Saul, to get away from the camp unseen, especially as he was now violating his own edict against mediums and witchcraft. Another writer I have stumbled across offers the thought that the episode’s nocturnal setting alludes to the fact that the dead are in darkness (Psalms 88:13, 143:3; Job 10:21). Whatever the motive, there are clearly no redeeming features therein.
“And he (Saul) said, “Please divine for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you” (1 Samuel 28: 8b). He uses words that are blatant. “Medium! Do some act of divination for me and bring up the person I am seeking.” There was no turning back now! The medium must have commenced her ritual incantations. These kind of incantations, as I have learned, are individual and personal to each necromancer and or medium. Each has his own style of approach.
The woman’s response has a strangely principled tone to it. “Then the woman said to him, “Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land. Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?” (1 Samuel 28:9) We cannot but get the picture that this medium had actually ceased her foul occupation, if only temporarily. She is greatly afraid that these three men who have just appeared out of the darkness are attempting to tempt her to consult some spirit, and then announce they were going to execute her or to take her to the king for judgement. In the twenty-first century we refer to this kind of practice as “Entrapment.” Frankly, I cannot for the life of me understand how any answer could have satisfied her that these three men, especially one so tall as Saul and who must have been looking somewhat strange in his disguise, were, “on the level,” and not about to, “shop her,” for her clandestine business of evil. The conversation is ludicrous! Surreal!
Saul’s answer is equally cryptic and somewhat circular in its logic. “Saul vowed to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing” (1 Samuel 28:10). I am utterly perplexed by this! How could a vow from a man she has never seen before, not even knowing his name, assure her in any way of his integrity? How could a vow made in the name of Yahweh impact a medium? How can a man, whom she had no idea was the king, have the authority to prevent any punishment to come upon her for her witchcraft? Assuming payment was made for her services; was she desperate for the money? Did Saul seem so authoritative as to assure her that this deal was Kosher and safe? The whole dialogue seems somewhat bizarre in the overall context of this clandestine appointment for a serious event of spiritism. And Saul vows by using the oath:“As the Lord lives!” It is like a wife making vows to look after her illicit lover in the name of her husband. Am I the only one to see the nonsensical sham integrity and decency of this exchange?
Now the text gets confused by many in their explanations of what took place. “Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” So states 1 Samuel 28:11. I believe the woman had entered into her ritual of divination before she asked this question. I am open to correction. I am speaking on the grounds of testimonies I have heard of ex-necromancers after conversion to Christ and deliverance. I am of the strong opinion that it was whilst she was in the midst of some evil ritual that she asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” Necromancers commonly work themselves into some sort of altered state in order to become the medium at that moment. The question, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” would have been uttered under the force of the trance. The incantations and evil spells would have continued from that platform. The Jewish Midrash states so drily that it is humourous: “She did what she did, and she said what she said, and raised him.” I did warn you that the passage and many commentaries on this passage were bizarre!
“When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul” (1 Samuel 28:12). Some believe that some Samuel made some horror-struck gesticulation at the sight of the king, or made some gesture toward Saul spoiling his state of incognito. As with Christian ministers, so with demon inspired necromancers; there are the real and the fake, the authentic and the forgeries. The genuineness of this woman at Endor is not in question. She may, or may not have been a genuine medium prior to Saul’s visit. However, she undoubtedly moved in the demonic realm of the dead in a real and genuine manner on this occasion. According to the talmudic sages and various high profile Jewish traditional commentators, “the dead rise feet first.” Strange but true. Some of those old Rabbi’s had convictions on some strange issues. Here, however, Samuel arose in the normal upright posture, out of respect for the king. They all calculate that having seen this, the woman now realized the true identity of her visitor.
The king responded with “Be not afraid; what do you see?” (verse 13) The, “Be not afraid,” was a “Get on with the job woman,” kind of remark. Saul wanted her to rush on to the conversation he had come for. “What do you see?” The worlds are nearer together than we often discern! It is scripture that is full of the idea that we are surrounded by spiritual existences?
Undoubtedly in a trance like state, the woman says animatedly, “I see a god coming up out of the earth!” Saul obviously could not see what she was seeing, otherwise why ask? That is why I believe she was in a trance at this moment.“In what form is he?” Saul is eager to know of the character that she sees arising from Sheol. “An old man comes up!” she exclaims, “covered with a mantle.” With this Saul perceived, or logically concluded “that it was Samuel. He stooped with his face to the ground and made obeisance.” (1 Samuel 28:14)
Samuel stepped up, out of the ground from the place of the righteous dead in Sheol. Why do I declare so unequivocally that it was really Samuel that rose out of the ground? The scripture plainly says a little later in the text, “When the woman saw Samuel,” and, “Saul knew it was Samuel,” as well as “Samuel said to Saul,” and “Samuel said.” Finally the dialogue states, “because of Samuel’s words.” My convictions concerning the inspiration of the scriptures leave me convinced by these statements alone that Samuel’s Shade, Ghost or spirit was indeed present to speak to Saul.
By the language used in the process of the apparition we have it clear in the text that the woman saw a figure rising – she even describes his appearance. I have heard such testimonies of Christians who were ex necromancers offering similar statements. We have no statement as to anything that the medium heard. As for Saul, we are told of the dialogue between he and Samuel, so we are confident to assert that Saul heard Samuel’s words perfectly. On the grounds that Saul asked the woman what the spirit looked like, and that he lay prostrate with his face to the ground, we have no evidence at all that Saul actually looked into the face of the man that had just stepped out of Sheol. Does that mean that Saul could not see Samuel? Or is it that Saul simply chose not to look? Nothing can move me, as far as the text is concerned, that it was anybody, or anything else, other than the prophet Samuel himself genuinely addressing the spiritually impoverished king.
The woman, it would seem, served only as an instrument to make the connection between Saul and Samuel, who then spoke directly to each other. She seems not to be party to the conversation. Jumping ahead in the text, the implication of the statement in verse 21, “The woman came in (or went up) to Saul,” is interpreted by many commentators as meaning that the witch was not present during the dialogue of king and prophet but returned from another room and noticed Saul’s panicked reaction to the encounter. I cannot go with this at all. I do offer the thought that in the manifestation of Samuel’s figure, the words spoken by Samuel may have been uttered through the woman, rendering her present but “non compos mentis” to it all, and in an altered state of consciousness as it were, during the discussion between Saul and she who was the “ventriloquist” for Samuel.
I am suggesting that the narrative leads us to see the scene as follows: The medium went searching through her ritual incantations for a contact in the spiritual darkness, after which, possibly in trance state, possibly not quite there, she asked whom Saul wished to speak to. Continuing her incantation striving for contact with Samuel, she sees him approaching her. She screams at the realisation that this is really Samuel, and that a man of such import, even in Sheol, would only approach for a man of equally sufficient import to the purposes of God. The woman, being a “ventriloquist,” for the dark world of the spirit, described the apparition as an old man enshrouded with a cloak. The visitor therefore, she concluded, must have been none other than King Saul himself.
Whether or not she could see Samuel through her trance like perception of the invisible, or if he was visibly perceived with the physical eye, I am uncertain. I have heard ex-spiritist mediums give accounts of both physical and spiritual visualisations in such scenarios. For that reason I remain neutral on whether or not the many artists who have portrayed this scene with a physical spectre standing before the kneeling king have it correct or otherwise.
The general gist of what I have learned in Africa suggests that it would have been extremely rare and unlikely that the apparition of Samuel would have itself spoken. I say unlikely, but not impossible because of the seeming “absence” of the witch during Saul’s dialogue with Samuel. To suggest she left the room is a physical logistic that I think is quite silly, I believe the woman would have been the mouthpiece or ventriloquist for Samuel. I think it nonsensical to even think that she would leave the room for any reason. How on earth is it even conceivable that a medium at this level of evil could have, after dancing with demons and risking her life in making such a connection, leave the proceedings of an evil dynamic that she was obviously in charge of? To me, it is inconceivable that a woman who has just screamed in shock, being literally traumatised to discover that the demised Samuel and the almost demised Saul could, in mid trance, adopt a civilised western posture of, “Oh! Excuse me gentlemen! I shall leave the room now while you have your private chit chat,” is as ridiculous as Saul’s expectation was at that moment.
From testimonies I have heard from ex necromancers and witch-doctors, I suggest that the most probable scenario would be that the visible Samuel would have stood there silently, perhaps with the physical gesticulations of the hands as if he was speaking, without his lips so much as moving. The ventriloquism would have been via the witch uttering Samuel’s thoughts with a voice not her own, possibly even sounding like Samuel did in his lifetime.
Then we have the horrific dialogue. For serious Bible readers, it almost demands a health warning before it is read. If I accept this as history – and I do; if I accept this as God’s word to man – and I do; what you are about to read may be considered unsuitable for the squeamish, and offensive to all. This is what happens when a living human being tries to contact the dead.
“Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” 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 neighbour, 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!”” (1 Samuel 28:15 – 19)
Saul and his sons were set to be transported to Sheol, the place of the dead. In Old Testament times both the righteous and the unrighteous, even though they were eternally separated there, were reserved in Sheol, Hades and also called hell. Samuel clearly felt Saul’s approach was a complete disturbance to his rest.
Saul’s response is too ridiculous for words. No matter how great and significant Samuel was in his lifetime, he was a servant of God. Somehow, Saul had succumbed to the delusion that Samuel was actually higher than Yahweh. This is proof of the reality of Clive Staples Lewis’s quote: “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean you have no ideas about God. It will mean you have a lot of wrong ones.” Wrong ideas about God endangers our very souls. Ask King Saul. He will expand on that very fact. He tells Samuel that God will not speak to him in any other way. It is as if the king was expecting Samuel to say, “OK Saul. Don’t worry about it. God won’t speak to you? How shocking! I will tell you because I know better that Almighty Eternal Yahweh.” As if! Was Saul high on drugs? No! Just lost in sin, iniquity and a deliberate turning from God. Saul had truly lost a grip on reality and common sense.
Then it happens! Saul wanted a word from Samuel, and, “boy oh boy,” did he get one!
“I told you the kingdom was torn from you, years ago, Saul. Tomorrow is the crunch day of the entirety of what God told you by my hand. Tomorrow Israel will lose the battle and fall into the hands of the Philistines. You will die along with your sons.”
I seriously find it hard to understand how Saul did not have Cardiac arrest at that point of time. Seriously violent and shocking news about what was about to happen to happen to a person is, to understate the case greatly; traumatic.
He also, finally, heard the statement authoritatively given, that David was to assume his throne.
The hideous evil of Saul’s bidding made the very crime he committed worthy of capital punishment and was therefore the instrument of the pronouncement of his judgement and sentence. Saul played with strange and evil fire and was horrifically torched with 100% burns. He went looking into the eyes of death, and was thus told he was about to die. What else can death bring? Death can only beget death. Only God Himself through the person of Jesus Christ can bring life out of death.
The most positive statement to gain from this entire filthy episode is the absolute confirmation of a future state, by “one who arose simply to peep over the parapet of sheol and step out from the dead,” even if it was just for a few moments in time. The human spirit lives after death. Samuel’s spirit still lived, even though his body had died at Ramah and had been buried there.
We must unconditionally conclude some heavy statements from this strange biblical account: It is vain to pray to the dead. God Himself forbids it. There is no oracle required of any person’s future but God’s. No evil spirit can reveal the destiny of a soul, nor could it be trusted if it ever pretended to, and they do. No “light” that led people astray was ever light from heaven. If it leads away from God, it is darkness charading as light. Light from heaven always points towards Jesus Christ. The father of lies, i.e. the devil, could never be entitled to any credit at all in his pretended disclosures of our future. Departed saints are also incapable of doing this. They have no such function assigned to them in the economy of the spiritual world. God alone, and occasionally through the medium of his holy angels, holds the prerogatives of human destiny.
But wait! There is one last line that is rather remarkable in its potential positivity. “Therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.” But Samuel was in the place of the righteous dead! Samuel was in faith all his life. Saul was disobedient, but in faith – wasn’t he? But did he have ears to hear it?
I have been asked many times in my life concerning relatives of people who had been strong Christians with a virile and aggressive faith who died with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. If they die not even knowing their own children, or their much loved spouse of fifty years or so, how do they stand with God. My answer is that Dementia is a catastrophic disease of the brain. The brain is the means by which the mind of the human soul processes things. The mind is not the brain, but the mind’s vehicle of manoeuvring and manipulation of memory and knowledge. Nobody will have dementia at the judgement seat of Christ or the Great White Throne Judgement. Their response at the judgement will be made with totally sound faculties and culpability. This needs to be declared loud and often in these days.
Saul’s longstanding disobedience and demonic infestation are no grounds for declaring him lost forever. Believers sometimes have demons, as indeed the “Daughter of Abraham” did in Luke 13. I am held by a conviction that the vast majority of longstanding problems among Christians are demonic. If being demonised of itself puts a person in hell, then a great many Christians are lost. Christ’s parable of the unjust steward in Matthew 18 teaches us that someone’s account with God can be cleared and forgiven, yet the cleared and forgiven person may still be in a prison. Saul went to the same place as Samuel in his death. Samuel said so.
After that brief moment, Samuel disappears from time forever and is left to await his judgement at the Judgement seat of Christ.
Something else needs to be added to all the above. What about the often repeated statements of many Christians that the dead simply cannot be contacted; The dead do not know what is happening in this life; All manifestations of a Necromancer’s incantations are demon spirits pretending to be humans, and other such, “so called,” tenets of the faith?
My answer is; I agree with the sentiment that would state that spiritists need to be told that necromancy and all forms of spiritism are abhorred by God Himself and should never be entered into. But what is stated by many as listed immediately above, that the dead cannot be contacted, is simply overstating what the Bible teaches.
Let me qualify this by commenting on the scriptures that are used in any discussion about these things.
Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, and 10. “The dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun [in this life] … For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave.” This is talking plainly about things on earth after a person has died. Samuel died, and what is stated above is true. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Samuel know nothing about things in this life any more. It is not saying that they are mindless ignoramuses. It is telling us that the energy of their dynamic in this life is simply no more. Verses like this are often used to preface the statement, “The dead cannot be contacted.” However, dead Moses contacted Christ at the transfiguration. The souls of the dead were seen by John under the altar in heaven. The power of the dead Elisha’s bones contacted the freshly demised man thrown into his crypt.
Nowhere does it actually say that the dead cannot be contacted. Understand where I am. I am not saying that they can be contacted. I am not saying that we should contact them if they could be. I am saying that Christians who make statements which are beyond the text of scripture are on thin ice.
Psalms 115:17 says, “The dead praise not the Lord.” Misinterpret this verse if you will, but it does not mean that dead people are unconscious and insentient because of death. The twenty four elders are dead, in heaven, and they worship the Lord continually. So this verse cannot be used to substantiate the statement, “The dead cannot be contacted.” It simply means, in its context, that we need to praise the Lord in this life, because when we are dead our opportunity to do so in this life is passed.
Psalms 6:5. “In death there is no remembrance of thee.” This is used as a blanket statement of many as “proof” that the dead cannot be reached, for they have forgotten God. However, it does not say that, nor does it mean that! To challenge that concept in which this verse is often misquoted: There will be a remembrance of God in death, for the blood of Christ speaks in this life as well as in the next and forever more. If we cannot remember that when we are in the presence of Christ what will be the reason we are in heaven?
Job 7:10. “He shall return no more to his house.” Get to the meaning and do not misquote the verse. Israel will return to their house. The field that Jeremiah purchased from his cousin will be Jeremiah’s in the resurrection and he will return to his field. The vanity of looking for proof texts to justify a statement that we suppose the bible to substantiate is error.
God utterly condemned what Saul was going to do. Please do not misunderstand me. I am merely stating that in my widespread study of writers and commentaries, both Jewish and Christian, concerning 1 Samuel 28, in the midst of attempting to emphasize the evil of spiritism and Necromancy (amongst other things) conclusions are made that are simply not stated in the scripture.
I go further.
Leviticus 20:27. “A man also or woman who has a familiar spirit, or is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.” This means that possessors of a familiar, or, “ventriloquial,” spirits, and wizards, God sees as a contagious and malignant force in the earth that needs to be cast out. The statement presupposes that familial (that is, “of the family”) spirits are real. It also presupposes that as casting the demon was not an option inOld Testament times, the person needed to be put to death to rid the world of the impact of a demonic force.
Deuteronomy 18:10-12. “There shall not be found among you anyone that makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination to Yahweh: and because of these abominations Yahweh your Elohim drives them out from before you.” The point is made concerning the fact that these kind of things are high on the list of priority evils that need to be confronted and expelled. All these things bring disease and misery to many. Jesus cast out demons wherever he went (Acts 10:38), as did Paul. The reality of them is strongly inferred by the very priority God gives them, but I refuse to make a statement stronger that what the scripture states. It does NOT state that necromancy is intrinsically a fraudulent deception – merely something that should not be touched by anybody for their own safety.
One evangelical writer states :
“Now, consider an important point. Was the witch to summon the spirit of Samuel down from heaven? No. Saul knew the state of the dead. That Samuel was dead in the grave. He was actually asking the witch to call Samuel up from the grave, not down from heaven.”
“Important point?” This is one of those examples of evangelicals talking absolute tosh! Why do I say so? Everybody, but everybody who died in the Old Testament, from the most Godly saint, to the very worst sinner went down to Sheol. That is just a fact that cannot be argued with. There was a great chasm between where the righteous were in Sheol and where the unrighteous were – it was a chasm that could not be crossed (Luke 16:16-31). Jesus, in His ascension, that is, His return to heavenly glory, led the righteous from Sheol into the presence of God, as per, “He led captivity captive.” So, in Old Testament times, if the dead could be contacted, both righteous and unrighteous would have had to be called “up.” As was Samuel.
Another writer states:
“Note also that God was no longer speaking to Saul, and God’s prophets were not speaking with Saul (1 Sam 28:6). So now, are we to believe that a witch was going to thwart the will of God by conjuring up Samuel from the grave, so that Saul could speak with a prophet of God, against the explicit will of God?”
I am so sorry, but once again I respond with, “What absolute tosh and rubbish!” Millions – if not billions of people sin and go beyond what God approves of every single day. It is not an issue of how much “power” does the witch have. Why does the fact that the witch called up Samuel even hint at her holding an power at all. Witchcraft and necromancy by their very nature are defying God, thwarting His will, and the very protocols of the dynamics of creation. Sin is sin. Why should we believe that in this respect the sin could not be perpetrated because of God’s will. The statement is not sensible.
“Remember also, the witch at Endor was known for having a familiar spirit. What is a familiar spirit anyway? It is not an angel of God, surely, because of God’s strong condemnation against consulting with them. A familiar spirit is a demonic spirit, a fallen angel in league with Satan. This is what the woman at Endor had, communication with a demon, a demon who was quite capable of impersonating Samuel. It was NOT Samuel who appeared at her summons, it was a demon masquerading as Samuel. The first thing that the demon did was expose Saul’s masquerade to the witch.”
Of course a familiar spirit is a demon from hell! Who could argue with that? Undoubtedly the witch had demonic issues within herself! I would have thought that was self-evident. But what relevance does that have to the story as related in scripture. These elementary truths does not in any way confirm anything but a plain logical fact. Spiritism, necromancy and dealing with familiar spirits is forbidden because it releases demons to, “play God,” with the simple minded and the wilfully sinful and the spiritually ignorant. How the writer above logically takes the self evident facts of life to enable him to conclude, “It was NOT Samuel who appeared,” is beyond me. This is evangelical dogmatism gone wild. This is what many of us do with other issues. We build a belief or conviction on things we have discussed, heard or read, and then we scurry around to find verses that substantiate our non biblical belief. It is unhealthy and damaging to the kingdom when Christians spout off like this.
The text refers to Samuel several times. The woman was obviously shocked when Samuel arose. What happened here was NOT the norm. The book says it was Samuel. No! It does not mean it is OK to contact the dead. This was an incredible one off, I believe.
However, my ultimate statement is that, nowhere in the Bible does it say that the dead cannot be contacted. I detest and despise the thought of those that try such things, and I believe the majority of the practitioners of familiar spirits and necromancy are not the genuine article. The Bible truth is enough for me. Don’t do it! God hates it! In Moses day, God declared that because of what he wanted in Israel, the seven nations that were in Canaan before Israel, and any such demonic indulgence within the ranks of Israel required capital punishment. The Canaanite religions and spiritual practices were so disgusting and socially contagious in their earthly impact, that God demanded that men, women, children and even animals of the seven cultures that dwelt in Israel were to be eliminated. If that does not give us a clear picture of how to think of such practices, nothing will.
Then I ask an open question. I do not claim to have an authoritative answer to this question, but I know which way I tend to fall when I give it a lot of thought. My question is: Would the Almighty Ever Living and Ever Loving God of heaven and Earth make such practices a capital offence if they did not work?
Saul understandably collapsed with fright and fear. His strength had literally expired. He had starved all day because of his fear. That which he feared had come to upon him.
In verse 21 the stereotypical aged hag with the crooked nose and pointed hat image is shattered. The witch, it seems, turns out to be an empathetic and kindly natured carer towards Saul. Or was she trying to ameliorate her fear of what Saul might do to her because of what he had been told? “I have done what you asked” she says. She then bids him rest and eat. He refuses. Both she and the two servants of the king encourage him to eat and he concedes. We have the dreadful truth that the king would not submit and obey God’s instructions, yet would both submit and obey a witch.
Saul left in disguise, in shock, and probably emotionally and intellectually numb. He rode off to die a soldier’s death.