The Witch of Endor
The other day, I was listening to a Christian Radio show when a gentlemen called-in and asked the host questions about 1 Samuel 28. This chapter contains the factual story known as The Witch of Endor - when King Saul sought the assistance of an evil medium or spiritualist. The host of the radio show really stumbled through the caller's question and admitted to being uncertain as to what this chapter entails. Personally, I can empathize with the caller and the host. This has always been a challenging passage to understand in light of the entire teachings in the Bible. The caller was asking about this passage because of the implications of what it could ultimately mean, that is, can a person who has clearly died come back from the dead? I was somewhat disappointed in the response the host gave because he simply steered away from the text. I want to examine 1 Samuel 28 and attempt to answer some questions people have on this topic.
First, let us look at the context of the passage in question. King Saul had allowed the Philistines to gather such a large army against Israel that he began to worry a lot about his own personal welfare. On top of that, David, a man much feared as a great warrior and hated by the evil King Saul, joined forces with the Philistines. Saul had already removed all the mediums from the land because the Law of Moses clearly taught that no one should in any way partake in the occult practices. Here is the text I want us to examine. I have also highlighted some areas for further discussion:
1 Sam 28:1-22
28:1 In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, "You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army."
2 David said, "Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do." Achish replied, "Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life."
3 Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.
4 The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. 6 He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. 7 Saul then said to his attendants, "Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her."
"There is one in Endor," they said.
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!"
13 The king said to her, "Don't be afraid. What do you see?"
The woman said, "I see a spirit coming up out of the ground."
14 "What does he look like?" he asked.
"An old man wearing a robe is coming up," she said.
Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 15 Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"
"I am in great distress," Saul said. "The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do."
16 Samuel said, "Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? 17 The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors — to David. 18 Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. 19 The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines."
20 Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel's words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and night.
The question: Is this actually Samuel who has come back from the dead? Many people do not believe so and argue that this is a demon impersonating the dead. In this age we live in there are certainly many fake physics who are very deceiving and can make people think they are talking to the dead. They prey on grieving loved ones and use trickery to make them think that their deceased are able to communicate through the mediums.
I am also convinced that there are serious people in the occult today who are being fed information from demons who may be impersonating the dead. This is an area that God clearly warned us to stay away from. The Bible does not teach that there are ghosts, but there are evil spirits. These evil spirits are not departed dead who are in a state of limbo, rather, they are demonic creatures in and of themselves. Satan uses such deception to distort the reality of what the Bible teaches about what happens to us after we die. People would rather believe these delusions than trust the Word of God on the subject. While I understand why some Christians believe that the event in 1 Samuel could be a demon who is impersonating Samuel in order to trick Saul, the language used in the text causes me to seriously doubt this theory.
From the text it would seem that this spiritualist never expected to actually bring up any dead. While she was involved in the occult, she appears to be surprised and actually gains knowledge of what is happening. Note what she said, I will quote from the NASB: 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." These are two different actions, first she was surprised enough to cry out with a loud voice, and then she stated that the person using her to inquire about the dead was actually Saul. How could she have learned this so suddenly? Something revealed this to her. So this seems to be an indication that it was more than a simple trick. Saul tells her that she should not be afraid though this woman was afraid, either of the “spirit” she raised up or of the possibility of losing her life in the hands of the King. Keep in mind that the Bible is stating this as fact, that these events happened just as they are recorded. If she were intentionally deceiving the King, the nature of the text would have otherwise recorded the womans deception. Next, we read how she tells Saul that she actually sees a spirit coming from the ground. The Bible does not say that she was lying about what she saw, but that she saw this spirit. She even goes on to describe what he looks like saying she saw an old man wearing a robe. The Bible records that it was then that Saul knew it was Samuel. It does not say that he believed it was Samuel or thought it was Samuel, it said he knew it.. Verses 15 and 16 gives us some very compelling evidence to support that this was indeed Samuel. It says that Samuel spoke, it does not say or suggest that a spirit or a demon spoke. Also, seven times Samuel makes reference to the LORD. Would a demon, especially in this situation, speak of the Lord the way he does here in this text? Furthermore, Samuel accurately prophesied that the next day Saul would die. When we read the account contextually it certainly seems that there is little doubt that this spirit is actually Samuel himself. But did this woman actually bring Samuel up? When God warns us not to be involved with occult practices, He certainly does not discount the reality of what we are messing with. Here are some passages to consider:
Lev 19:31 "'Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.
Lev 20:6 "'I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people.
Lev 20:27 "'A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.'"
Deut 18:9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 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.
Acts 16:16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.
Understand that this spirit would be Samuel himself, not a ghost of Samuel like we would see in some movie today. This woman was involved with the occult, and performed the rituals to bring up the spirit, but it was God who allowed Samuel to appear. God did not approve of Saul's actions, and did not cause this woman to do what she did – but he allowed them for this purpose. Let's take a look at one of Samuel's statements: Samuel asked Saul why he was bringing him up. What does Samuel mean by bringing up? In the eyes of those who are living on the earth Samuel is dead. So Samuel was asking why he was being brought back from the dead. But I think there is more to this. Samuel also asked why he was being disturbed. This indicates that Samuel was in a place of comfort for him to say that he was being disturbed. In the New Testament the Bible speaks of two different forms of hell for mankind. The Greek words are Hades and Gehenna. Lets turn to The Ungers Bible Dictionary for more information on these places:
|Hades. One of the NT terms rendered "hell." Like the OT "sheol," it is comprehensive and has a quite similar significance. It refers to the underworld, or region of the departed, the intermediate state between death and the resurrection. It occurs several times in the NT, namely: Matt 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27,31; Rev 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14. The KJV renders this word "hell" in every case, with the exception of 1 Cor 15:55 in the KJV only, where it gives "grave" (the NASB and NIV at this point read "death," from thanatos, not hades). The NIV usually renders "depths," or "grave," for hades. The distinction thus recognized between "hades" and "hell" as a place of misery is a valid one. Nevertheless it is equally plain that our Lord, certain of His words, associated judgment and suffering with the condition of some of the inhabitants of "hades" (e.g., Matt 11:23-24; Luke 16:23-27). See Hades.|
| Gehenna. The valley of Hinnom. A place where the Jewish apostasy, the rites of Molech, were celebrated (1 Kings 11:7). It was converted by King Josiah into a place of abomination, where dead bodies were thrown and burned (2 Kings 23:13-14). Hence the place served as a symbol, and the name was appropriated to designate the abode of lost spirits. In this way the term was used by our Lord. |
The word occurs in the NT, and in every case it is properly translated "hell," denoting the eternal state of the lost after resurrection. That is, the meaning of the English word is particularly the meaning of Gehenna (Matt 5:22,29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6).
The distinction between hades (the intermediate state) and Gehenna (eternal hell) is of importance, not only because it is necessary to the understanding of quite a large number of passages in the NT, but it may also prevent misconstruction and remove uncertainty as to Christ's teaching with regard to the future state of the wicked. It also has important bearing upon the doctrine of "Christ's descent into hell" (hades) and that of the intermediate state.
But what about the Old Testament usage of the word Hell? In the Old Testament the Hebrew word is Sheol. Lets read about it:
|Sheol. Without entering into the discussion as to the derivation or root meaning of this term in the OT, it may be sufficient to say that it occurs several times in Scripture. The general idea is "the place of the dead"; and by this is meant, not the grave, but the place of those who have departed from this life. The term is thus used with reference to both the righteous and the wicked: of the righteous (Ps 16:10; 30:3; Isa 38:10; etc.), of the wicked (Num 16:33; Job 24:19; Ps 9:17; etc.). This is in accordance with the general character of the OT revelation, which presents much less clearly and strongly than the NT the doctrine of the future life with its distinct allotments of doom. But there are many hints, and more than hints, of the difference in the conditions of the departed. The psalmist prays: "Do not drag me away with the wicked and with those who work iniquity" (28:3; see also Isa 33:14; 66:24; Dan 12:2).|
For the Israelite it was extremely important for them to be “living” and not cut off (death) from their beloved nation and the promises given to her. Part of the reason people did not want to die was the association of the dead with those who were unrighteous and have been cut off from the land that God had blessed them with. But when people did die, they went to this place Sheol. I believe it is the same place that the New Testament Greek speaks of called Hades. There is another phrase in the New Testament we need to consider,found in the account in Luke 16 that is Abraham's bosom. Again I want to quote from the Ungers Bible Dictionary:
| ABRAHAM'S BOSOM |
The phrase "to be in one's bosom" applies to the person who so reclines at the table that his head is brought almost into the bosom of the one sitting next above him. To be in Abraham's bosom signified to occupy the seat next to Abraham, i.e., to enjoy felicity with Abraham. Jesus, accommodating His speech to the Jews, describes the condition of Lazarus after death by this figure (Luke 16:22-23). "Abraham's bosom" is also an expression of the Talmud for the state of bliss after death. Father Abraham was, to the Israelites, in the corrupt times of their later superstitions, almost what the virgin Mary is to the Roman church. He was constantly invoked as though he could hear the prayers of his descendants, wherever they were; and he was pictured standing at the gate of paradise to receive and embrace his children as they entered, and the whole family of his faithful descendants was gathered to his arms.
We now need to take a look at part of Luke 16:
Luke 16:19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' 25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' 27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 30 "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
Let's see if we can tie all of this together. In the Old Testament when people died they went to Sheol. This is the Hebrew word for its equivalent Greek word Hades. In the New Testament Jesus spoke of Hades as being divided by a great gulf. Part of this division held those Old Testament saints, including Samuel, on the good side of the great gulf – Abraham's bosom. The Pharisees thought that if they were rich then by default God would allow them into heaven. Their theory rested upon the idea that rich men were blessed by God, therefore they were obviously alright with God. Jesus explained to them that just being rich did not guarantee them a place in the kingdom or in heaven. He tells them a true story with two different kind of people, the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Jesus said that when the poor man died the angels carried him away to Abraham's side where he enjoyed comfort and pleasure. The rich man was buried (a picture of spiritual death) where he found himself in hell (Greek word Hades). This entire place is Sheol, again this is where Samuel went. Take note to the words of Jesus to the believing thief on the cross: Jesus answered him, " I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise ." I believe this reference to Paradise is the same place that those Old Testament saints went to and enjoyed their comfort. Paul also makes reference to this place when he spoke of his vision in 2 Corinthians 12.
Going back then to our original text in 1 Samuel 28, we can see that Samuel was temporarily resurrected from a place of comfort awaiting the full redemption promised by God through Christ. God had allowed Samuel to appear to Saul and tell him of his impending death. We can now begin to understand why the gentlemen called in on the Christian radio show and asked the teacher his question, “can we come back from the dead?” The Bible gives us the answer in Luke 16. Before we continue there I want us to first consider those people who were actually raised from the dead in the Bible: The widow of Zarepath's son raised by Elijah (1 Kings 17); The Shunammite woman's son raised by Elisha (2 Kings 4); The man raised when he came into contact with the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13); The widow of Nain's son raised by Jesus (Luke 7); Jairus's daughter raised by Jesus (Luke 8); Lazarus (John 11); Dorcas raised by Peter (Acts 9); Eutychus raised by Paul (Acts 20). Where did these people go when they died? Let me offer my humble opinion. God is the all knowing, all powerful God who knew He would reveal His incredible power in these people. God in his sovereignty used these people to show his power over death. While they were certainly dead, God merely allowed them to “sleep” knowing he would “wake them”. We must note that none of these people woke with a testimony of seeing a bright light or had an experience either of heaven or hell to talk about. God knew they were not going to remain dead, He knew He would bring them life. Of course all of these accounts symbolize our spiritual awakening and our future resurrection of at the time of Christ's return. God also used these resurrections for another reason, noted here in John 11:
John 11:14 So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."
The people who rose from the dead in the Bible are the exception and not the norm. It is obvious that the people who were resurrected were done so miraculously. Three from the Old Testament – Three in the gospel accounts – Two by the Apostles to authenticate that their message was from God.
In Matthew 17 we also read about two Old Testament Saints who were used by God to reveal themselves from the dead, Moses and Elijah. These two individuals represented the whole of the Old Testament from the Law to the Prophets. Moses represented the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets. While these two are also extraordinary exceptions to reveal doctrinal truths, the appearance of them does not contradict the answer given by Abraham and expressed by Jesus in Luke chapter 16 to the rich man in hell. Jesus said that those still living on the earth have Moses and the Prophets, that is, they have the Word of God (at the time the Old Testament). Moses and Elijah represents this on that mountain. They do not need more than that, as the Word of God is sufficient. Peter, who was an eye witness to this event agrees that we have something greater than even these two who appeared from the dead - a more sure word of prophecy, the complete Word of God (2 Peter 1).
Samuel then, also serves as an exception to the norm. God had Samuel temporarily return from paradise to serve God in this capacity. Samuel did not return to talk about his death experience or to speak to certain people He made no mention of bright lights and did not express feelings of warmth and love. He did not see a vision of a Jesus wearing a white robe with a halo around his head. Samuel also did not write a seven point book about the horrific place of hell. We do not need such books or so called testimonies about heaven or hell, we have a book that already speaks clearly about these places – The Bible.
We can learn from Luke 16 that the rich man was in torment wen he was in Hades. He had now become the beggar and begged Abraham for just a little water to cool his tongue. The answer was no. The rich man also asked if he could go back, again the answer was no. Lets read the account:
Luke 16:27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 30 "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
We can see then that the rich man asked for Lazarus to be sent back to his father's house and warn his five brothers. The rich man was convinced that if they would only see the resurrected beggar then his family would be moved to repent and not come to this place of torment. Jesus responded that they already had Moses and the prophets, in other words, they had the Word of God. In fact, they already had knowledge of this place of the dead in this very passage in 2 Samuel 28. We also have the knowledge of truth that is contained in the entire Word of God, and no one could possibly convince us more strongly than Jesus' own warning on this subject. If people will not believe in the resurrected Jesus, how would they believe anyone else?
In conclusion, we learn that those who were raised from the dead in the Scriptures did so for the purpose of teaching doctrine. Those resurrected serve only as God's exception for His will. They are not the norm nor does their experience give credence to those who claim to have such experiences today. They do however show the sovereignty of our great God who will someday by this same great power resurrect our bodies to meet Him in the air. Jesus truly has overcome death.