A Lesson for Us All


Saul and the Witch at Endor


                                    What is the real story behind the encounter of

                                    king Saul with the witch at Endor?  Who was it

                                    that appeared before the witch?  Was it really

                                    Samuel the prophet – or a demon disguised as

                                    the prophet Samuel?  Can the dead be brought

                                    back before the final resurrection?  What is the

                                    truth behind this mysterious event?


William F. Dankenbring


            In the first book of Samuel the most amazing story is told.  It has baffled the minds of millions.  Those who believe that the dead are simply dead, and buried, and cannot come back to life or have any consciousness before the final day of judgment, have a difficult time grappling with this passage.  Let’s take a look.


The Dire Situation


            Samuel the prophet had died and all Israel lamented for him (I Samuel 28:3).  During this time, king Saul had banished all the witches, mediums, and spiritualists from the land of Israel.  “And Saul had put the mediums and spiritists out of the land “ (v.3).  Unlike modern America, where witchcraft is making a phenomenal comeback, and tarot-card reading, divining, occultism, and fortune-tellers can be found everywhere, one thing Saul did right was to get rid of all the witchcraft from the land of Israel.  His motives may have been impure – to gain the favor of the people and their allegiance in fighting the Philistines – but nevertheless, he did drive out those who practiced witchcraft. 


            At that time, however, the Philistines gathered their army to fight against Saul and Israel at a place called Shunem, so Saul gathered all Israel to repel their invasion.  But when he saw the huge army of the Philistines, he was terrified, “and his heart trembled greatly” (I Sam.28:4-5).  Dismayed, Saul went to the high priest and inquired of the Lord, what fate lay in store for him, but the Lord did not answer.  “And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim or by the prophets” (v.6).  God had already forsaken Saul, and the time had come for his punishment. 


The Unthinkable


Desperate, and anxious, Saul did the unthinkable – “Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.’ And his servants said to him, ‘In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at Endor’” (verse 7).  Isn’t it interesting that although all the mediums had putatively been driven from the land, when one was called for they knew right where to look! 


“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.  And he said, ‘Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.’  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?’  And Saul swore to her by the LORD, saying, ‘As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing’” (vs.8-10).


A séance was about to take place, where a medium contacts the spirits of the dead, and brings them back from Hades, the “abode of the dead.”  Continuing the account, “Then the woman said, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’  And he said, ‘Bring up Samuel for me’” (v.11).


Samuel and the Seance


What happened?  Notice the very next verse – exactly what it says!  We read:  “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!’


“And the king said to her, ‘Do not be afraid.  What did you see?’  And the woman said to Saul, ‘I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.’  So he said to her, ‘What is his form?’  And she said, ‘An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.’  And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down” (I Sam.28:12-14).


Now notice that the text plainly says, in verse 12, “the woman saw Samuel.”  For years this puzzled me, because the church I belonged to absolutely taught that the dead are dead and buried UNTIL the resurrection from the dead, at the end of the age!  Therefore, they made a great “to do” about the fact that Saul, who did not see the spirit, “perceived” that it was Samuel.  But according to their teaching, it simply could not be Samuel for he was dead and would not be able to appear again until the resurrection!  So they interpreted this passage as referring to a demon disguised as the prophet Samuel!


But notice the passage again.  The text, which is the inspired word of God, says plainly:  “The woman SAW SAMUEL” – not a demon, or some wicked spirit disguised AS Samuel – she literally SAW Samuel – the prophet himself!  That is EXACTLY what the text says!  Will we be honest with the word of God, and BELIEVE GOD? 


But is this possible?  Can the dead be brought back to life?  Can human beings, at times, through séances or witchcraft, communicate with the dead? 


Now notice verse 15.  Here we read further evidence that it was indeed Samuel who appeared to the witch.  “Now SAMUEL said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’  And Saul answered, ‘I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines   make war against me and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams.  Therefore I called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.’  Then SAMUEL said:  ‘So why do you ask me, seeing the LORD has departed from you and has become your enemy?  And the LORD has done for Himself as He spoke by me.  For the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.’”


Twice in this verse the one who appeared, and spoke to Saul, is identified as SAMUEL HIMSELF!  The text reads, “And Samuel said.’  “Then Samuel said.”  What could be plainer than that?  This individual was indeed Samuel the prophet – not an apparition, not a ghost, not a demon, not a figment of the imagination, not an evil spirit!


Remember, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).  Yeshua said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).  Paul wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (II Tim.3:16).  The Amplified Bible has this:  “Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction . . .”


It would appear, then, that indeed the witch, by her séance, and occult practice, was able to bring up Samuel, or at least his “spirit,” to speak to king Saul!  But how could this be?  Let’s go on. 


Samuel then said to king Saul: “Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day.  Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines.  And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.  The LORD will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines” (verses 15-19).


Then, in verse 20, we read:  “Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel.  And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day or all night.” 


And so ends the encounter of king Saul with the witch at Endor.  Saul subsequently died on the battlefield, attempting to commit suicide (I Samuel 31:1-6). 


Who Was It Really?


According to verse 20 of I Samuel 28, Saul was afraid “because of the words of Samuel,” who had given him this terrifying message.  These were Samuel’s words – not the words of some other being, creature, whether it be angelic or demonic.  Will we believe God’s Word?  Will we just accept it for what it says?


People who accept a false premise, then must often deny many facts which come to light later, in order to maintain their original false premise.  The false premise in this case is the belief that human beings are dead and have no human spirit that lives on in a suspended state after the death of the body. 


Yet the Scriptures plainly state, “There is a spirit in man” (Job 32:8), and that spirit “will return to God who gave it” at death (Eccl.12:7).  The belief that when we die and the body turns to dust, and there is nothing left except the hope of the resurrection, is proven to be false.   Such a belief completely contradicts what we read in II Samuel 28 regarding the spirit of Samuel, which appeared to the witch of Endor and which spoke to king Saul! 


Interestingly, in I Samuel 28 we read four times that Samuel himself was seen (verse 12), spoke to Saul (verse 15), asked Saul why he bothered him since God had already departed from him (verse 16), and that Saul had heard “the words of Samuel” (verse 20).  Some have said that the passage only says that “Saul perceived that it was Samuel” (verse 14), but that Saul was mistaken in his perception.  He merely thought it was Samuel!  However, Saul’s perception was valid, because four times the Scriptures state that it WAS Samuel – referring to his spirit which continues on after death, until the day of judgment and resurrection, when it will be rejoined with a body. 


Obviously, therefore, on this occasion God allowed the spirit of Samuel to return from its abode with the dead, and to visit Saul, when the witch at Endor sought to contact him.  This act was in violation of the laws of God.  The word of God says, “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them” (Lev.19:31).  God thundered, “And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people” (Lev.20:6).  In fact, God commanded, “A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones.  Their blood shall be upon them” (verse 27).


Testimony of the Jews


In the Ruben edition of  The Prophets:  I-II Samuel:  The Early Prophets with a Commentary, published as part of the ArtScroll Series, by Mesorah Publications, regarding the encounter of king Saul with the witch of Endor, we read:  “According to Radbaz (Responsa 3:642), the spiritual contamination of necromancy could have no effect on the sacred soul or physical remains of Samuel.  It was God who brought up Samuel’s soul in order to convey a message to Saul, and this is why the spirit emerged head first.


“According to Abarbanel, she was sure that the figure who had risen from the ground was Samuel, because he is the one she had summoned . . .” (p.183, emphasis mine).


How could this happen?  No medium or necromancer – those who “speak” with the dead -- would have the power to bring Samuel up from the dead – that is, to have his spirit, which had returned to God at death, come back to communicate with a living person (compare Eccl.12:7).  However, on this occasion, God Himself allowed the spirit of Samuel to appear to the witch, to do His own purpose, as a warning and testimony against king Saul.


So what really took place here?


Some maintain that necromancy is a hoax, and its practitioners carry out an elaborate deception.  They suggest that the witch knew all along that her client was Saul, and she went along with the ruse, merely pretending to be shocked.  According to this view, the witch knew that God had condemned Saul to lose his throne and that he would soon be going into battle.  Playing upon these fears, she surmised that he was going to die, and she hid an accomplice who spoke in a quiet voice, pretending to be Samuel’s spirit to deceive the gullible Saul.  This view makes the witch’s whole action a deliberate hoax. 


Others declare that by and large mediums have no power, but in this case God – not the necromancer – raised Samuel’s spirit to convey His final message to Saul. 


The majority of commentators, however, based upon the narrative itself, and the Talmud, believe that necromancers in ancient times sometimes possessed occult powers, and this fact should not be denied just because such phenomena are not within the realm of our own modern experience.  As evidence of this, Pharaoh’s two magicians were able to turn their own rods into serpents, as Moses had done, although Moses’ serpent swallowed up those of Pharaoh’s magicians (Exo.7:10-12).  They were also able to turn water to blood, copying Moses’ miracles.  We read: “Then the magicians of Pharaoh did so with their enchantments [“secret arts,” margin]; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard”  (Exo.7:19-22).


Even though the vast majority of mediums and witches practice the art of deception, and prevaricate when they attempt to communicate with the dead, such powers may have existed long ago, or when very evil men gave themselves over to Satanic and demonic activity.  Whether they communicated with demons, masquerading as deceased individuals, or with the spirits of certain dead figures, we don’t know.  However, in the case of Saul and the witch of Endor, it is clear from the Biblical narrative that the figure who was brought up and who talked with king Saul was non other than Samuel the prophet, himself!


A Warning for Today’s Generation


Similar seemingly “miraculous” events will occur soon, in our generation.  Jesus Christ warned, “For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand” (Matt.24:24).  Paul also warned of the soon-coming time when the “lawless one” will come, whose coming “is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (II Thess.2:9). 


The apostle John, in the book of Revelation, warns that a great false prophet will rise up, who will “perform great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.  And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast” (Rev.13:13-14).


A Message for God’s People


Why is this passage about Saul and the witch of Endor included in the Scriptures?  Does it contain a message for us, today? 


Clearly, this passage reveals the existence of an occult world, something God forbids His people to meddle with.  According to the Jewish sages, this final act of desperation is the primary reason God removed the royal throne from Saul.  God would not answer Saul because he had slain all the priests at Nob.  Although this passage states that Saul sought the Lord, “he is condemned as one who did not seek out HASHEM (I Chronicles 10:14), because his later recourse to necromancy (v.8) showed that to him all means of inquiry were of equal validity. . . Abarbanel notes that here Saul is said to have inquired, but in Chronicles he is faulted for not seeking out God.  The difference in terminology indicates where he fell short.  Saul did inquire, but if God does not answer, one must seek Him out, by repenting and attempting to make oneself deserving of His mercy. That Saul did not do” (ibid., page 181).


There is a lesson in this passage for all of us!  Saul’s mistake should teach us all a vital lesson regarding repentance, prayer, and seeking God in our time of need!  It is not enough to merely pray – and if there is no answer, resort to other means of deliverance.  Rather, the lesson is that we must repent of our sins, and all those things wrong in our lives, if we intend to be heard!


What other reason did God have to place this episode in the life of Saul in His divine Word?  I suspect, also, that this passage was included in the Scriptures to prove once and for all that when a man dies, his spirit does not die with him, but returns to God, and is in a condition of sleep, at rest, waiting for the resurrection!  However, it can be awakened, if it be God’s will, as in the case of Samuel.  This passage gives us an amazing insight into the fact that there is a spiritual world, an occult world, where we as humans are not to intrude. 


            The world around us is engulfed in a craze of witchcraft.  The Harry Potter books, and movies, the new Barbie Doll made up as a witch with magic wand, and all the witchcraft paraphernalia, and the various television series devoted to the occult, witchcraft, and similar themes, should be a warning to us all that Satan is still alive and well, and seeking to deceive, delude and destroy the entire world, as it plunges madly, spiraling and careening down a precipitous course headed straight for hell on earth!  The fate of king Saul will be the fate of all those who experiment, fool around with, and consult mediums, witchcraft, sorcery, Ouiji boards, Tarot cards, and similar occult practices!  Will you be one of those who is deceived?