The Witch of Endor
There are many questions that are raised in this passage of scripture. Questions such as: What is a familiar spirit?
Who was brought up from the grave?
Where is the grave?
Was Samuel actually seen and if so, Who was it that saw him?
Where does the information come from that was related to Saul?
If we are going to try and answer these questions without conjecture, we need to know exactly what the scriptures say.
1 Samuel 15
In the 15th chapter of 1 Samuel we read of King Saul being told by God to go and smite Amalek.
However Saul did not follow through on the word of God and he spared the life of Agag the king of the Amalekites and the best of the sheep and the other animals. This was an outright disobedience of the commandment of the Lord.
V9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
Then God spoke to Samuel the prophet and said that He was going to remove Saul as king because of his disobedience and he would be replaced by David.
V11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
When Samuel confronted Saul, we read that Saul first excused his actions by trying to say that he had done exactly what God had commanded. Of course Samuel knew this to be wrong and told Saul so.
Saul’s disobedience now exposed, the next thing Saul did was to blame someone else. He blamed the people.
V20 And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD,and V21 But the people took of the spoil,
There is good sermon here, for this is normally how people react when caught out in sin, act the innocent.
When this doesn’t wash they normally blame someone else.
In v23 we see Samuel telling Saul of his disobedience to God and pointing out the seriousness of his situation.
V23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
At this point we see Saul expressing sorrow for his sin v24 but Samuel tells him, it is too late and that God is going to remove him from his position.
30 Then he said, I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God.
31 So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.
Saul turned again to God but God had decided that Saul must suffer the consequences of his wrong doing.
Again, another good sermon, sin always has a consequence. We may be sorry and repent but often we have to suffer the consequences of our actions.
Samuel then goes on to slay Agag and to fulfil the word of the Lord that had been spoken to Saul.
We then see Samuel departing from Saul and never to return. In 1 Sam 15:35 And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
The word of the Lord departed from Saul. 1 Sam 16:14 But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
So now we see a situation where when Saul was to face an enemy, He had nowhere to turn.
With Samuel gone he had no word from the Lord.
The Witch of Endor.
So where would Saul turn for guidance?
1 Sam 28: 6, 7 And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.
Urim and Thummim: were a physical means of revelation, possibly a means of casting lots.
7 Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.
At this point we need to understand that this kind of behaviour was condemned by God.
This kind of behaviour is not just something that God doesn’t like, it is far worse and is called an abomination.
Leviticus 20:27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.
Dueteronomy 18: 10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
The Torah specifically prohibited the calling on the dead, divination,necromancy etc.
However, even though Saul knew this, he still went ahead and consulted a witch, a medium, a necromancer ( one who claims to consults with the dead )
What was Saul asking the medium to do?
1 Sam 28:11 Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
Where was Samuel?
Notice that Saul did not say bring Samuel down from heaven but “Bring me up Samuel”
When an Old Testament saint died, his body went to the grave and his soul went to the upper compartment of Sheol. (Sheol, translated into English is hell, which is not a good translation. Hell is the Lake of Fire created for the Devil and his followers ) ( At this moment in time there is no one in hell.)
Matthew 25:41. "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
"The "everlasting fire" is the same as the "lake of fire" in Revelation 20:10, "hell fire" in Matthew 5:22 and "hell" in Matthew 23:15, along with several other places.
At this point in time (Old Testament) there were two compartments in Sheol (Hebrew), Hades in Greek, Lower Sheol and Upper Sheol, Upper Sheol was also known as Paradise (Abraham’s Bosom) and there is the Abyss (pit) which is occupied by the Angels that left their first estate (fallen Angels),
Jude 1:6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
Also in the abyss are demons, which are the disembodied spirits of the Hybrid races known in scripture as the Nephilim, Raphaim, Emim,Zammzumim and all the others brought about by the fallen Angels coupling with human women, spoken of in Genesis chapter 6.
Sheol was the Hebrew name for the place of the souls of the dead. Also referred to as, Abraham's Bosom.
We see this in the parable told by Jesus of the rich man and Lazarus. Luke 16:19-31.
When Jesus was on the cross the thief said to Him, “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus answered and said “I tell you today you shall be with me in paradise”.
After the death of Jesus, we are told that He descended into Hades/Sheol and preached to the captives and set them free. Paradise was moved. Now when anyone dies in faith, his body dies and goes to the grave and his soul goes to be with the Lord.
2 Cor 5: 6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7. For we walk by faith, not by sight:
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
So at this time in the Old Testament, Samuel’s body was in the grave and his soul was in upper Sheol.
So who or what was the Witch of Endor in contact with?
We are told that the witch had a familiar spirit. V7 Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.
So, what is a familiar spirit?
Well, it can’t be of God because we know that God condemned this practice and it was strongly condemned to consult with them.
Dictionary definition: familiar: noun: familiar spirit: a demon supposedly attending and obeying a witch, often said to assume the form of an animal.
Other definitions: In reality mediums are contacting demons who convince the mediums that they are “familiar” and can be trusted and believed.
The practices associated with mediums and familiar spirits were banned in Israel, and the punishment for practicing such things was death. Familiar spirits and spirit guides are under the control of their master, Satan.
They influence people to spread lies and deceit in order to thwart the kingdom of God.
Another thing to notice is that Saul never saw Samuel, the scripture says that he perceived it was Samuel.V14 “And Saul perceived that it was Samuel”. It was the witch that actually saw him.
He had to ask of the witch what it was she saw.
The meaning of Perceive: become aware or conscious of (something); come to realize or understand. discern, recognize, tell, distinguish, grasp, understand.
1Sam 28:12 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
13 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
14 And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh 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 himself.
Notice she never actually said it was Samuel. And she said, "An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle".
At this point Saul was putting his trust solely in the medium, a necromancer and not in God for any information that was to be revealed.
This manifestation (Samuel) obviously had previous knowledge of Saul and pointed out that 1 Sam 28: 18 “Because thou obeyest not the voice of the Lord, nor executed His wrath on Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this to thee this day”.
He pointed out that God has allowed this experience because of Saul’s disobedience.
So the question remains.
Who did the witch of Endor contact, was it actually Samuel or was it a familiar spirit manifesting as Samuel.
Maybe the answer is found in another scripture.
1 Chronicles 10: 13 So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it;
Notice the reference “a familiar spirit, to enquire of it”.
Literal translation: So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for asking of a familiar spirit, to enquire of it.
The words, “counsel” and “one that had” are not in the original, apparently.
This is an English translation of how it is written in the original Hebrew, without punctuation: so died Saul he committed that for his trespass against the LORD against the word of the Lord that not do he kept and also for asking of a familiar spirit to enquire.
According to this passage of scripture, the enquiry was of a familiar spirit.
So, was this actually Samuel that was brought up from the grave or was it familiar spirit appearing as Samuel?
One other thing, Samuel was a prophet.
But in v 15 and 16 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
The question may be asked, if God is not speaking to Saul through the prophets, why would God speak through a dead prophet.
Ecclesiastes 9: 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
So was it actually Samuel that appeared to Saul?
It is possible that Samuel did not appear to Saul. Here are some reasons why it may not have been Samuel that appeared to Saul.
First the scripture does not actually say that Saul saw Samuel but only that he perceived it.
Saul had earlier attempted to inquire of the Lord but the Lord refused to speak to him through the biblically ordained means. Why then would the Lord speak to Saul through a medium at a seance?
God was against consulting mediums or necromancers to contact the dead.
Why would God now use the method which He abhors to bring a message to Saul?
If this is the case then the conclusion one would come to, is that this could not be the person of Samuel.
In light of there being no other place in scripture where this kind of thing happened before. It seems an odd place for God to reveal His word to Saul.
There are verses in scripture that seem to suggest that the dead cannot return.
After the death of his son, David testified that the child could not return to him. (2 Samuel 12:23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me).
If the dead cannot return, could this have really been the prophet Samuel?
There are however other views.
Some have suggested that the appearance of Samuel was psychological - in the mind of Saul. However, the woman also saw Samuel or the person, and Saul actually talked with him .
This is the strongest case for it actually being Samuel, for the scripture says 15 and 16 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
Some of the early church fathers held the view that a demon impersonated Samuel and appeared to Saul. But others say that the message in 1 Samuel 28:16-19 would have hardly come from a demon.
Still others have concluded that the medium was a fraud and tricked Saul into thinking that he saw Samuel. Yet the medium was surprised herself by Samuel's appearance and that would not have been the case if it were a contrived trick.
Then there is the view held by the early Rabbi’s.
This view is that these verses record a genuine appearance of Samuel that God Himself brought about. The reasons given:
The medium was surprised, indicating that something happened that she was not expecting. Saul identified the figure as Samuel and bowed down in respect for the prophet. It is unlikely that Saul, who knew Samuel so well, would have been easily tricked by an impersonation.
The message that Samuel spoke was clearly from God and came to pass.
The Biblical text itself says that the figure was Samuel. 15 And Samuel said. 16 Then said Samuel.
It is clear that the intent of the Scripture is for the reader to understand that Samuel actually appeared to Saul.
A similar appearance of one returned from the dead occurred at theTransfiguration in that Moses who the Bible tells us did die.God buried him and Michael disputed over his body with Satan
Finally, I was interested in the views of the Bible teachers that I greatly respect and listen to on a regular basis.
John Macarthur is one of those men and Jacob Prasch is another.
John Macarthur’s view is: Senior Pastor Teacher Grace To You.
Witchcraft puts the seeker in contact with demons impersonating those who are being sought, since the dead person cannot ordinarily be contacted except in this unique case.” (MacArthur)
“God miraculously permitted the actual spirit of Samuel to speak(28:16-19).
Because she understood her inability to raise the dead in this manner, she immediately knew (1.) that is must have been by the power of God, and (2.) that her disguised inquirer must be Saul.” (MacArthur)
Jacob Prasch’s view: Moriel Ministries
Jacob also believes that this was a permitted act of God in the same way that Moses who also died, appeared at the Transfiguration.
In this same way God permitted Samuel to appear to Saul to prophecy to him. This was a very unique case where God allowed someone to return from the dead for a specific reason.
Vernon McGee’s view: Th.D., LL.D, was an ordained Presbyterian minister
The dead cannot communicate with the living and therefore the person that appeared to the witch of Endor was a false spirit and it was not Samuel. It was a satanic manifestation and nothing new was said to Saul, that he didn’t already know.
There is only one that can speak from the dead and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Prof. Herman Hanko’s view. emeritus professor, PRC Seminary.
I believe that Samuel did speak to Saul, although only the witch seems to have seen him. I have no doubt that God was able to send Samuel back from the grave to bring His word to Saul. The text is too explicit in telling us that Samuel did indeed come to tell Saul of God’s judgment's on him.
The word which Samuel brought is also a word that could only come from God. But the incident is very unusual and the Bible records no other similar event. What is strange is:
1) only the witch could see Samuel;
2) Samuel appeared as he would have looked if he had still been on earth, old and wearing a mantel;
3) the impression is left that Samuel came, not from heaven, but from what in the Old Testament was called Sheol, the place of the dead.
It seems to me that these three points implied in the text are conclusive. God performed a miracle at a crucial point in Israel’s history.
An event took place that must have had a striking impact on the whole nation, for it was recorded for all Israel to read in the sacred Scriptures.
By this wonder, God showed the nation why He was chastising them, what happens to wicked kings who lead Israel astray and what evil things happen when people resort to any form of witchcraft.
Note that the woman did not bring Samuel back from the dead by her witchcraft. She herself was frightened almost out of her wits when Samuel did appear to her. She claimed to be able to do it, but when Samuel did appear, she knew immediately that she had not brought him back.
In this blog, I have tried to give an overview of this event and give the different points of view on this subject.
So, what conclusion can we come to from all this information?
If we are to take the scripture for what it says. Then we have to accept that the text says that it was Samuel that appeared and it was God that caused it to happen. 1 Sam 28: 18 “Because thou obeyest not the voice of the Lord, nor executed His wrath on Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this to thee this day”.
The fact that the scripture says, verses 15 and 16 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? and then “therefore I have called thee”.16 Then said Samuel. Wherefore then dost thou ask of me,
This seems to suggest that it was actually Samuel that appeared in this passage of scripture. Even though Saul did not see Samuel, he did hear him.
The prophecy given by Samuel came to pass exactly as it was said. Both Saul and his sons died the next day.
The only scripture that suggests that it wasn’t Samuel, is 1 Chronicles 10: 13 So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it.
However, this could simply be referring to the familiar spirit that the witch of Endor was possessed by and not a familiar spirit that could have been impersonating Samuel.
Taking the scriptures at face value and the fact that the text distinctly says "And Samuel said to Saul" and "Then Samuel said" I think that I would have to agree, that it was an appearance of Samuel and that for whatever reason, God allowed it to happen.