One of the most fascinating events in the Scriptures is when Saul goes to visit a witch who lives in Endor to ask if she could speak to Samuel who is now dead. This text for many people brings up all sorts of questions and as a result, many have come up with all kinds of strange interpretations and others are left confused.
Things started to go wrong for king Saul when he rebelled against God and then God goes on to reject him as king. This was really difficult for Saul to accept especially since God had removed His Spirit from Saul, 1 Samuel 16:14.
It’s at this point in Saul’s life that he recognised that he was left without any guidance from God and as many people do today when they are looking for guidance they look in all the wrong places and go to the wrong people.
When Saul became king, the Spirit of God did come upon him, he was capable of prophesying and was said to be ‘among the prophets’, 1 Samuel 10:11-12 / 1 Samuel 19:20. He looked to God for guidance on such things as when and if to enter into battles, 1 Samuel 14:37, etc.
When God removed His Spirit, Saul found himself without such guidance from God. We read that ‘he inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him in dreams or by the Urim or by the prophets’, 1 Samuel 28:6. In a state of desperation, Saul looked for guidance somewhere else.
If you remember Saul had already been looking elsewhere, that’s what got him into this trouble in the first place. He listened to the people even when they were going contrary to God’s specific commands. He looked to himself and tried to justify his disobedience with human reasoning. Now in 1 Samuel 28 he turns to the witch of Endor.
Now remember that God had warned Israel in the law that they were to look only to Him for spiritual guidance and teaching, Deuteronomy 18:9-12 / Leviticus 19:31 / Leviticus 20:6-7. Notice that they were specifically forbidden from trying to talk with the dead and seeking a medium. Yet when Saul found himself without the Spirit, he rebelled further against God and sought out the witch of Endor, so she could talk with the dead, Samuel, 1 Chronicles 10:13-14.
The Philistines provoked another war with Israel and although Achish asked David to join in the battle, David evaded the request by offering himself as the bodyguard of Achish. In this way, David wouldn’t have to fight against Israel.
At one time in the life of Saul, and while Samuel was still alive, he rid the land of all spiritists and cults associated with practices of sorcery and witchcraft, Exodus 22:18 / Deuteronomy 18:9-12.
But on this occasion, which is often the case, he was afraid, and thus turned to any source for comfort. When men are terrified, in their desperation they often resort to their most primitive beliefs. Since the Spirit of the Lord had already left Saul, he grasped for any reassurance that might bring him relief from his fear.
We must remember that this was a unique incident in history, but it is often misunderstood. A correct understanding begins first by knowing that God was in complete control of the events that transpired.
Some people believe that this was Satan or a demon pretending to be Samuel, but the work of Satan is nowhere mentioned in the text and nowhere in Scripture do we see any evidence that departed spirits may roam at will among the living.
In view of this, we can only conclude that God was working in these events in order to leave us a record of the tragic end of the life of Saul and the extent to which he digressed in his faith before his death.
A medium was one who supposed he or she had contact with the spirits of the dead. The Hebrew word ‘ob’ means ‘prattling’ or ‘mumbling.’ The word was used to refer to those who were in a self-hypnotic state of behaviour, and thus presumed to communicate with the spirits of the dead.
Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that these so-called mediums and spiritists today totally deceive themselves into thinking they can actually speak with the dead.
Saul asks her to raise someone up for him from Sheol, the place of the dead, Numbers 16:30 / Psalm 63:9 / Ezra 31:14 / Ezra 32:18. She knew that her practice was against the wishes of the king. By the instructions of Samuel, Saul had eradicated mediums and witches from Israel. But this action was taken when Samuel was still alive.
We would conclude, therefore, that under the direction of Samuel, the prophet of God, those who practised sorcery were false religious leaders in Israel, for what they were practising wasn’t supernatural.
As long as Samuel was alive, and Saul followed his spiritual leadership, Saul drove out those who adhered to any of the Canaanite religious practices, the witch of Endor was an indication of Canaanite religiosity.
Notice that ‘she cried out at the top of her voice,’ as soon as Saul made the request in verse 11, Samuel appeared in verse 12. The text indicates that the woman had never before performed any such incantations.
The request of Saul was immediate, but it was God, not the medium, who brought Samuel to life in the mind of the woman. The fact that the medium cried out in terror is evidence that she had never experienced something like this before, thus indicating that she had nothing to do with Samuel coming to life. She was only a bystander to the work of God to communicate to Saul that his days were numbered.
Please note that Saul didn’t see in his mind what the medium envisioned. Since Saul saw nothing, we must conclude that God brought the woman into a state of vision, in which experience, what she saw was lifelike. In a state of vision, the beholder couldn’t tell the difference between that which was real and that which was the product of a God-inspired experience in one’s mind.
In this case, Samuel wasn’t actually incarnated into the flesh of a man, neither was a spirit of his appearance revealed that could be seen by the medium or Saul.
The bringing up of Samuel was only in the mind of the woman and notice that it was Saul who said it was Samuel who appeared, not the woman.
We need to remember that Saul was mentally unstable at this stage of his life, the only comfort he had from the ‘evil’ spirit which God gave him, 1 Samuel 16:14, was when David played the harp for him, 1 Samuel 16:23, but by the time we get to this event, I would imagine he’s all over the place mentally, hence why he goes to see this witch.
We aren’t told whether Samuel spoke through the medium, or directly to Saul. We assume that the speaking was direct to Saul, but not necessarily through the incarnation of a body, or the apparition of a spirit. It’s simply stated that a conversation went on between Saul and Samuel.
The conversation was in a vision, for Samuel’s mouth wasn’t incarnate in order for him to converse as people do in life. The vision at this moment in the experience had possibly gone from the medium to the mind of Saul.
Like I mentioned earlier, Saul’s state of mind was unstable, I think it’s reasonable to believe that Saul believed this was really going on, but it was all in his mind. Notice that Samuel didn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know; his time was up.
When the Lord becomes your enemy, one’s existence and work are over, James 4:4. God became the enemy of Saul for two reasons.
1. Saul didn’t obey the Lord, and
2. He didn’t eradicate the Amalekites who had taken advantage of the weakness of Israel when the nation came out of Egyptian bondage.
Saul previously knew that God had given the kingdom to David, for he knew from the time of Samuel that David had been anointed to be the king of Israel. But the reality of the end of his own kingship, and the death of his sons, which would terminate the lineage of his family as kings of Israel, was made vividly real by this vision.
The reality was too much for an old man whose hopes had now been totally dashed by the words of Samuel. Saul realised that his end had come. 1 Chronicles 10.
I believe that Samuel’s appearance was a great surprise to her and thus take it as an indication that she had before this only faked the ability to talk with the dead. There is no other occasion recorded where the dead came back to give information. In Luke 16 the request of the rich man to have someone go back to the living and warn his brothers was denied.
Amazingly people still look to the wrong source for spiritual guidance, not only do we have the huge business of astrology but the ever common ‘spiritualist’ market. There are tarot cards, palm readers, crystal balls, séances, etc.
Not much has changed in human nature. We know we need spiritual guidance, as Jeremiah stated long ago ‘it is not in man who walks to direct his steps’. Jeremiah 10:23. God has given us His word and so, let’s be content to learn and walk by what He has revealed.
Since the time that man first started practising witchcraft, it has been an abomination in the sight of God. The first mention in the Bible is in Exodus 22:18, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ Again, in Leviticus 19:31, ‘Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them.’ and in Leviticus 20:27, ‘A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death.’
Witchcraft includes the whole family of magic, fortune-telling and predictions of the future.
The main reason would be because He is God and He can adopt any attitude He might choose. But God’s laws always have a practical reason.
There is no doubt there are many witches, fortune tellers and familiar spirits today who believe they have these powers and they believe they can tell you facts lost in your subconscious mind, but they’re making it all up in their minds and more importantly they can’t tell the future. This is a privilege God reserves for Himself and He’s very jealous when man tries to invade His territory, Isaiah 41:21-24.
Equally as strong a reason for God’s hatred of witchcraft is that in His infinite wisdom, He knew that it could and would become a form of idolatry and He knew that it would cause some not to inherit eternal life in heaven, which is ultimately more serious, Galatians 5:19-21 / Revelation 22:15.
Sadly, many people today put their hopes and dreams in these people, and just like Saul, when things get desperate, they will go anywhere, except to God to find comfort and answers to life’s questions.
People so desperately miss their loved ones who have passed on, they will go anywhere just to have one last ‘conversation’ with them and in the ‘medium’s mind’, just like the witch of Endor, they truly believe they are communicating with the dead.
Saul by this time already knew that David was to be God’s anointed king of Israel, because Samuel told him earlier, but here it appears the reality of this was taking its toll on Saul as he realises that his reign as king is coming to an end, and his family wouldn’t continue as kings of Israel.
All his hopes and dreams for his family to continue in his kingship came crashing down with the words of Samuel.