WVW: Witch Please - 1 Samuel 28
This is one of the strangest portions of Scripture that you might come across. Scriptures like this may lead you to believe that people like the Long Island Medium have some kind of legitimacy. After all, we take the Bible as inerrant and completely factual historically. However, this portion just seems over the top. Is there really some witch that is conjuring up a dead guy wrapped in a robe? To add insult to injury, it’s at a place called Endor. That’s way too Lord of the Rings.
Let’s take a look at this portion verse by verse and see if we can get an explanation.
3 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.
This verse sets us up to see how hypocritical Saul is throughout this entire portion. There was once a time when Saul knew what was right in the sight of the Lord. “Mediums and necromancers” were banned from Israel (Deuteronomy 18:11) and Israel was not to be defiled by them (Leviticus 19:31). If you ever consulted a medium, you were to be cut off from your people, and God would set His face against you (Leviticus 20:6). Saul obeyed these commands of the Lord at one time and sent these people out of Israel. Now, here he is calling on the very people he deported out of Israel out of desperation.
Mediums are people that communicate with the dead. The second word “necromancers” is interchangeable with “spiritists” in other versions. A spiritist is someone who communicates with evil spirits. The terms always go together in the Old Testament, which seem to indicate that the practices are similar, or that the practices typically work hand in hand.
The Bible clearly tells us there are evil spirits that interact with humans. As related to this portion of scripture, we know that there are spirits who come to deceive us. 1 Kings 22:19-23 gives us an interesting story and a look into the spiritual world. It introduces to us a spirit that will be a “lying spirit” and will “entice” us to believe things that are untrue.
It seems as though mediums and necromancers are people that communicate with lying spirits that appear as a dead person. I believe that to be true in every case except for this one. We’ll get to why I believe that a little later.
4 The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”
Saul was at a rough patch in life. He no longer hears from the Lord, because the Lord stopped speaking to him. Samuel was dead. David was coming for his throne. And on top of that he was facing a massive Philistine army that could cut his kingdom in half.
We’ll learn exactly what event caused the Lord to stop speaking with Saul further in this chapter, but it comes after many instances of Saul not listening to God. Saul spent the majority of his reign ignoring God’s words, now God is ignoring Saul’s words. Since Saul was no longer hearing from God, he resorted to the very medium that he once kicked out of his kingdom.
8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” 9 The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”
Saul really shows us his shame and hypocrisy in this section. He disguised himself and went out at night in order to sin against the Lord. So typical of us. We know what’s wrong and we try to hide it. What’s crazy is while Saul was committing the sin against the Lord, he swears by the Lord that the medium will not be punished for what she is doing. Major hypocrisy bruh.
Saul asks the medium to “bring up” whomever he names. The people in that day, as well as people in our day, referred to Sheol (the abode of the dead) as being under the earth. This of course comes from the tradition of burying our dead, which leads to the association of the spiritual Sheol with the physical depths of the earth.
The medium’s response reaffirms that Saul had banished the spiritists once upon a time.
11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.”
This is the wild part of the text. Clearly, this event with Samuel is different than a normal event for the medium. A normal event for the medium involves conjuring a lying spirit that appears as a dead person. She is startled, because what she is seeing is not what she normally sees.
Verse 13 uses the term “a god” to describe what the medium saw. The original text says elohim. That word should be familiar to you! It is the term frequently used in the Old Testament for God. However, it can also mean “a god, angel, ruler, or judge”. It can also be used for something that has a likeness to one of those things. For instance, if my wife looks like an angel (which she does), I can say she is elohim. Whatever she meant here, what she saw was definitely an imposing figure.
14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. 15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day.19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”
This section leads me to believe that God intervened. “Samuel” ended up prophesying about Saul’s fate the coming day. There is nothing in Scripture that leads us to believe that demons can know anything about the future, besides what God has revealed to us already. That means that God was involved. The two explanations that I find are most likely in this portion, are either that God allowed Samuel to appear post-mortem and prophecy to Saul, or that God caused the medium and Saul to experience a vision of Samuel as opposed to the medium communicating with an evil spirit. This is supported by three facts.
1. The medium was startled by this event. It was not a normal occurrence of conjuring a demon that appears to her as a dead person.
2. Saul “knew” it was Samuel. Saul had a close relationship with Samuel, though not a good one.
3. Samuel’s appearance prophesied on behalf of the Lord. Something that demons cannot do.
It seems as if the Lord allowed Saul to hear from him one last time, although what the Lord had to say was probably the last thing that Saul wanted to hear.
20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. 21 And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, “Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me. 22 Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.” 23 He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed. 24 Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, 25 and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.
This shows how far Saul has fallen. It’s likely that Saul hadn’t eaten because either he was fasting in a desperate attempt to hear from the Lord, or he was so stricken with anxiety that he couldn’t eat. Just the fact that the medium was ministering to Saul’s anxiety after this event, shows how far Saul had fallen. Saul was so far from God and so deep in anxiety, that even this wicked spiritist was able to comfort him and lift him.
I love the parallel that Dr. Constable made in regards to this meal that the witch prepared for Saul –
This proved to be Saul's "last supper”. What a contrast it is with the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, the vice-regent who always listened to and obeyed God faithfully. Saul ate this meal in dread as he anticipated death the next day, whereas Jesus ate His Last Supper at peace with His Father anticipating death the next day. (Thomas Constable)
Saul ended up ignoring the word the God spoke to him that night. He believed he could save himself, and he marched into battle the next day. Just as the Lord said, he lost his life.
God has also spoken to you and I in the Scriptures, just as He spoke to Saul that night. Ok, maybe not as dramatically, but still God has given us His word. His word tells us of two fates. Either we can turn away from God and ignore Him, as Saul did to his own destruction. Or, we can listen to the truth of God’s word and live at eternal peace with God. We don’t need to turn away from God and die an eternal death. Jesus has already died for us. He took the punishment of our sin and shame. We don’t have to hide in the cover of night. We don’t have to live in anxiety fearing what will happen to us in eternity. I pray that you guys will turn to the Lord today and live in His peace.