Threatening from across the horizon of the dusking day, Saul, the first king of Israel, consulted a medium popularly described as “the witch of Endor.” He was desperate to know the future; her’s was the burdensome task of calling up the dead prophet Samuel, who would answer his worries. She did. But that event has been trailed by an age-long theological controversy: was the spirit called up by that witch the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel, or was it a strange spirit that had masqueraded as the prophet (1 Samuel 28:3-25)?
Some have argued strongly that since the spirit that was summoned up by the witch was able to successfully predict King Saul’s death the following day (which came to pass, of course), it could not have been a Satanic spirit; in other words, that the ability of accurate predictability, or the incidence of a fulfilled prediction, is proof of Divinity.
Others think that even the devil sometimes predicts accurately. They add, besides, that, firstly, the purported spirit of Samuel was reported as “gods ascending out of the earth”; that Samuel would have had an angelic escort, which should have been coming down from above, from the traditional location of Heaven, rather than be escorted by “gods” (or, according to other translations, a “spectre” or “spirits”) coming out of the earth, the traditional location of “hell from beneath” (Isaiah 14:9). They add that “one truth” does not mean “all true”; that even if the prediction of Saul’s death was a truth, it does not also mean that the second claim of the predictor as Prophet Samuel could not have been a lie.
Those who think that the apparition was an impersonation of Prophet Samuel pursue their argument further by insisting that,secondly, the Bible had clearly stated that Saul’s adventure with the sorcerer was at a time when God would not answer him“neither by dreams, nor by urim, nor by prophets” (vv.6,15). The priests carried the urim and tumim by which they divined the will of God; by the channel of dreams, people received personal communications from the Almighty; and prophetsusually stood between God and humans where the first two options were generally lacking. They wonder how a witch could have made the Almighty to do for her what holy priests and great prophets could not; they wonder how Heaven could have responded to a witch on a matter that even God’s own priests and prophets would not get a response. They conclude, therefore, that the apparition must have been a spiritual robber of the prophet’s identity, a counterfeit spirit masquerading as Samuel merely to indulge the backslidden King’s indiscriminate and desperate crave for the supernatural.
Thirdly, they are persuaded that Saul’s delight in an anti-Christ prophet was in consonance with his own state, at that time, as a backslidden Israelite, from whom the Spirit of God had departed and who had been taken over by an evil spirit: “But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him” (1 Samuel 16:14). They conclude, therefore, that it was a case of two like diabolic forces in the two actors (the evil spirit in Saul and that in the witch) attracting themselves.
Fourthly, they insist, Prophet Samuel had cut off spiritual links with the strayed king even before he had died (1 Samuel 15:35). They wonder how a witch could have made him to change his mind after he was dead, to force him into a dialogue with a man with whom he had discontinued such spiritual consultations while he was alive.
Argument Number Five: they point out that the spirit never directly claimed to be Samuel, even though it presented itself as such; that it was Saul who “perceived” that the apparition was the prophet he had been expecting to see. They wonder how reliable would be the perspective of a demon-possessed man in consultations with a demons-possessed woman on spiritual matters of this nature.
Sixthly, they are worried that God would forbid such consultations with sorcerers (Deuteronomy 18:11), describing the practice by so strong a word as “abomination,” yet submit Himself (or His prophet) to the same means. They think it is a contradiction that is neither in the nature of God nor His Scriptures.
Point Number Seven: they note, furthermore, that the spirit had said to Saul, “tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me”(v.19). “Be with me” where? they ask; in Paradise or in Hell? They doubt that King Saul’s end suggests one who would have gone to Paradise, whereas Scripture testifies of Samuel even long after his death, that he had been in favour with God and certainly was in paradise (Jeremiah 15:1; Psalm 99:6). While being careful not to play God, they doubt that both men would be in the same eternal abode. They conclude, therefore, that if this spirit was one which hoped to share the same eternal abode as the backslidden king in that condition, then it could only have been an impersonating devil.
Those who doubt that the apparition was Samuel, usually cite 1 Chronicles 10:13-14:
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;
14 And enquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.
They point out, firstly, that this passage states clearly that Saul died “for his transgression which he committed against the LORD.” Secondly, they believe that the Bible proceeds to spotlight Saul’s fatal “transgression” when it adds that he also went “asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit... And enquired not of the LORD.” In other words, that Saul’s action is here condemned eloquently as a transgression. They wonder how the holy prophet could have been a partaker in something thus pinpointed by God as a “trangression.”
They insist, thirdly, that if the spirit that worked with the witch (and which was at work for the witch on the occasion of Saul’s visit) was here plainly described as “a familiar spirit,” it is blind foolishness to describe it as the spirit of Samuel or as the blessed Holy Spirit, especially as Light and Darkness did not dwell together (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
From this passage, these are worried, fourthly, why God would punish Saul for getting a message from Samuel, if indeed it was Samuel. Fifthly, they point out that the spirit which the witch had summoned was not referred to as a “him” or “he” (which could have been the case if it had been Samuel), but as an “it,” which is curious.
Sixthly, they believe that when God said here, “You enquired of it and not from Me,” and proceeded to punish the man for the act, He was clearly distinguishing and distancing Himself from the entire process in the sanctuary of the witch, and especially from the spirit that had presented itself as that of the prophet of God. Saul had two options, they say: “to enquire of it” or “... of the LORD.” He chose the wrong one.
Lastly, they find a significant link between verse 13 and verse 14. They point out that after the enumeration of Saul’s mortal sin in verse 13, verse 14 begins with the word, “Therefore,” suggesting that verse 14 was a consequence of verse 13; that God killed Saul “and turned the kingdom unto David” as a result of that failure highlighted in verse 13. Why would God go so far as relieving a man of his throne and also taking his life, if the act were such an innocent one after all, they ask.
From The Preacher’s diary,
October 21, 2006.