The Witch of Endor
Many people believe the biblical account of Saul, Samuel, and the Witch of Endor is proof that, after people die a physical death, they continue to live on in heaven or some other dimension of existence. Many people also believe this account proves that certain people have secret knowledge and supernatural power which give them the ability to communicate with the dead.
Did the Witch of Endor possess some supernatural power which enabled her to actually reach across the barrier between this physical universe into the spirit realm and summon Samuel to communicate with Saul or was the being with whom Saul spoke just an evil spirit impersonating Samuel? Do certain people possess the power to communicate with the dead? Are the dead really alive in another dimension of existence?
Today, there is great confusion about the true God, demons, angels, the dead, and the spirit world. However, those who are called to salvation during this gospel age and have the indwelling of the holy spirit do not need be confused about these issues, because the holy spirit teaches and reveals spiritual knowledge to those who are truly serious about their salvation. See Rom.15:4; 1.Cor.2:11-12; 1.Cor.10:11.
Because those who are called to salvation during this gospel age are engaged in a spiritual battle which will decide their eternal destiny, it is extremely important for each person who is serious about their call to have a clear understanding of Saul's experience with Samuel and the Witch of Endor.
The biblical record clearly shows that the Witch of Endor did not summon Samuel through her own power, and the manifestation the witch saw and Saul heard and spoke with was not an evil spirit; it was in fact Samuel whom God awakened from the sleep of the dead in order to reprimand and curse Saul for his disobedience.
"Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city." (1.Sam.28:3 KJV).
God's Law About Witchcraft
The Creator God gave the nation of Israel his law about how to deal with those who practiced forbidden religions and mystical arts, including witchcraft.
"When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or necromancer or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so" (Deut.18:9-14 NIV Para).
"You shall not turn to those having familiar spirits; and you shall not seek after the spiritualist to be defiled by them; I am the Lord your God" (Lev.19:31 Para.). See also 2.Chron.33:1-25; Isa.8: 19-20.
In Leviticus 19:31, the English word defiled is translated from the Hebrew word tame; a primitive root, which means to be foul, especially in a ceremonial or moral sense (contaminated). The use of the Hebrew word tame tells us that interaction between the spirit world and humans through the mystical arts causes humans to become contaminated in such a way as to make them repugnant to God.
Throughout the biblical record, we see God sending spirit-beings to interact with humans for his purposes and evil spirits interacting with humans in order to deceive or harm them. However, there are no accounts in the biblical record showing that humans have the authority to independently interact with spirit-beings other than to control and rebuke evil spirits as authorized in the New Testament.
The following scriptures show beyond doubt that the penalty to be imposed for practicing mystical arts and initiating unauthorized contact with spirit-beings is death:
"You shall not allow a sorceress to live" (Ex.22:18 Para.).
"And the person who turns to those having familiar spirits, and to the spiritualist, to go whoring after them, I shall set my face against that person, and cut him off from the midst of his people" (Lev.20:6 KJV Para.).
"A man or woman who has 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" (Lev.20:27 Para.).
"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death" (Rev.21:8 NIV).
Saul Turns to Witchcraft
"And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled" (1.Sam.28:4-5 KJV).
Knowing that the armies of Israel were not powerful enough to defeat the Philistines, Saul sought counsel and help from God. But, God did not answer him even though Saul sought this counsel through the methods that God had authorized:
"And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by the Urim, nor by prophets" (1.Sam.28:6 KJV).
Because God would not give him an answer, Saul became increasingly discouraged and finally turned to witchcraft in a attempt to gain the counsel of the deceased Samuel:
"Then said Saul to his servants, Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that has a familiar spirit at Endor" (1.Sam.28:7 KJV).
In 1.Samuel 28, verse 3, familiar spirits and wizards are translated from the Hebrew phrase ob yidd oni. Both the words ob and the phrase yidd oni originally referred to the spirit of a deceased person, but they later came to mean one who consults or calls up a spirit. In verse 7, the English term familiar spirit is translated from the Hebrew phrase b el ob, which means the possessor of a spirit.
Saul Ignores God's Law
Endor is about 15 to 20 miles from the area of Gilboa where Saul and the Philistines were camped. This long journey provided Saul ample time to consider his actions and the fact that he was about to commit a capital crime for which the punishment is death.
"And Saul disguised himself, and put on other clothing, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray you, divine to me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name to you" (1.Sam.28:8 KJV).
Seeking to enlist the services of the Witch of Endor in order to attempt to communicate with Samuel who is dead, Saul violates God's law concerning witchcraft.
"And the woman said to him, Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then lay you a snare for my life, to cause me to die?" (1.Sam.28:9 KJV).
The woman reminds Saul that such practices are forbidden in Israel and asks if he is trying to get her killed.
"And Saul swore to her by the Lord, saying, As the Lord lives, there shall no punishment happen to you for this thing. Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up to you? And he said, Bring me up Samuel" (1.Sam.28:10-11 KJV).
Whether or not this woman was possessed by an evil spirit or if she was just a fraud without supernatural powers does not matter. What does matter is that, as she proceeded to perform her craft, she saw something completely unexpected and terrifying. The visual impression this woman received, whether apparition, vision, or reality, frightened her so much that she screamed in terror.
"And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spoke to Saul, saying, Why have you deceived me? for you are Saul" (1.Sam.28:12 KJV).
The account does not indicate whether or not the woman heard anything at the time she saw the forms she describes as gods (Hebrew: elohim) in the following verse; it only shows that the manifestation frightened her and brought her to the realization that it was king Saul who had requested her services:
"And the king said to her, Be not afraid: for what saw you? And the woman said to Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. And he said to her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man comes 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" (1.Sam.28:13-14 KJV).
Verses 13 and 14 show that only the woman saw the forms and with the description she provided, Saul was able to deduce that Samuel was among them, so he bowed as an act of respect to Samuel.
From what is recorded, there is no evidence that Samuel appeared in a physical form. It seems the witch saw this in her mind or there was a manifestation only she could see.
"And Samuel said to Saul, Why have you 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 answers me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I shall do" (1.Sam.28:15 KJV).
Although we are told Samuel spoke with Saul, this account does not indicate if anyone else heard Samuel; therefore, it is impossible to know if Samuel's voice was a physical manifestation or if the communication was similar to the experience of young Samuel hearing the voice of God call to him in the night or the apostle Paul's encounter with Jesus. See 1.Sam.3:1-21; Acts 9:1-7.
"Then said Samuel, Wherefore then do you ask me, seeing the Lord is departed from you, and is become your enemy? And the Lord has done to him, as he spoke by me: for the Lord has rent the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, even to David: Because you obeyed not the voice of the Lord, nor executed his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore has the Lord done this thing to you this day" (1.Sam.28:16-18 KJV).
In verses 16 through 18, Samuel rebukes Saul for asking the question to which he should have known the answer and he reminds Saul of the punishment that would come upon him because of his prior disobedience. See 1.Sam.15:1-28.
"Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines: and tomorrow shall you and your sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines" (1.Sam.28:19 KJV).
Saul did not get the answers or the help he sought, but instead received notice that he and his sons would die the next day.
"Then Saul fell straightaway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him; for he had eaten no bread all the day, nor all the night" (1.Sam.28:20 KJV).
The Biblical Perspective
There are several things that must be understood from the biblical perspective in order to determine what actually happened between the spirit world and the physical world in this account of Saul's communication with Samuel who had died and was buried:
- Who controls human life?
- Where does the human spirit go after the body dies?
- What are spirit manifestations?
Who Controls Life?
There is absolutely no dispute about who is in control of the life and death of human beings from the biblical perspective. God the Father and Jesus Christ are in total control of human life and death:
"See now that I, I am he, and there is no other God with me. I kill, and I keep alive. I wound and I heal, and there is no deliverer from my hand" (Deut.32:39 Para.).
"The Lord kills, and makes alive: He brings down to the grave, and brings up" (1.Sam.2:6 KJV). See also 2.Kg.5:7; Rev.1:18.
Although God the Father and The Creator God who became Jesus Christ have the exclusive power to resurrect the dead and give them life, on occasion humans have been given this authority. However, in every instance where humans have been given this authorization, they have been God's servants who are obedient to his law, as in the following examples:
- Elisha raised the Shunammite woman's son (2.Kgs 4:8-35).
- Christ raised Martha and Mary's brother Lazarus (Jn.11:1-44).
- Peter raised Tabitha the widow (Acts 9:36-41).
- Paul raised the young man who fell out of a window (Acts 20:9-12).
The Human Spirit Returns to God
At death the human spirit, which is the sentient part of the human creation, returns to God and is kept until the time of the resurrection of the dead:
"Then the dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it" (Ecc.12:7 Para.). See also Gen.3:19; Job 34:14-15; Psa.31:5; Ecc.3:19-20; Lk.23:46 .
Only God has authority and control over the spirit of man which resides in the heavenly realm after physical death.
No Consciousness After Death
"Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psa.146:3-4 KJV). See also Psa.6:4-5; 115:17; Ecc.9:5-6; 10; Isa.38:17-19.
At death, the cerebral and other life functions cease. There is no more thought process, no reward, no memory, no knowledge, and no access to God or this world; death terminates an individual's conscious interaction with all dimensions of existence.
Many scriptures speak of the state of the dead as analogous to sleep. Because the dead do not have a conscious thought process, sleep is a fitting description of the mental condition of the dead. See Dan.12:2; Jn.11:11-14; Acts 7:59-60.
There is nothing throughout the entire Bible, which indicates that the human life function continues to exist in one state or another after death. The Bible indicates just the opposite; it clearly shows that all mental and physical human activity stops at death.
There are many scriptures which show God and his angels appeared to people in the flesh; however, there are no scriptures showing that evil spirits have this same ability. It seems that only God and his loyal angels have the power to manifest themselves in flesh; however, disembodied evil spirits can and do manifest themselves through humans, apparitions, other creatures, and physical objects.
Although the biblical record shows that evil spirits do exist and have access to this physical world, the biblical record clearly indicates that humans and evil spirits are limited in their powers and authorizations. Although an evil spirit might impersonate a dead human in form and speech, it is beyond their power to usurp God's authority in order to control the spirits of the dead, which are under God's care and protection.
Nowhere in the biblical record is there the slightest indication that any human or any evil spirit has ever had the authorization or power to communicate with the dead.
- The account in 1.Samuel, chapter 28 is presented as a report of facts which clearly show it was the prophet Samuel who spoke to Saul and asked why he had been disturbed from the sleep of death (v15).
- It is obvious that the Witch of Endor was not in control of this event, and that whatever she was normally accustomed to seeing and doing did not happen; this was a totally different and frightening experience to her.
- Samuel was not brought back to consciousness by some magical art or supernatural power of the witch, but through the power of God for the purpose of pronouncing the death sentence upon Saul for his disobedience. See 1.Sam.13:8-14; 15:20-23; 1.Chron.10: 13-14.
- After Samuel was brought back to consciousness and had delivered God's message to Saul, he returned to the sleep of the dead to await his resurrection and change to immortality at Christ's return and the first resurrection of the dead.
It is obvious from the biblical record that God considers all forms of magic, mystical arts and witchcraft repugnant and forbids their practice. It is also clear from the biblical record that God views the performance of these practices as an attempt to usurp his authority and power, circumvent the natural order, and deceive people into worshiping false gods.
Modern Day Practices
Although described by many different names and practiced in many different forms, the practice of attempting to communicate with the dead has not changed much since it began thousands of years ago. Necromancy in its various forms is simply the practice of attempting to contact humans who have died in order to communicate with them or gain information from them.
It is interesting that, during most of these events, the spirit or the medium relate only vague references to events, things, or people. It would seem that there is a memory problem with the departed or they have lost their communication skills. None of these types of communications make any sense from a biblical perspective. Whereas, in the biblical account of king Saul, the witch of Endor, and the prophet Samuel, there was a clear communication from the prophet Samuel with factual information conveyed, as well as a curse pronounced on Saul, his sons, and Saul's army of Israelites.
Sometimes, people who are supposedly communicating with the dead will convey factual information, thus giving the impression that contact has actually been made with the dead person. When facts that could not be gained through normal means are given during these events, there must be a demon providing the information, because God's law clearly forbids an attempt to interact with the dead.
Evil spirits have been on earth longer that mankind has existed, they have knowledge about the physical creation which mankind does not, and they have viewed people and historical events since the creation of mankind; therefore, they know many specifics about people and historical events, which they can relate through a medium in order to deceive people.
Make no mistake, the practice of all forms of magic, mystical arts and witchcraft are a clear violation of God's law and will be punished with the second death from which there is no return if there is no repentance from the practitioner.
By B.L. Cocherell b9w31