The Witch of Endor
You will find her story in: 1 Samuel 28
Did you know that according to the National Retail Federation “the witch has been the bestselling adult (Halloween) costume for the past 10 years, followed closely by the vampire, pirate, nurse and Batman?”
It’s Halloween and tonight our Tuesday evening Women of the Bible study is going to read about The Witch of Endor – a scene the poet Lord Byron describes likes this…
“I have always thought this the finest and most finished witch scene that ever was written or conceived, and you will be of my opinion if you consider all the circumstances of the actors of the case, together with the gravity, simplicity and density of the language. It beats all the ghost scenes I have ever read.”
My co-leader said she’s been a Christian since 1967 but had NEVER read this story in the Bible until now. It shook her up. That is an appropriate reaction. The Witch of Endor SHOULD shake us to the core. God hates certain things and witchcraft is one of them. I saw a meme online the other day that said, “Want to hear God’s voice, read the Bible out loud.” Here’s what God has to say about the occult:
“Do not let a woman who does evil magic stay alive. Put her to death.” Exodus 22:18
“Do not turn to mediums [who pretend to consult the dead] or to spiritists [who have spirits of divination]; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:31
“Every man or woman who is a medium or a psychic must be put to death. They must be stoned to death because they deserve to die.” Leviticus 20:27
A Little Background
So Saul, the first king of Israel, had started well – trusting God and obeying Him. But, and this is a big BUT, he did not remain faithful. He did not remain obedient. So God left him (and, as a bonus, sent an evil spirit to torment him.) Samuel, Saul’s mentor who only lived a few miles away, never went to see Saul again – and mourned for him the rest of his life. This sets the stage for our story.
Samuel has passed away. After a busy life of neglecting his kingdom and jealously trying to kill David – God’s next choice for the throne of Israel – Saul is faced with the imminent attack of a massive army. He panics. He prays (which is actually a good response when you’re panicking.) But God is not answering him. God tends to not answer the prayers of people who do not believe in or obey Him.
Hebrews 11:6 says “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Nothing Good Happens After Midnight
Good counsel comes from God alone. But Saul decides to disguise himself, set out in the middle of the night to sneak behind enemy lines and seek the advice of a woman who has sold her soul to Satan. Darkness and disobedience go hand in hand. Saul swears to break the very law that he had created – that all witches must die – and promises the Witch of Endor safety if she will call up Samuel. Here’s what God has to say about that:
“As for the person who turns to mediums [who consult the dead] or to spiritists, to play the prostitute after them, I shall set My face against that person and will cut him off from his people [excluding him from the atonement made for them].” Leviticus 20:6
Saul is going to be “cut off” sooner, rather than later.
Let’s Take This Quite Literally
Ancient peoples believed the spirit world was real. Modern people are too “sophisticated” to believe in such antiquated ideas. As I researched, I was surprised to find that these passages are called “mysterious” and “difficult to deal with” by some pretty famous theologians. Some of them go through some pretty crazy mental gymnastics to try and make this scene fit their dogma:
- they say the witch made the whole thing up and Saul fell for it because he was so desperate
- others say it was an evil spirit that impersonated Samuel
- still others say it was just a vision of Samuel, not the actual Samuel himself come back from the dead.
Me, I have decided to take this story at face value.
I believe God warns us so strongly against the occult because it is real and it is dangerous. There is satanic power involved. Saul asked the witch to call up the dead Samuel. Witch does so (thank God the Bible does not describe how she did this). Samuel shows up (irritated that he had to leave the afterlife). Samuel delivers the bad news and leaves. No mental gymnastics necessary. Besides, it’s not the only time God allows people to come back from the dead. Later Moses and Elijah will return to have a staff meeting with Jesus on the top of the Mount of Transfiguration.
Since the Witch screams when Samuel shows up, I believe she was probably one of those shams listed in Leviticus 19 (and portrayed in the 1990 movie, Ghost) and was terrified when her magical arts actually worked. It’s pretty ironic she didn’t recognize Saul in disguise until God allowed Samuel to return.
Those ancient peoples who believed in the occult were always consulting the spirits to try and control their future. Saul, the guy who took his kingdom into his own hands now wanted to take his future into his own hands. He wanted to know more than God allowed him to know. So God let him have it. He gave Saul a list of all his sins and told him that both he and his sons would die the next day. Who wouldn’t fall face down on the ground after hearing a message like that?
Afterlife in the Old Testament
There isn’t much mention of heaven or hell in the Old Testament. The Sadducees of New Testament fame studied the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and declared that there was no life after death. (That’s why they were Sad u See:) They didn’t include 1 Samuel in their studies. If they had they might have come to a different conclusion.
This story assumes several things. Saul assumes that Samuel’s spirit is living on somewhere else – presumably heaven since Samuel believed and served God to the end. He assumes that Samuel can be called out of heaven to come back to this world. When Samuel returns and gives his fateful message he ends with a very interesting phrase: “Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.”
Some scholars take this to mean that tomorrow Saul and his sons will join Samuel in the house of the dead but others say that Saul and his sons will join Samuel in heaven. Say what? Saul, after all the evil he has done, will still end up in heaven? That sounds more like the gracious God of the New Testament and His Son Jesus than the so-called “angry God” of the Old Testament.
How is Jesus involved in The Witch of Endor’s Story?
The typical reaction of the Christian community to people like Saul and the Witch is to shun them, castigate them, stay as far away from them as possible. But maybe we are just supposed to love them – and share the good news of Jesus Christ with them so the truth can set them free.
Many women get into witchcraft because they want to help people. The Witch of Endor gently cared for Saul encouraging him to rest after he received his devastating news. She cooked him a fine meal before she sent him on his way. She was a good hostess not the ugly, evil crone by her boiling pot filled with “the scale of a dragon, a wolf’s tooth, a witch’s mummified flesh, the gullet and stomach of a ravenous shark, a root of hemlock that was dug up in the dark,…a goat’s bile, some twigs of yew that were broken off during a lunar eclipse…”
Present day physics are much more subtle now. They have slick, beautiful websites. They promise to ease the pain of your loss by putting you in touch with your dearly departed loved ones or even your lost pets. (All for only $29.99)
Author Liz Curtis Higgs when writing about the Witch of Endor did some research (after much prayer) on the occult. This is what a former witch turned Christian was trained to do:
“Never frighten anyone. Offer new realms of mystery and excitement. Make it look like natural, innocent adventure. Cover up evil with appealing wrappings.”
“I studied various books on the occult and found safe-sounding, familiar practices: Prayer and meditation. Ceremonies and sacred days. Music and worship. Sharing of food. Storytelling. Rituals for birth marriage and death. Many similarities. But oh, sisters, one big difference! Our relationship is not with a dead spirit but with a LIVING CHRIST. Our God does not come from within ourselves but from ON HIGH.
These are women who just want to help but have chosen a path that God has forbidden. No matter the good intentions, God hates what they are doing and we are not to participate in the activities of evil.
“…do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations… Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their 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 spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord…” Deuteronomy 18:9-12
Questions to Ponder
- Have you ever participated in any occult activities: horoscopes, palm readers, telephone psychics, ouija boards, seances? Repent immediately and pray the prayer below. God is forgiving. God is kind.
- Does the thought of talking to a deceased loved one tempt you to break God’s law?
- So is reading fantasy books like Harry Potter wrong? Why or why not? How about desperately ill women reading a book like “The Medical Medium” who says Spirit will tell him what your specific health problems are?
Prayer by Ann Spangler:
Father, forgive me for my involvement in the occult. I want nothing whatever to do with the realm of evil. Draw me out of the darkness and into the light of your presence. Free me from any lingering effects of my involvement and help me to trust you completely for my future. Amen
The Bottom Line
Things I learned from The Witch of Endor: Don’t mess around with occult practices. If you want to know the future, ask God. He’ll tell you what you need to know. (And I was pleasantly surprised to see solid evidence for the afterlife in the Old Testament.)