1 Samuel 28:1-25
1In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.” 2David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” 3Now 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. 4The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. 5When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. 7Then 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.” 8So 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.” 9The 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?” 10But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12When 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.” 13The 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.” 14He 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. 15Then 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.” 16And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17The 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. 18Because 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. 19Moreover, 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.” 20Then 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. 21And 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. 22Now 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.” 23He 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. 24Now 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, 25and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.
This is truly one of the weirdest stories found in the Scripture. First, we find David being cagey with Achish, as the king of Gath tries to make sure David will fight on the side of the Philistines. David says, “you will know what your servant can do.” Achish assumes that means he has David’s support. It’s always dangerous to make assumptions.
But on to the strange events that lead up the death of King Saul. His paranoia has come to full bloom as he consults with the witch of En-Dor about the future of his campaign against Philistia. Here we find him seeking out a woman who can supposedly call up the ghost of someone what has died. Saul wants to hear from Samuel. Throughout the centuries since this event, theologians have weighed in on just exactly who the witch speaks to on Saul’s behalf. These scholars fall into two camps; one, it was actually the ghost of Samuel or two, it was a demon speaking through the woman. Spoiler alert – it was the demonic speaking to Saul that night. But let’s examine both sides.
A straightforward reading of the biblical account suggests the possibility that this medium may have possessed the capacity to contact dead persons and establish lines of communication between the living and the dead. This view is not explicitly rejected elsewhere in Scripture; but the Torah prohibits necromancy not because it is a hoax but because it promotes reliance on supernatural guidance from some source other than the Lord.
Steinmann, A. E. ©2016. 1 Samuel. (pp. 527–528). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
For numerous reasons, this explanation falls apart. Not the least of these reasons is that this “ghost” makes several predictions which turn out to be false or inaccurate. What they do inspire is Saul’s decision to commit suicide. These predictions include the idea that Saul will die the next day along with all of his sons. Neither of these things ends up being true.
Second, the medium’s reaction confirms that what she saw was frightening and unexpected. She assumed that the apparition she saw was Samuel because Saul had asked her to bring up Samuel. However, this does not prove that she actually saw Samuel. It indicates that she saw something she had not previously experienced. She may have presumed that it must be the person for whom Saul had asked, or the apparition itself may have claimed to be Samuel. It may well have been true that such mediums primarily relied on fraudulent deceptions to convince their clients that they were communicating with the dead (as may also be true today). On the other hand, many mediums may have been possessed by demons who spoke through them and who represented themselves as being spirits of dead people (as may also happen today). In this case, something supernatural happened—but it does not necessarily follow that what she saw was Samuel. In fact, she did not characterize the specter as “Samuel,” but rather in the plural as “gods coming up from the earth”. Saul asked about the form of what the woman saw under the insistent implication that there was only one apparition. In response the woman gave a description of one man, but we do not know whether she actually saw only one figure or whether she changed her description from plural to singular to match what she thought her patron expected. Thus, the woman herself never identified the apparition as “Samuel.” Saul concluded from her description that it was “Samuel”, and the author shaped the narrative accordingly to give us Saul’s perspective.
Steinmann, A. E. ©2016. 1 Samuel. (pp. 529). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
It is shocking that Saul kneels before that which he could not even see. He bows before Samuel. Saul treats this appearance of “Samuel” like he is a god. His distance from God couldn’t be further away at this point.
Saul was knocked to the ground with fright over “Samuel’s words”. He believed and reacted more immediately with heart and mind to the words of this supposed “Samuel” than he had to any of the messages Samuel delivered to him during his lifetime.
Steinmann, A. E. ©2016. 1 Samuel. (pp. 539). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
So, as you read this story of Saul’s last foray into the spiritual, remember that God is never pleased with the choice to circumvent His will and way to dabble in the realm of darkness. Saul didn’t want to bow down to God, but he was willing to listen to the voice of evil. And while that voice didn’t give him accurate information about the future, it did promise that he would die soon.