THE WITCH OF ENDOR Based on I Sam.
28:3-19 By Pastor Glenn Pease One of the wealthiest women in the world back in the 70’s was a witch. All through history witches usually were poor. Many of them were harlots who had become old and haggard, and when they could no longer sell themselves they took to selling love potions, charms and fortunes for a living. Doubtless, this aspect of witchcraft still thrives, but something new has developed because there is much money to be made in this weird world of witchcraft. This is the age of the switch to the rich witch. Sybil Leek, who was the queen of the witches, was a millionaire. She has written 15 books and numerous columns for women’s magazines. We can’t begin to list all of the universities where courses have been offered on witchcraft. Sybil said that almost a thousand people a week use to ask her how to become a witch. She claimed there were 8 million witches in the world 30 years ago. Today you might find a doctor, a teacher, a businessman, or many college students who are involved in witchcraft. Many modern witches do not even believe in Satan. They are professional people who live a normal life. They unite in covens, which is a group of 13 witches, and they use their combined psychic forces to do what they think is good. On the other hand, there is the satanist movement which glorifies evil and mocks all that is holy. And so you have both the good witches and the bad witches in our culture. This is new for our history, but it is the same old story, for there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to the occult. Witchcraft calls itself the Old Religion, and it is. It is much older than Christianity and any of the major world religions. The account of the Witch of Endor, which we are going to study, takes us back to about 1000 B. C. This witch is more like the modern witches, and she has nothing to do with the image which grew out of the middle ages. The Halloween witch is a fictitious character of man’s imagination. The old hag with the wart on her nose who rides through the sky on her broom, and who stirs up a cauldron of magic brew, is not the type of witch we are looking at. Hatred against this kind of witch led to one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the church. Christians were hoaxed into a frenzy of foolish superstition which led them to execute thousands of men, women, and children as witches. Some were as young as two years old. We can’t look at this gruesome story now, but we just want to stress that there is no evidence that the Witch of Endor was anything like that image. She was like the modern witch who has psychic gifts, and she was using them to make a living. A more proper name would be medium. She was a medium by which the natural and spiritual world could make contact. Today she would be called a Spiritist, and her technical name would be Necromancer. A Necromancer is one who is able to discover the future and tell fortunes by
contacting the dead. This method of fortune telling was popular in ancient history, and the Jews were forbidden to consult such mediums in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Sometimes they would be driven out of the land and have to operate under ground, but at other times they were allowed to practice freely. In Isa. 8:19 the prophet says, “And when they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the wizards who chirp and mutter’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?” This is an excellent question, and it is one that our culture is being challenged to face again. Should the dead be contacted on behalf of the living? That is what the story of the Witch of Endor is all about. We want to study this ancient account of mediumistic contact with the dead in order to be better informed and aware of what is happening in the world today in this same realm. We want to ask 3 questions. We want to ask what was the reason for her performance on the stage of biblical history? What was the reality of her performance? And what was the result of her performance? I. WHAT WAS THE REASON FOR HER PERFORMANCE? The context makes it quite clear that she did not lure Saul into this seance with Samuel. Saul was the one who came to her and persuaded her to practice her forbidden powers. The paradox is that in verse 3 we read that Saul put the mediums and wizards out of the land, and 4 verses later we hear him asking for a medium. Saul was opposed to mediums, but here we find him sneaking through the night to visit one. It is obvious we are dealing with a man in deep distress and desperation. He is going against his own convictions by coming to her. The Philistines were ready to fight him in full force, and even his old friend David was on their side. Samuel, the prophet of God who anointed him as the first king of Israel, and who had been his friend and guide, was now dead. On top of this verse 6 says that all the lines of communication to heaven were dead. God would not speak to Saul through dreams or by prophets. His disobedience led to this state of despair. Everything had gone wrong and now he faced his worst enemies without any assurance that God was with him. He was a Godforsaken man, and that is why he did what he did. Martin Luther cried out once, “Oh! My God, punish me with pestilence, with all the terrible sicknesses on earth, with war, with anything, rather than thou be silent to me.” This was the position of Saul at this point. He was shaken by the solemn silence of heaven. He sank to the point where he could see no other than a sinful solution. He could have listened to Samuel when he was alive, but he did not do it, and now he longs for his counsel. It is the same old story. We do not take advantage of God’s opportunities when they are before us, but when we have lost our chance, then we long to go back.
People who go to mediums are almost always deeply troubled, and they are trying to undo or escape some folly of the past. The law of reaping what we sow if often hard to take, and people hope that occult powers can get them off the hook. The reason the Witch of Endor is on the stage of biblical history is the reason why most mediums are a part of history. Men wonder if they have a ghost of a chance to escape from the consequences of their sin. They long to know the future, for they fear it is not bright, but they hope for help from the spirit world. The rise in spiritism in our world is a clear sign that we live in a time of great despair. People are looking desperately for a way out of the rut that leads to ruin. They turn to the occult because it is exciting and because it stresses the supernatural. But is there anything to it? That is the big question. The reason for the Witch of Endor’s performance is easy enough to see, but the next question is far more complicated. II. WHAT WAS THE REALITY OF HER PERFORMANCE? Andrew Blackwood began his sermon on this passage by saying, “We shall find the subject bristling with difficulties. Indeed, we shall raise more questions than we can answer.” F. B. Meyer, the great English preacher, doesn’t even try to answer, but says, “We cannot explain the mysteries that lie around this incident.” Maybe we cannot solve all the mysteries, or answer all the questions, but we can examine the history of interpretation and weigh the evidence for the various viewpoints. The major division is between those who say this whole thing was a fake and those who say Samuel really spoke from the realm of the dead. Lets consider the arguments of the skeptical view first. The early church fathers and the Reformers took the position that it was either totally fake or it was of Satanic origin. They point out that Saul was in a mental state just right to be deceived. He was ready to swallow anything because of his desperation. It was also at night, and tricks of deception is always more convincing in the dark. Maimonides, the great Jewish scholar, said that it was all a matter of Saul’s diseased imagination. St. Augustine said it was a demon who spoke and this idea is popular yet today. The modern Pulpit Commentary says, “We cannot believe that the Bible would set before us and instance of witchcraft employed with the divine sanction for holy purposes.” This witch hated Saul, and she saw his dilemma and took full advantage of it for revenge. She faked this whole thing to give him a message of doom so she could watch him squirm. The power of suggestion would in his state likely lead him to get himself killed just as she suggested. Houdini, the great magician, has a testimony which supports this view. “I have been an ardent investigator of spiritualism for over 30 years, during which time I have witnessed more than 5 thousand seances, but never once have I
detected any phenomena to lead me to believe in the existence of a spirit sphere. On the contrary, I have never failed to detect fraud, or at least a possible solution on a purely rational basis.” Skeptics like Houdini point out that ventriloquism is used to make it appear as if the dead are speaking. Many famous hoaxes have been based on this method. In France a rich heiress fell in love with a man of low estate. Her parents would not allow her to marry him. When the father died this man came and stood before the mother who was ill, and being a ventriloquist he was able to make it seem like the dead father was speaking. He said he was in purgatory because he would not allow the marriage, and he pleaded with his wife to let the daughter marry so he could be released. She took it as a message from her dead husband and allowed the marriage. By false necromacy he became rich. Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, was for years convinced of the reality of talking with the dead, but after his death in 1931 his medium Nina Pecararo confessed she had hoodwinked him and all her spirit contacts were fakes. Houdini claimed he could do anything a medium could do by trickery. This has caused many to be very skeptical and to consider the Witch of Endor a fake. Others interpreters, however, recognize that you can go so far with the skeptical attitude that you deny the reality of the supernatural altogether, and they recognize this is not biblical. They go back to Augustine’s idea of demons. Luther said, “the raising of Samuel....was certainly merely a spectre of the devil.” Calvin said, “It is certain that it was not really Samuel, for God would never have allowed His prophets to be subjected to such diabolical conjury.” This view says something very strange and supernatural did happen, but it was the devil doing it and not God. This is probably the most widely held view today. It is real but it is demonic. Now we want to look at the view that it was literally true that there was communication with the dead Samuel. Modern commentators can no longer view this as fake because of the evidence that the powers of the occult world are real. The biblical author of this account does not hint that there is any trickery here. As an historian he would have an obligation to let us know if this was an event of deception, but he does not. He writes as if this is a true historical account of the actual appearance of Samuel. He does not say it was demonic, and so this idea is imposed on the text and is not drawn out of the text. What gives anyone the right to say, that even though the author of the Bible says it was Samuel, it was really a demon impersonating him. Once allow this kind of interpreting and any subjective interpretation is permissible. The Bible then becomes completely at the mercy of man’s subjective imagination. It can be made to mean whatever he thinks it should mean. The only safe and honest way to look at this passage is to take it literal. Even Merril F. Unger, who is an authority on biblical demonology, and who wrote a
whole book on Bishop Pike’s communication with his son, in which he concludes that the communication was demonic, says that we have here an authentic case of the dead Samuel speaking with the living Saul. Unger in his book Biblical Demonology argues strongly for seeing this as unique and exceptional, however, and that it was totally God’s doing and not by the power of the medium. This seems to be the conviction among evangelicals. Some of the arguments for an authentic appearance are these: If she was faking the whole thing, she was not very wise in her strategy, for she told Saul nothing but the worst news possible. If she was going to deceive him she would want him to hear good news and not the worst news. God does use that which is otherwise off limits in exceptional situations. He used astrologers to see the star of Bethlehem and come to honor His Son. He used the false prophet Balaam to speak the truth. He used Ruth as a link to His Son even though she was from the forbidden people, the Moabites. The Pulpit Commentary says, “There is nothing incredible in the existence of departed spirits, nor in their employment when God has a fit purpose to accomplish through them. G. Campbell Morgan writes, “That he did appear to Saul, there can be no question, but he did not come in response to her call."” John R. Rice takes the same view, and he says that God did it to rebuke Saul. The reality of it is no justification for it, however, for it is clearly forbidden. Murder is real too, but that doesn’t make it okay. This communication with the dead was real, but it does not give any justification for going to a medium. Others are not satisfied with making God responsible for this which He had forbidden. They argue that if God would not speak to Saul by any of the regular channels, why would He speak through a forbidden one? They prefer to admit that it was really Samuel, but grant the powers of the medium to really break through to the spirit world. This is the way all spiritualists interpret the account, and thereby find biblical evidence to back up their powers. Modern interpreters are going back to Augustine in the 4th century who took the powers of the occult seriously. He wrote of this event: “Thus by some hidden dispensation of the divine will, the prophet allowed himself to made use of even as our Lord Himself in the days of His humiliation submitted to be taken by Satan, and set by him on the pinnacle of the temple.” Whatever conclusion we come to, whether it be divine or demonic power, the fact is that the Bible supports the possibility of communication with the dead. The Jews believed it and other Scriptures make it evident. Moses and Elijah returned from the spirit world to talk to Jesus before He entered that realm Himself. No one who believes the Bible will argue that this was deception or demonic. The modern interpreters argue that Samuel’s communication from the dead was a reality. The final question we want to ask isIII. WHAT WAS THE RESULT OF HER PERFORMANCE?
The result was that she made a great reputation for herself, and possibility went on to become a rich witch in her day. Herbert Lockyer in his All The Women Of The Bible says that he feels she could have become a great prophetess had she given herself to God’s service rather than to the service the occult. She had psychic gifts and these can be used for good or evil. We don’t know what happened to her, but we have in the following chapters an account of what happened to her most famous customer. In verse 19 Samuel says, “Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.” Here is bad news with a gem of good news in it. They would all be killed, but they would be immediately in that realm of the dead where Samuel was. Even in the Old Testament we see the hope of the dead is to go directly into a new life beyond death. There is no oblivion or soul sleep, but conscious presence with Samuel, who, even in the realm of the dead, knew precisely what was going on in history, and could know the future. Sometimes the hardest thing about dying for the Christian is not knowing how so many things turn out. Here is evidence that the dead do know how things in time are turning out. Charles Wesley sees in these words the hope that even this God-forsaken king would still be saved. He wrote, What do these solemn words portend? A ray of hope when life shall end. Thou and thy sons, though slain, shall be Tomorrow in repose with me. Not in a state of hellish pain If Saul with Samuel do remain. Not in a state of damned despair, If loving Jonathan be there. The witch fixed Saul what could have been his last meal. She went all out to meet his need and puts her into the category of the good witch like the good witch of the Wizard of Oz. The Bible would support the idea of a good witch, but they are still forbidden, for they dabble with things God does not want man dabbling in. Regardless of the motive it is always wrong to do what God forbids. Adam and Eve did no great evil by taking of the forbidden fruit. They even had a good motive to grow and advance in knowledge, but it was out of God’s will. There are those who practice witchcraft for good, but it is still out of God’s will. Those people have the same opportunity to do good by acceptable means, and nothing can justify their disobedience to God’s revealed will. Saul sought to do good by his own way rather than God’s way, and that is why he is being condemned. It is better to do less in God’s will than more out of His will. Chapter 31 records the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy. Saul died, and so we have here a true prediction of the future by necromancy. Almost everyone who has examined the evidence agrees that the future can be predicted by witchcraft. Whether it be by ESP, or by demonic help is debatable, but the facts
indicate that we cannot laugh at these things as a mere hoax or fraud, even if 90% of it is just that. Eternity magazine once had an article written by a woman who had this experience. She and two friends went to a fortune teller, and she told 2 of them what the future held in store, but to the 3rd she said, “You have no future.” They left the building and walked across the street, and that 3rd girl was instantly killed by a car. Saul was told he would soon be in the realm of the dead, and so it was. We don’t have the time to look at all the implications of Saul joining Samuel. We must close with this observation: The occult powers are real. They are as real as Satan’s power, and is real as sin. Those who seek to use those powers to do what God forbids are asking for sorrow. Kipling put is in poetry. Oh, the road to Endor is the oldest road And the craziest road of all. Straight it runs to the witch’s abode As it did in the days of Saul. And nothing has changed of the sorrow in store For such as go down on the road to Endor. God forbid that we take this low road of darkness when the high road of light is open to us in Christ. He is the Way, and in Him we have the power to become children of God, and power to be and do all that God expects. The only answer for a world of growing witchcraft is a church of growing saints.