1 Samuel 28: The Witch of Endor

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1 Samuel 28: The Witch of Endor
by Edwin M. Cotto

The story of the Saul and the witch of Endor, found in Samuel chapter 28, is one of the main stories of the bible in which our Catholic friends lean on to prove that people live on in a conscience state after death and before the resurrection. A couple of points are brought forth in defense of their belief that Saul really spoke to the real Samuel, and not just some evil spirit as Adventists and other Christians believe it to be. In this article we will explore what really took place in 1 Samuel 28, and will at the same time address those arguments brought forth against our position. We’ll begin by…

Examining the context first.
After briefly talking about the fact that Achish desired to take David with him to battle in verses 1 and 2 (with the intent to further explain this later in chapter 29), the author of this book begins his explanation of the story of the witch of Endor by first reassuring the reader that Samuel was by this time dead and that the battle between the Philistines is about to begin (verses 3-5). In verse 6, we read that God decided to never speak to Saul again because of this rebellion; not through dreams, through the Urim (a stone which God used to help the priests make decisions -see Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:21) and not even “by the prophets.” Then the story continues:

1 Samuel 28:7-15
(7) Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.
(8) And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.
(9) And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?
(10) And Saul sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing.
(11) Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
(12) And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
(13) And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
(14) And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh 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.
(15) And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou 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 answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.

It’s important to note the immediate context. In verse 6 we read that God had promised never to speak to Saul through prophets again. The author felt it important to repeat this point before telling the actual story, that it may be in the mind of the reader as he finds out that it would be what seemed like Samuel the Prophet who appeared during the séance. Already, without getting any deeper then this, we have the author himself telling us beforehand not to forget this point. For the manifestation therefore to actually be the true Samuel the Prophet, would be for God to go back on his word. In fact, God himself promised, through the prophet, that he would not go back on his word:

1 Samuel 15:26-29
(26) And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.
(27) And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.
(28) And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.
(29) And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

Of course, the Strength of Israel is God himself (Psalm 18:2, 46:1, 68:35). From this point on we the readers must remember this crucial point to better understand what took place when Saul visited the witch of Endor.

As we continue reading, notice what takes place, particularly verse 19:

1 Samuel 28:16-20
(16) Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?
(17) And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:
(18) Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day.
(19) Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
(20) Then Saul fell straightway 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.

Notice what the manifestation told Saul. In verse 19 he said that Saul and his sons would the very next day “be with me.” Where did Samuel in this story actually come from? We read it earlier. Here it is:

1Samuel 28:13
(13) And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.

We’ve been told that this was simply a vision, and that therefore the “ascending out of the earth” should not be taken literally. Okay. But then they take literally that it was really Samuel the Prophet!

We agree that this was a vision of some sort, but we only have the actual description of the story as given by the author to go by. Therefore when we read in verse 13 that Samuel came “up” (see also verse 11) from the earth, we learn that that’s where Saul and his sons would go the next day; to the grave. Now our Catholic friends argue that this means just the grave, but that Saul’s spirit would go to heaven which is where Samuel presumably is. But this awful interpretation does not take into account the broader context of the life of Saul, especially the events surrounding his death. Notice:

1 Samuel 31:3-4
(3) And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers.
(4) Then said Saul unto his armourbearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it.

Saul committed suicide! Therefore, unless our opponents are ready to claim that people who commit suicide go straight to heaven (where they believe is where Samuel resides), then this argument fails miserably. Furthermore, we read in 1 Chronicles:

1 Chronicles 10:13
(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.

Note that he died “for his transgression.” We don’t read anywhere where Saul repented of his sin of asking counsel of a familiar spirit just before he died. In fact even if he did it would not matter, because he still died committing suicide; he died in his sins!

Another strong argument is that all forms of spiritualism were strictly condemned during this time (and still is today, of course, see Deuteronomy 18:10-11, Leviticus 20:27). Since this is the case, would God then turn around and allow a witch to successfully force one of his prophets to appear during that which he had previously condemned? The point was that they couldn’t really communicate with the dead, for “the living know that they shall die, but the dead know not anything” (Ecclesiastes 9:5), therefore those spiritists were lying deceivers. This belief would also contradict this truth, which was no doubt true in the time of Saul as it was in the time of Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes.

Already, the story of the witch of Endor makes absolutely no sense if we take it to mean that it was literally Samuel who appeared to Saul. Not only would this interpretation contradict what the Lord had promised beforehand, and contradict that fact that the dead know nothing, but it would also go against the very message of the bible, that if we die in our sins without true repentance, we will die eternally.

Now that we’ve seen the context, and have compared all the accounts of the story as it is also found in 1 Chronicles 10, we will continue by…

Addressing some of the
First, our opponents insist that this must be the true Samuel because when describing him, the witch said she saw an “old man… with a mantle.” -verse 14. The argument is that there is a connection here with the real Samuel because Samuel was an old man, and because the Hebrew word translated mantle, which is the word miyle, is precisely what Samuel always wore:

1 Samuel 2:19
(19) Moreover his mother made him a little coat (Hb. miyle), and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.

But if we read the previous verse, we’d learn that at this point Samuel was but a child (verse 18). Can we really say that Samuel wore the same miyle all his life, even though he died at an old age (see 1 Samuel 8:5)? It seems more reasonable to believe that this word miyle was simply a kind of dress which was most common amoung the people of that time. Yes, he continued to wear a miyle when he was a bit older (1 Samuel 15:27), but then again, a miyle was something most people used during that time anyway, as even Jonathon and Saul had one:

1 Samuel 18:4
(4) And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe (Hb. miyle) that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.

1 Samuel 24:4
(4) And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe (Hb. miyle) privily.

This argument simply does not work. If the spirit which appeared to Saul was really Samuel, the author would have certainty taken greater pains in helping the reader know for sure that it was him, instead of just mentioning the two things that was most common in those days.

When this argument fails, our opponents point to the author of 1 Samuel himself. They ask us that if this was simply a spirit, why would the author describe it as if it is Samuel speaking, i. e., “and Samuel said,” “then said Samuel” etc?

Well first of all, as we already showed above, it’s the author himself who, after explaining the story, tells us that Samuel was indeed dead and buried (verse 3), as if to say that the story you are about to read thereafter is of an evil spirit pretending to be him. Note also that the text reads “and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah” implying that Saul himself, who was of course a part of Israel, was a witness to his burial. Therefore it should not be a surprise for us to read the author describing the spirit speaking as “Samuel said…” et cetera. Perhaps with this he is trying to further prove that it was an evil spirit, since he most assuredly would have been aware that evil spirits can pretend to be people their not. Even Paul tells us that Satan himself can transform into an “angel of light (1 Corinthians 11:14) and that his ministers can transform themselves into “ministers of righteousness” (ibid, verse 15). The reader would not get the point of how deceptive this spirit was really trying to be if he would have simply said, “the spirit said…” etc.

On the other hand, even if the author would have used phrases like “the spirit said…” it still wouldn’t have quieted our critics, because they believe that deceased people become spirits anyway. So what’s the point in arguing from this angle? The fact of the matter is that however the author decided to describe the spirit speaking, he is expecting you to already know by now that Samuel is dead and that Saul would never again communicate with God through a prophet.

Finally, we’re told that the being that appeared during this séance must have been truly Samuel because his prediction of the death of Saul in verse 19 came true. But this only enforces the fact of how truly deceptive an evil spirit can be. Remember, the spirit of God had left Saul, being replaced by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:14). It was only when David played his instruments in the presence of the king that the evil spirit would leave. But as soon as he would stop playing, it would return. Since the story of the life of Saul ends with David never again playing spiritual music in the presence of Saul (with Saul even trying to kill David afterwards numerous time), we see that the evil spirit has never really departed from him. Never repenting from his sins, but rather giving his back to God (1 Samuel 15:11) and resorting to trying to kill David the prophet of the Lord, evil spirits who watch our every move (1 Peter 5:8) knew beforehand that the Lord had completely abandoned him. All who do not have the Lord will surely die, and the spirits knew this. Therefore, the spirit that appeared to Saul at Endor was not really making a prediction. he was simply telling Saul what the spirit already knew to be true, that in going to battle, the Lord would not be with him, and that he would surely die.

With the facts laid in plain view, and the counterarguments refuted, we can now reach…

The conclusion.
Plain and simple, the spirit that appeared to Saul through the séance of the witch could not possibly be the true Samuel. Of course our Catholic friends would want this to be Samuel, because it would help justify their belief that people go straight to heaven or hell at death rather then resting in their graves until the resurrection. But unfortunately for them, it wasn’t him. The reasons for this were already set forth in this article, but can be briefly summoned up as follows:

First: The author assures the reader, before they read the actual story, that Samuel is really and truly, “dead.” The dead, according to the wise teacher, “know not anything.”

Second: The author then tells us, before giving us the actual story, that God would never again speak to Saul through a prophet. These two things were meant to be in the mind of the reader before getting to the story, that when he gets there he would know that this was actually an evil spirit pretending to be Samuel.

Third: God had beforehand condemned necromancy (communication with the dead). For God to allow one of his prophets to be forced to appear during her satanic ritual would be to question why God condemned the practice in the first place, since what witches were doing was untrue.

Fourth: Most importantly, the spirit that appeared came from below and not from above (as would be true of a saved individual who would be living in heaven). After describing that the spirit ascended from the bottom, the spirit then tells Saul that he and his sons would the next day be with him. If he were a saved Prophet, we would assume that he lives in heaven. But Saul committed suicide. Could one who commits suicide, therefore, really go to heaven?

For our opponents to try and prove the immortality of the soul, therefore, they must go elsewhere in the scriptures (or outside the cannon of scriptures, which is unacceptable), and not to the story of Saul and the Witch of Endor.

Your Thought Questions Answered

Question 1: The author tells us that the witch referred to the being that appeared to her as “I saw gods (elohim)” but then the author refers to the being thereafter as Samuel. Is this not proof that this was really Samuel, since he never again refers to her as elohim?

Answer: First, the reason why the author describes it as an elohim in verse 13 is because that is how the witch described him when she was asked by Saul what she had seen. It was only until Saul designated it as Samuel that we read him referred to as Samuel from then on. It wouldn’t make sense for her to continue referring to him as elohim when Saul very clearly asked to see one called Samuel.

Second, it should be remembered that the author is trying to let the reader know that this was an evil spirit pretending to be Samuel after informing us that God would not speak to him through prophets. One of the best ways to do this is to refer to him by this name. It could be said otherwise if he had referred it as just “the spirit said.” This was covered in detail above.

Question 2: The spirit that appeared simply repeated the words of Samuel as recorded earlier in the book (1 Samuel 15:26-29). Doesn’t this prove that this was Samuel himself?

Answer: Not really, because it could very well be a spirit pretending to be Samuel. How much more convincing could this spirit be, if he simply repeats what the real Samuel had said beforehand? Very convincing. This offers no proof that this was the real Samuel, for spirits are masters of deception and can very easily repeat the words of others to convince people that they are who they are pretending to be. Some scholars suggest that spirits can even mimic the voice of deceased loved ones, making it more convincing.

Question 3: The Witch offered hospitality towards Saul and his servants (1 Samuel 28:22-25). This is consistant with how Prophets are to be with people. They are to be gentle and hospitable towards all people, even their enemies. Doesn’t this prove that the spirit was Samuel?

Answer: Well the one who was hospitable towards Saul in this story was the witch, and not the spirit that appeared during the séance. Perhaps if the spirit would have lingered around some more, and joined Saul and his servants for coffee and a meal, then perhaps you’d have a case with this one.

Question 4: One Catholic told me that when the spirit made the prediction of verse 19, he meant only the grave. He cited the LXX (Septuagint: an ancient Greek translation of the Old testament) telling me that here it reads: “and tomorrow you and your sons with you will fall.” Is there any truth to this?

Answer: No, this is completely untrue. Here’s the actual reading of verse 19 in the LXX:

1 Samuel 28:19 (Septuagint)
(19) And the Lord will deliver up Israel with you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. And the camp of Israel the Lord will put into the hands of the Philistines.

Its almost identical to the literal Hebrew text! (see your King James Version and concordance). Notice it clearly reads the same way… “tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.”

Too see this for yourself, visit this website: The Apostolic Bible Polyglot. There you will be able to download the complete Septuagint for free.

For further study, see:

Ezekiel 28: The king of Tyrus? Or Satan?
The Achilles Heel of the Eternal Torment Doctrine
Luke 16: The Rich man and Lazarus


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About The Author

Edwin Cotto

With over 13 years of experience in apologetics, evangelism and youth directing, Edwin has worked with various ministries both in English and Spanish. Having had the opportunity to travel to various states in the USA, and also to Venezuela and Mexico, he has enjoyed the privilege of conducting evangelistic meetings and apologetics seminars. His education includes training in the Medical Field, Adult Education at Valencia College, Biblical Hebrew with the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, and Evangelism with Amazing Facts Center of Evangelism. He is furthering his academic studies in theology while also working as a bible worker for the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Ordained as an elder, Edwin's passion for ministry begins first at home with his wife and kids.

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