15. Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.”
Here we have a difficulty. We know Yahweh specifically forbade going to mediums. We can read of this prohibition three times in the law. First, in Leviticus 19:31.
31. Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
Next, in Leviticus 20:6.
6. And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people.
Here, we read that those who sought after mediums and familiar spirits would be cut off from Yahweh’s people. This was a harsh penalty, but it was necessary to discourage the people from ever indulging in this false and wicked practice. Finally, the prohibition is repeated in Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
10. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11. or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you.
Here, Yahweh proclaims the calling up of the dead to be an abomination to Him. This is the strongest of language, and leaves no room for any such practice. To Yahweh, this was seeking to the dead when they should in fact have been seeking to Him, as Isaiah 8:19 makes clear.
19. And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?
From this, it is clear that Yahweh views this that people are putting the dead (the dead, mind you!) in the place that should belong to Him alone. This would make the dead anti-Christ. No one should do such a thing. There are those who do this today, but we can be certain that all such are deceived and foolish.
There was resurgence around the beginning of the 20th century of spiritism, and many flocked to visit mediums and hear from their dead loved ones. This movement became quite popular, and the adoption of it by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the well-known author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, lent all the more credence to this idea of seeking visitations from the dead. Yet wise men saw that this was all deception and error. The poet Rudyard Kipling recognized this, and wrote a poem that did much to end this movement. (We can certainly see how different times were then, if we would try to imagine any poem changing cultural sentiment today!) This poem was called “The Road to En-dor,” and very cleverly pointed out the deception of the practice of mediums.
“Behold there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at En-dor.” I Samuel, xxviii. 7.
THE ROAD to En-dor is easy to tread
For Mother or yearning Wife.
There, it is sure, we shall meet our Dead
As they were even in life.
Earth has not dreamed of the blessing in store
For desolate hearts on the road to En-dor.
Whispers shall comfort us out of the dark—
Hands—ah God!—that we knew!
Visions and voices — look and hark!—
Shall prove that the tale is true,
And that those who have passed to the further shore
May be hailed — at a price — on the road to En-dor.
But they are so deep in their new eclipse
Nothing they say can reach,
Unless it be uttered by alien lips
And framed in a stranger’s speech.
The son must send word to the mother that bore,
Through an hireling’s mouth. ‘Tis the rule of En-dor.
And not for nothing these gifts are shown
By such as delight our dead.
They must twitch and stiffen and slaver and groan
Ere the eyes are set in the head,
And the voice from the belly begins. Therefore,
We pay them a wage where they ply at En-dor.
Even so, we have need of faith
And patience to follow the clue.
Often, at first, what the dear one saith
Is babble, or jest, or untrue.
(Lying spirits perplex us sore
Till our loves—and their lives—are well-known at En-dor).
Oh the road to En-dor 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 En-dor!
This poem is most true, and points out the utter folly of all who would visit mediums and those who claim to consult with the spirits of the dead. We do not doubt for a moment that mediums today are either fakers, or else empowered by evil spirits who only pretend to be dead loved ones. We would believe that this woman was the same kind of medium. We would deny utterly that this woman, this witch of En-dor, had any power at all to raise Samuel from the dead. Some might wonder if she had such power from Satan, yet I would deny that this was so. The actual calling up of the dead like Samuel was utterly beyond someone like her. Yet why then does the Bible act as if this really was Samuel?
We have to admit the strange fact here that the Bible acts like this really was Samuel that appeared to Saul. It quotes him as Samuel just as It quoted Samuel before he died. Compare I Samuel 9:27 with 28:15.
27. Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us.”
15. Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
We cannot see any difference in these two statements. The assumption of the Scriptures seems to be that this really was Samuel appearing to Saul. There is no evidence here that this was just the woman faking or pretending. So what is going on here? I would suggest that the appearance of Samuel had nothing to do with the woman. Saul has turned from Yahweh and asked a witch to bring a dead prophet of Yahweh back to life. Yahweh has watched His anointed apostatize up to this point, but now He breaks in and actually gives Saul his wish. There is an example of this in the Psalms, where it is written in Psalm 106:15:
15. And He gave them their request,
But sent leanness into their soul.
Much the same thing appears to have happened here. Yahweh actually gave Saul what he asked for and brought Samuel temporarily up from the grave to condemn him. This literal appearance of Samuel was much to the terror both of Saul and of the witch. So I believe that, as the Bible indicates, this really was Samuel who appeared, but the medium had nothing to do with bringing him back to life. It was Yahweh Who brought him back. No one else could have done it but the God Who raises the dead.
When he appears to him, Samuel seems to be annoyed with Saul. He had to deal with this stubborn and rebellious king when he was alive. Now, even after death, he will pester him, bringing him up before his time. He probably expected to be in the Kingdom at this point when he lived again, not appearing before Saul like this!
Saul explains his predicament to Samuel. He is in deep distress because of the Philistines. They are attacking him, and God has departed from him and will not answer his requests by prophets or by dreams. He does not mention the Urim, perhaps because that would require him bringing up the murdered priests of Yahweh and his unjust actions against David. He explains that since Yahweh would not answer him any other way, he thought of calling Samuel up from the dead so that he could reveal to him what to do. As if Yahweh refusing to answer him any other way justified him acting like this! He should have submitted to Yahweh and turned from his wickedness, not turned to more wickedness. This action of his was foolish. After all, it was Yahweh Who was angry with him Who was the One Who gave Samuel his words, anyway! But this is where Saul is, and that is what he tells to Samuel.
16. Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the LORD has departed from you and has become your enemy?
Samuel answers Saul with the obvious question. Why would Saul think Samuel could help him when the LORD has departed from him and become his enemy? Was not Samuel always the LORD’s servant? Surely Samuel could do nothing contrary to the will of the LORD Whom he served. And this LORD Saul has alienated and made his enemy. What good then will Samuel do him?
17. And the LORD has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.
Now the final judgment of punishment and doom is declared to Saul. The LORD has done what Samuel told him he would do: taken the government away from the hand, that is, the power of Saul and given it to a neighbor of his. For the first time, the identity of this new king is confirmed to Saul, and it is even as he has suspected all along. The new king is to be David.
18. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day.
The reasons for his punishment and removal are recited to Saul. This came about because of Saul’s disobedience and refusal to obey the voice of the LORD when He sent him on a mission to execute His fierce wrath on His enemies the Amalekites. Saul had failed to carry out His orders, and so now the LORD has brought about the end of Saul’s government that was even now about to occur.
19. Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”
So far, the words of Samuel, other than confirming to him that David is indeed to be his replacement, have not really imparted any new information to Saul. Yet now the final stroke falls. The LORD is going to deliver both the army of Israel and Saul himself into the power of their enemies the Philistines. The next day, both Saul and his sons, the ones who were to be his heirs to the throne, will be with Samuel. Typically, a man would choose his oldest son as his heir. Yet something could happen to the heir, and so the next son would get much of the same training, and the third son might get some of it as well. Yet all three of Saul’s oldest sons, one of whom was intended to be the heir, would die with Saul. This would leave a power gap that the LORD intended to be filled by David.
Many make much of this statement that Saul and his sons would be with Samuel. Some would believe that Samuel was in heaven, and so this means that Saul must have been “saved” and would end up there too. Yet the idea that a “soul” goes to heaven at the moment of death is merely a superstition of men, and has no basis in the word of God. The reality taught by Scripture is that after death one goes to sheol, which is a word that merely means “the state of death.” It is death as a temporary state prior to resurrection. This is where Samuel was. Even his own words confirm this, as he tells Saul that he had brought him “up” by calling for him, not “down” as if he had come from heaven. There is no statement in this that Saul was destined for eternal life. The Bible makes it clear that both the righteous and the wicked go to sheol at death, and there is no difference. The difference comes after they are resurrected. Thus the next day Saul and his sons would be dead and in the grave as Samuel was. That is what he means here, not that Saul would be “in heaven.”
Saul’s fate will affect his nation as well, Samuel reveals, for the army of Israel will also be delivered into the hand of the Philistines along with their rebellious king. Israel had demanded this ruler instead of the LORD, and now they would experience going down with him. Graciously, though, the LORD would soon send them David to bring them back up!
20. Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day or all night.
Saul had probably been frightened enough by the appearance of the dead man to speak with him. This surely was more than he was expecting, just as it was more than the medium was expecting! Yet now these words of doom, the exact words, no doubt, that he had feared so much and yet had known deep down must be the truth, have been spoken to him, and his response is to collapse on the ground. Now he knows for certain that the final blow is about to fall, and the inevitable result of his long rebellion against the God Who had exalted him to the throne in the first place has come.
Yet Saul is not only weak from fear. He is also weak from eating no food for 24 hours. This was probably due to his fear of the Philistine army, as well as the idea that perhaps Jehovah was finally bringing his sins to bear against him.
21. And the woman came to Saul and saw that he was severely troubled, and said to him, “Look, your maidservant has obeyed your voice, and I have put my life in my hands and heeded the words which you spoke to me.
We read that the woman comes to Saul at this point. This too would seem to correct any thought that the interview Saul had with Samuel was according to the usual method of mediums. In that case, the “visit” from the dead person happens through the medium, who speaks with some different voice and claims to be speaking for the dead person. Yet from these words, it would appear that the woman had not even been in the room when Saul had his conversation with Samuel. Had she fled the room when Samuel arrived? It seems this brave medium who claimed to have concourse with the dead was not so eager to face someone who actually returned from the dead!
The woman can see Saul is severely troubled by the interview he has had with Samuel. She speaks up and seems to take credit for the appearance of Samuel, even though of course she had nothing to do with it. Mediums are not in the habit of actually causing dead people to appear! Yet this woman can probably see in this incident a way of greatly increasing her reputation and a way of making future customers believe she really has power she does not have at all. Therefore, she quickly points out her willingness to obey Saul and put her soul in her hands by listening to his words.
The word here is indeed the Hebrew word nephesh, which means “soul” not “life.” Yet by her soul here she does mean her very life, for that is what she had risked when she agreed to “contact the dead” in spite of the king’s edict against it. She implies that Saul owes her something by this, though in reality, as we have seen, she actually did little or nothing, and this visitation from Samuel was actually brought about by Yahweh for the purpose of bringing Saul what he wanted and bringing down His punishment upon him.
22. Now therefore, please, heed also the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”
The woman now urges him to listen to her, calling herself his maidservant. She urges him to eat to strengthen himself before he leaves, offering him a piece of bread. We might think this was a poor offer, but realize that “bread” was used symbolically for all kinds of food, and so this offer was actually to feed him a meal, not just to give him a piece of bread.
23. But he refused and said, “I will not eat.”
So his servants, together with the woman, urged him; and he heeded their voice. Then he arose from the ground and sat on the bed.
Saul at first refuses to eat. No doubt he did not feel at all like eating after the bad news he has just received! Yet his servants and the medium urge him, and finally they talk him into it. He gets up from where he had been, fallen on the ground, and sits on her bed to eat. A sad place for the king of Israel to be found: on a witch’s bed!
24. Now the woman had a fatted calf in the house, and she hastened to kill it. And she took flour and kneaded it, and baked unleavened bread from it.
The woman begins hasty preparations to make the king a meal. In their culture, it was common to keep ready a choice calf, well-fed and fattened, so that when receiving important visitors unexpectedly, this calf could be served to them. This woman has such a calf, and she hurries to butcher it. She also takes flour, kneads it, and bakes bread from it. She makes it unleavened, since this would require much less time than to leaven it and wait for it to rise. Note that, though it says she is doing all this, this does not preclude her having household servants who might have helped her do all this work as quickly as possible.
25. So she brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.
Once this hasty meal of bread and meat is ready, the woman serves it to Saul. Saul eats the witch’s food, along with his servants. Then they rise up and leave her house while it is still dark. Saul wanted no one to know he had visited such a woman. But the LORD knew! And his visit had helped him not at all, but had only confirmed to him the grim fate the LORD had in store for him for his sin and rebellion.