The Witch of Endor
Scripture Focus: 1 Samuel 28
Saul is still king over Israel at this point and is making a fine mess of it. He’s been actively violating the commands God gave him through the prophet Samuel – most importantly wiping out the Amalekites. He and the accomplished war hero, David, have been playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with Saul murdering high priests and destroying innocent citizens along the way. By chasing David out of Israel, he’s left the kingdom poorly defended. It is as Saul realizes how vulnerable he’s made Israel that we pick up in the story.
1 Samuel 28:1-6:
In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.”
David said, “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.”
Achish replied, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.
The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.
Saul’s reign is largely defined by ongoing conflict with the Philistines, but he’s had his champion David at his service. Now David is allied with the Philistines. David and King Achish have an interesting relationship that develops throughout the book. Achish gives David a town, and he’s been based there for over a year (29:3) continuing to make a great name for himself as a leader and warrior. Prophet Samuel, who was God’s mouthpiece to Saul, is dead. God is no longer answering Saul’s prayers. Now he is seeing the consequences of ruling selfishly start to fall down upon him.
1) If you were Saul looking at the massive Philistine army on the horizon, what might you be thinking at this point?
2) Do you think Saul is making any connections between his sins and the Philistines attacking Israel?
3) What would be the logical thing to do next? (Repent. Turn you heart back to God. Reconcile with David.)
But what does Saul do? Let’s read verses 7-11:
Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”
“There is one in Endor,” they said.
So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”
But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”
Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.”
Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”
“Bring up Samuel,” he said.
One of the few laws of God Saul enforced was removing mediums, witches, and other occult figures from the land (Ex. 22:18, Lev. 20:27). Practicing magic and that sort of thing was a capital offence.
4) Why do you think Saul would seek out a medium instead of a living prophet or priest (or just repent)? (Bear in mind, there was a school of prophets in Ramah not far from where he was. Samuel lived and was buried there. Endor was almost a four times greater distance away than Ramah. Saul is taking pains to seek out this witch when he could more easily consult one of God’s living prophets.)
Leviticus 19:31 says, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God” (NIV).
5) Sorcery is punishable by death, yet Saul seeks the witch out anyway. What does that tell us about him? What does this tell us about his view of God?
6) How does this woman respond when he asks her to call forth a spirit?
7) What is she most concerned about? (Getting caught. There’s no moral conflict for her. There’s no apparent fear of God, only fear of the law.)
8) Who does Saul ask she call forward?
9) Given that Saul did nothing but ignore Samuel’s guidance and disregard his authority while alive, why would he want Samuel now?
10) Do you think Saul has any intention of doing as Samuel directs? Why or why not?
Let’s move on to verses 12-20:
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”
The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”
The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure[a] coming up out of the earth.”
“What does he look like?” he asked.
“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.
Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”
Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”
Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night.
11) Does anything surprise you from this part of the story? Anything you find unsettling? (How about the fact that this woman succeeds at bringing forth a spirit from beyond the grave?)
12) What is her reaction upon seeing this spirit? Is this the reaction you would expect her to have? Why or why not?
Is that telling of anything? (It seems like she’s surprised at seeing who Saul wanted. It’s possible she’s only pretended to connect with spirits for money. Maybe this is an indication that she doesn’t understand the forces she’s trifling with. Even still, she’s more afraid of Saul’s punishment than the otherworldly spirit in front of her. Does that strike you as weird?)
Based on verses 13 and 14, we know that Saul can’t see the spirit. He relies on the medium’s description and assumes it is Samuel based on his age and wardrobe.
13) Is this the spirit of Samuel? Why do you think it is or isn’t? (Things to consider: It looks like Samuel, but could be disguised so Saul will listen. It tells the truth/reaffirms what Samuel said while alive. It comes up out of the ground, which multiple commentaries suggest is a detail indicating this is not a pure spirit. Spirits of God’s children are raised up from the earth into Heaven, so Samuel’s spirit would have descended from Heaven, not risen from under the earth.)
14) If this isn’t Samuel, then what or who is it?
15) Is it in the power of witches to disturb spirits in God’s eternal care? If not, why would God allow Samuel to be called forward after having already withdrawn his favor? He hasn’t been answering Saul’s prayers, so why let his prophet appear?
16) If this is an evil spirit, then why would it speak the truth? (Perhaps to drive Saul to ultimate despair and ruin Israel?)
17) What is Saul’s response to the spirit’s message?
18) Does he seem to have had a change of heart at all? Why or why not?
Read verses 21-25:
When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, “Look, your servant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.”
He refused and said, “I will not eat.”
But his men joined the woman in urging him, and he listened to them. He got up from the ground and sat on the couch.
The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left.
Saul is worn out, famished, and in shock. This woman probably wants him out of her house ASAP, so she and Saul’s men convince him to eat a little and get going. We see in chapter 31 that the prophecy comes true. The Philistines win the battle, kill Saul’s sons, wound him, and Saul ends up killing himself in disgrace. David then returns as King of Israel and fulfills the commands Saul disobeyed.
19) What do you find interesting about this story?
20) What questions that we haven’t talked about does this story bring up for you?
21) Is this story relevant to our walks of faith today? How so or why not?
22) Where do we turn for guidance today when we aren’t seeking the Lord?
23) What can we expect if we don’t listen to and follow godly direction?
24) At what point is it too late to seek the Lord?
1 Chronicles 10:13-14 sums up Saul’s demise saying, “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.”
25) If you were to sum up a moral of this story, what would it be?
This week’s challenge: Read chapter 30 and compare how David handles crisis against how Saul handled crisis in chapter 28. Consider the importance of obeying God consistently and keeping a faithful relationship with him. Meditate on how you seek God’s will first and heed the guidance of faithful people he puts around you.