Saul, Samuel, and the Witch of Endor


Did The Witch of Endor actually bring The Prophet Samuel back from the dead?  Did God "Overide" this satanic ceremony and allow Samuel to speak to King Saul?  Some fine expositors believe that the Prophet Samuel actually came back from the dead and spoke to King Saul.  I find this conclusion to be untenable and inconsistent with the whole of Scripture.

I will quote the commentaries of able men that believe God had nothing to do with this satanic event and that a deceiving spirit impersonated the great Prophet Samuel.  Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Matthew Henry, and Matthew poole (page 581) all agree that God was not in it and that Samuel was not brought back from the grave.  They all agree that an evil spirit impersonated the Prophet Samuel.

Dr. J Vernon McGee has this to say about The Witch of Endor on page 180 of his commentary:

"It is obvious from the account of the witch of En-dor that God was not in it.  To begin with, God would not call Samuel up--Saul makes it clear that God was no longer speaking to him...There are those who say that the witch actually brought Samuel from the dead.  I say to you that such an explanation is neither tenable nor consistent with the rest of Scripture.  We are told in 1 Chronicles 10:13, "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."

There are those who use 1 Samuel 28:12 to prove that God caused Samuel to appear.  "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."  I do not hold with this theory.  I believe it was an impersonation by a false spirit rather than Samuel who appeared.  God no longer spoke to Saul.  Worse still, Saul no longer spoke to God.  The dead cannot communicate with the living.  This was satanic from the beginning to end."

What are some reasons that preachers give for believing that Samuel came back from the grave?

1) The text tells us so.
McGee refutes this idea "If you read the account carefully, you will realize that Saul did not see Samuel.  It was the witch, who may never have seen Samuel alive, who said she saw an old man covered with a mantle.  Of course they jumped to the conclusion it was Samuel.  When they did, he answered as Samuel--because demons can impersonate.  Saul has laid himself wide open for Satan, and Satan has moved in," Commentary on 1 Samuel page 179.

2) Samuel Spoke For Himself.
"When they did, he answered as Samuel--because demons can impersonate.  Saul has laid himself wide open for Satan, and Satan has moved in."

3) Saul Bowed To Samuel.
I don't think that Saul is a good example to follow.  Saul went to Satan instead of God, his judgment should not be pointed to for us to follow.  "If you read the account carefully, you will realize that Saul did not see Samuel.  It was the witch, who may never have seen Samuel alive, who said she saw an old man covered with a mantle."

4) Samuel's Words Were True.
Dr. J. Vernon McGee refutes this idea "It is interesting to note that nothing new is added.  Saul does not get any new information.  Samuel, before his death, had already pronounced the death, the destruction, and the rejection of Saul.  Certainly Saul did not gain any comfort, any direction, or any new information from his excursion into the spirit world," Commentary on 1 Samuel page 179.

5) The Witches Reaction.
Nobody denies that this is a real event.  The question is if this was Samuel or not.  Her reaction cannot be used as some sort of proof since we all agree that something supernatural happened.  "If you read the account carefully, you will realize that Saul did not see Samuel.  It was the witch, who may never have seen Samuel alive, who said she saw an old man covered with a mantle.  Of course they jumped to the conclusion it was Samuel," Commentary on 1 Samuel page 179.

Matthew Henry's Commentary on The Whole Bible page 432:
"Samuel, who was lately dead, is the person whom Saul desired to have some talk with; and the witch, with her enchantments, gratifies his desire, and brings them together. 1. As soon as Saul had given the witch the assurance she desired (that he would not discover her) she applied to her witchcrafts, and asked very confidently, Whom shall I bring up to thee? v. 11.  Note, Hopes of impunity embolden sinners in their evil ways and harden their hearts.  2. Saul desires to speak with Samuel: Bring me up Samuel.  Samuel had anointed him to the kingdom and had formerly been his faithful friend and counsellor, and therefore with him he wished to advise.  While Samuel was living at Ramah, not far from Gibeah of Saul, and presided there in the school of the prophets, we never read of Saul's going to him to consult him in any of the difficulties he was in (it would have been well for him if he had); then he slighted him, and perhaps hated him, looking upon him to be in David's interest.  But now that he is dead, "O for Samuel again!  By all means, bring me up Samuel."  Note, Many that despise and persecute God's saints and ministers when they are living would be glad to have them again when they are gone.  Send Lazarus to me, and send Lazarus to my father's house, Luke 16:24-27.  The sepulchres of the righteous are garnished. 3.  Here is a seeming defector chasm in the story.  Saul said, Bring me up Samuel, and the very next words are, When the woman saw Samuel, (v. 12), whereas one would have expected to be told how she performed the operation, what spells and charms she used, or that some little intimation would be given of what she said or did; but the profound silence of the scripture concerning it forbids our coveting to know the depths of Satan (Revelation 2:24) or to have our curiosity gratified with an account of the mysteries of iniquity.  It has been said of the books of some of the popish confessors that, by their descriptions of sin, they have taught men to commit it; but the scripture conceals sinful art, that we may be simple concerning evil, Romans 16:19. 4.  The witch, upon sight of the apparition, was aware that her client was Saul, her familiar spirit, it is likely, informing her of it (v. 12): "Why hast thou deceived me with a disguise; for thou art Saul, the very man that I am afraid of above any man?"  Thus she gave Saul to understand the power of her art, in that she could discover him through his disguise; and yet she feared lest, hereafter, at least, he should take advantage against her for what she was now doing.  Had she believed that it was really Samuel whom she saw, she would have had more reason to be afraid of him, who was a good prophet, than of Saul, who was a wicked king.  But the wrath of earthly princes is feared by most more than the wrath of the King of kings. 5.  Saul (who, we may suppose, was kept at a distance in the next room) bade her not to be afraid of him, but go on with the operation, and enquired what she saw? v. 13. O, says the woman, I saw gods (that is, a spirit) ascending out of the earth; they called angels gods, because spiritual beings.  Poor gods that ascend out of the earth!  But she speaks the language of the heathen, who had their infernal deities and had them in veneration.  If Saul had thought it necessary to his conversation with Samuel that the body of Samuel should be called out of the grave, he would have taken the witch with him to Ramah, where his sepulchre was; but the design was wholly upon his soul, which yet, if it became visible, was expected to appear in the usual resemblance of the body; and God permitted the devil, to answer the design, to put on Samuel's shape, that those who would not receive the love of the truth might be given up to strong delusions and believe a lie. That it could not be the soul of Samuel himself they might easily apprehend when it ascended out of the earth, for the spirit of a man, much more of a good man, goes upward, Eccl. 3:21.  But, if people will be deceived, it is just with God to say, "Let them be deceived." That the devil, by the divine permission, should be able to personate Samuel is not strange, since he can transform himself into an angel of light! nor is it strange that he should be permitted to do it upon this occasion, that Saul might be driven to despair, by enquiring of the devil, since he would not, in a right manner, enquire of the Lord, by which he might have had comfort.  Saul, being told of gods ascending, was eager to know what was the form of this deity, and in what shape he appeared, so far was he from conceiving any horror at it, his heart being wretchedly hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Saul, it seems, was not permitted to see any manner of similitude himself, but he must take the woman's word for it, that she saw an old man covered with a mantle, or robe, the habit of a judge, which Samuel had sometimes worn, and some think it was for the sake of that, and the majesty of its aspect, that she called this apparition Elohim, a god or gods; for so magistrates are styled, Psalm 82:1.  6.  Saul, perceiving, by the woman's description, that it was Samuel, stooped with his face to the ground, either, as it is generally taken, in reverence to Samuel, though he saw him not, or perhaps to listen to that soft and muttering voice which he now expected to hear (for those that had familiar spirits peeped and muttered, Isaiah 8:19); and it should seem Saul bowed himself (probably by the witch's direction) that he might hear what was whispered and listen carefully to it; for the voice of one that has a familiar spirit is said to come out of the ground, and whisper out of the dust, Isaiah 29:4.  He would stoop to that who would not stoop to the word of God.

Verses 15-19

We have here the conference between Saul and Satan.  Saul came in disguise (v. 8), but Satan soon discovered him, v. 12.  Satan comes in disguise, in the disguise of Samuel's mantle, and Saul cannot discover him.  Such is the disadvantage we labour under, in wrestling with the rulers of the darkness of this world, that they know us, while we are ignorant of their wiles and devices.

I. The spectre, or apparition, personating Samuel, asks why he is sent for (v. 15): Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up?  To us this discovers that it was an evil spirit that personated Samuel; for (as bishop Patrick observes) it is not in the power of witches to disturb the rest of good men and to bring them back into the world when they please; nor would the true Samuel have acknowledged such a power in magical arts: but to Saul this was a proper device of Satan's, to draw veneration from him, to possess him with an opinion of the power of divination, and so to rivet him in the devil's interests.

II. Saul makes his complaint to this counterfeit Samuel, mistaking him for the true; and a most doleful complaint it is: "I am sorely distressed, and know not what to do, for the Philistines make war against me; yet I should do well enough with them if I had but the tokens of God's presence with me; but, alas! God has departed from me."  He complained not of God's withdrawings till he fell into trouble, till the Philistines made war against him, and then he began to lament God's departure.  He that in his prosperity enquired not after God in his adversity thought it hard that God answered him not, nor took any notice of his enquiries, either by dreams or prophets, neither gave answers immediately himself nor sent them by any of his messengers.  He does not, like a penitent, own the righteousness of God in this; but, like a man enraged, flies out against God as unkind and flies off from him: Therefore I have called thee; as if Samuel, a servant of God, would favour those whom God frowned upon, or as if a dead prophet could do him more service than the living ones. One would think, from this, that he really desired to meet with the devil, and expected no other (though under the covert of Samuel's name), for he desires advice otherwise than from God, therefore from the devil, who is a rival with God.  "God denies me, therefore I come to thee.  Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo."—If I fail with heaven, I will move hell.

III. It is cold comfort which this evil spirit in Samuel's mantle gives to Saul, and is manifestly intended to drive him to despair and self-murder.  Had it been the true Samuel, when Saul desired to be told what he should do he would have told him to repent and make his peace with God, and recall David from his banishment, and would then have told him that he might hope in this way to find mercy with God; but, instead of that, he represents his case as helpless and hopeless, serving him as he did Judas, to whom he was first a tempter and then a tormentor, persuading him first to sell his master and then to hang himself. 1.  He upbraids him with his present distress (v. 16), tells him, not only that God had departed from him, but that he had become his enemy, and therefore he must expect no comfortable answer from him: "Wherefore dost thou ask me?  How can I be thy friend when God is thy enemy, or thy counsellor when he has left thee?" 2.  He upbraids him with the anointing of David to the kingdom, v. 17.  He could not have touched upon a string that sounded more unpleasant in the ear of Saul than this.  Nothing is said to reconcile him to David, but all tends rather to exasperate him against David and widen the breach.  Yet, to make him believe that he was Samuel, the apparition affirmed that it was God who spoke by him.  The devil knows how to speak with an air of religion, and can teach false apostles to transform themselves into the apostles of Christ and imitate their language. Those who use spells and charms, and plead, in defence of them, that they find nothing in them but what is good, may remember what good words the devil here spoke, and yet with what a malicious design. 3.  He upbraids him with his disobedience to the command of God in not destroying the Amalekites, v. 18. Satan had helped him to palliate and excuse that sin when Samuel was dealing with him to bring him to repentance, but now he aggravates it, to make him despair of God's mercy.  See what those get that hearken to Satan's temptations.  He himself will be their accuser, and insult over them.  And see whom those resemble that allure others to that which is evil and reproach them for it when they have done. 4.  He foretels his approaching ruin, v. 19. (1.) That his army should be routed by the Philistines.  This is twice mentioned: The Lord shall deliver Israel into the hand of the Philistines.  This he might foresee, by considering the superior strength and number of the Philistines, the weakness of the armies of Israel, Saul's terror, and especially God's departure from them. Yet, to personate a prophet, he very gravely ascribes it once and again to God: The Lord shall do it. (2.)  That he and his sons should be slain in the battle: To-morrow, that is, in a little time (and, supposing that it was now after midnight, I see not but it may be taken strictly for the very next day after that which had now begun), thou and thy sons shall be with me, that is, in the state of the dead, separate from the body.  Had this been the true Samuel, he could not have foretold the event unless God had revealed it to him; and, though it were an evil spirit, God might by him foretel it; as we read of an evil spirit that foresaw Ahab's fall at Ramoth-Gilead and was instrumental in it (1 Kings 22:20, etc.), as perhaps this evil spirit was, by the divine permission, in Saul's destruction.  That evil spirit flattered Ahab, this frightened Saul, and both that they might fall; so miserable are those that are under the power of Satan; for, whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest, Proverbs 29:9."

"And it came to pass in those days, that the Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel. And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle, thou and thy men.  And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do.  And Achish said to David, Therefore will I make thee keeper of mine head for ever.  Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city.  And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.  And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem: and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa.  And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled.  And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.  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.  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.  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?  And Saul sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing.  Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee?  And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
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. 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.  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.  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.  Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?  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: 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.  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.  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.  And the woman came unto Saul, and saw that he was sore troubled, and said unto him, Behold, thine handmaid hath obeyed thy voice, and I have put my life in my hand, and have hearkened unto thy words which thou spakest unto me.  Now therefore, I pray thee, hearken thou also unto the voice of thine handmaid, and let me set a morsel of bread before thee; and eat, that thou mayest have strength, when thou goest on thy way.  But he refused, and said, I will not eat. But his servants, together with the woman, compelled him; and he hearkened unto their voice. So he arose from the earth, and sat upon the bed.  And the woman had a fat calf in the house; and she hasted, and killed it, and took flour, and kneaded it, and did bake unleavened bread thereof: And she brought it before Saul, and before his servants; and they did eat. Then they rose up, and went away that night," 1 Samuel 28:1-25.
"When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.  There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.  Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.  For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.  Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.  For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do."
Deuteronomy 18:9-14