Did the witch of Endor call up a ghost?
Gary Bates’ article Are ghosts real? has received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. Much of the feedback that disagrees with the idea that ghosts are not really the disembodied spirits of the dead, comes because many feel they have seen such apparitions. Using experience to interpret Scripture is something that Gary and CMI have warned about previously because our senses can be deceived (See Christians shaped by experiences rather than the Bible first approach).
In the section about the Witch of Endor that we dealt with, Alex L. wrote in concerned that by saying God allowed Samuel’s spirit to deliver a message of judgment to Saul, it is actually making God complicit in witchcraft. Gary Bates and Lita Sanders respond.
The heading “Did the Witch of Endor call up a Ghost?” appeared in an article by Gary Bates entitled “Are Ghosts Real” in the Creation magazine Volume: 34 2012.
The answer to the question is no! The witch did not summon up a ghost, and the Bible does not say that Samuel’s spirit actually appeared.
In the last paragraph Gary said “On this one occasion, God himself made it possible for a departed person’s spirit to speak in today’s world”.
Contrary to what Gary said there are no exceptions; if God would not speak to Saul through legal means he certainly would not speak to him through illegal ones, because God is not the God of confusion.
The ramifications of attributing this séance to God in any way shape or form opens a door of abuse for those involved in spiritism, and is could turn feeble minded Christians out of the way.
1 Samuel 28:6 And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.
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. And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent. 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.
This prophecy by Samuel was not said in a corner, and by the end of the day the whole camp of Israel would have known about it, and within a few days the whole country including the witch at Endor would have known of it. My point is this, Saul was not told anything by the witch which he did not already know. The Spirit of God had departed from him and knew in his heart that his days were numbered.
The fact that he consulted a witch at all shows us something of Saul’s desperate state of mind
Saul saw nothing at this séance with the witch, listen to what these verses actually say.
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. (emphasis added)
In verse 11 the witch asks Saul who shall I bring up for you? He said Samuel. But the witch had no power to call up Samuel or any dead person, only God has this power.
In verse 12 we only have her word that she saw Samuel.
In verse 13 it is evident that the King saw nothing and has to ask, ‘what sawest thou?’
in verse 14 the King asks the witch, what form is he of?
And she gives him a description of Samuel, no doubt she had seen Samuel many times before in his life time, therefore it would be no big deal for the witch to give an accurate description of Samuel to King Saul.
Them we are told that the king PERCEIVED that it was Samuel. In other words, Saul saw with his minds eye, and not the physical eye.
It is inconceivable that a thrice holy God would be a partaker in witchcraft; it is inconceivable that he would speak to Saul by illegal means, whilst refusing to speak to him by legal ones, and it would be inconceivable for God to allow Saul to die for consulting a witch if he himself had a hand in this séance.
1 Chronicles 10:13 … 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;
Saul transgressed the word of the Lord, his last act of defiance was to consult one that had a familiar spirit in direct opposition to God holy word … and so he died.
The only Ghost that we see in this scripture, we see with the mind and not the eye
Saul saw nothing, because there was nothing for him to see. Perhaps the witch can be best described as a demonic con artist.
Dear Mr L.,
Thanks for your ongoing support of CMI and your comments about the article “Are Ghosts Real” in the latest issue of Creation magazine. But we think that your argument rests on an understandable but faulty assumption.
Some things that God forbids are because they contradict His very nature—such as murder, lying, etc. These things are objectively wrong, and would be as wrong for God to do as it is for humans. But God forbids some things for humans that aren’t wrong for Him. For example, is it wrong for him to call up a spirit from Sheol where He has the ultimate control anyway? I.e. what is lawful for God might be considered unlawful for man. For example, it is wrong for a man to kill another unless mandated by God. Yet God instituted a death penalty for man due to sin. God has the ability and the right to do this because He is the Creator. Similarly, consider that it’s wrong for humans to accept worship, but it is proper for God to accept worship because He is God and He is the rightful object of worship.
Humans are forbidden to participate in the occult arts because humans can be deceived by them—we could be fooled into thinking that a fallen angel is a departed relative’s spirit, for instance. God has told us what we need to know about the spiritual realm in Scripture—so we should not seek other sources of information which we know are not trustworthy. But God created the spiritual realm and all the spirits that dwell there, and He rules them and cannot be deceived—He’s in control. So He can command the spirits to do whatever He wants.
While God never condones sinful or evil actions, He can and has used the sinful and evil actions of others (including satan) to bring about His will and purposes. The greatest example would be the horrific sin of killing the Son of God, which God used to bring about salvation for all who believe in Jesus. In the case of Saul, it was an obvious sin and a sign of continuing rebellion for him to seek out a spiritist. But God decided to use Saul’s sin, and sent Samuel. The passage mentioned that Saul basically got what he was asking for and unfortunately suffered judgment as a result. Saul thought if he could just speak with Samuel, he could figure out how to get back in God’s favor. But the exact opposite was the case—Samuel gave a detailed prophecy of the death of Saul and his sons. However, the plainest understanding that this was indeed Samuel’s spirit comes from the text itself. On four occasions in this passage it is confirmed: 1 Samuel 28:12: “…When the woman saw Samuel…”, verse 15: “…Samuel said to Saul…”, verse 16: “…Samuel said…”, verse 20: “…filled with fear because of Samuel’s words…”
And also the aforementioned prophecy is one important sign that authenticates it as genuinely Samuel’s spirit, and it being a sign from God. We know that only God can inspire true prophecy—by coincidence a false prophet might get an occasional prediction right, or make pronouncements that are vague enough to fit a multitude of scenarios, but only God, who is outside of time, can give accurate statements about what will happen. If the witch of Endor saw a demon disguised as Samuel, that would mean the demon had detailed access to future events, which is very theologically problematic. Moreover the prediction was about what was to happen in a battle. It would be a bit of a lottery to presume that the demon could pick the result of that one. It is a significant fact that the witch was surprised, why would that be if it was simply a run of the mill soothsaying performance as she had probably done a hundred times.
So does this make God a ‘partaker in witchcraft’? Absolutely not! For one, by definition God cannot partake in witchcraft, because the powers that people illicitly try to gain by witchcraft are nothing compared to the power God has. And witchcraft has to do with demonic powers, while God’s power is much greater and opposed to that. Please also consider that God did not use the witch in the sense that He needed her to raise Samuel’s spirit. Once departed from the body only God has control over our spirit.
To give another example, what makes miracles different from witchcraft? For example, when Elisha made an axehead float, it was a miracle that made it into Scripture. But if someone went out, threw a stick on a lake and said an incantation to try to make an axehead float today, we would call that sinful witchcraft. The point we are trying to make is that if God is the source then it is permissible. It would not be permissible for humans to do such a thing.
A second seemingly unrelated example (but we promise this will come together!). Jesus commanded his disciples to cast out demons in his name, and this is something that Christians have access to even today. But in Acts 19, the sons of Sceva tried casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and not only did they have no power over the demons, but they got beaten up to show that they had no power over them. What was different?
We would suggest in both cases, it’s a matter of going through the proper channels. God’s power enabled Elisha to perform the miracle—witchcraft uses demonic powers, so it’s an illicit way to try to gain power without relying on God. And the sons of Sceva were trying to use the name of Jesus like a magical incantation, without trusting in Him.
We’ve often found that when it comes to often unsettled problematic passages like this one, sometimes we can have it settled in our minds for many years, so when one hears another reason it can be a little unsettling. So we hope you will consider our reasoning and also find it helpful.
Lita Sanders and Gary Bates