Witch of Endor

What do you think of when you hear the word, “Halloween”?

If you think of ghosts and witches, you are not alone!

And guess what? There is a story in the Bible that contains a witch and a ghost! And yes, there is plenty of creepy artworks of this biblical scene, which is admittedly terrifying.

So, why is there a witch and a ghost in the Bible? Good question! But first, a little background to the story…

King Saul is trying to hold his kingdom together in what would soon be his kingdom’s last stages. The problem? God does not favor him as king. Instead, God wants David to assume the throne. In fact, long before this particular event happens, God sends the Prophet Samuel to basically anoint David as the rightful king, which he does. Then, God calls on the Prophet Samuel to tell Saul that he needs to step down, or else. Which Saul has refused to do. And so, God has already made His Opinion quite clear on this matter: give the kingdom to David, and all will be well.

But Saul doesn’t want to give up his throne. After all, it’s good to be king! And so, before this story takes place, basically Saul has been doing everybody he can to kill David. And destroy the Philistines. Which is not going very well, to put it mildly. In fact, the only person who seemed to intimidate the Philistines was David — after all, David killed their Philistine giant, Goliath. And, as previously mentioned, Saul is currently trying to kill David.

Anyway, Saul is doing everything he can to somehow hold together his kingdom. And finally, in a fit of desperation, he searches out a witch to summon the Prophet Samuel, who has just recently died, for some advice. After all, the Prophet Samuel previously gave him advice for ruling, and he desperately wants that advice now when everything looks hopeless. Plus, God doesn’t seem to be interested in giving him advice, other than the usual advice (step down and let David be king) and so he is very much desperate.

Of course, it would be a lot easier to find a witch… if he hadn’t killed all of the witches around. And so, he puts on a disguise and finds a witch who is slightly unwilling to do what he asks since it’s dreadfully illegal, but she does it anyway.

This… turns out to be a bad idea.

This is how the bible describes this scene:

NABRE

1Samuel 28

3Now, Samuel was dead. All Israel had mourned him and buried him in his city, Ramah. Meanwhile Saul had driven mediums and diviners out of the land.4The Philistines rallied and, coming to Shunem, they encamped. Saul, too, mustered all Israel; they camped on Gilboa. 5When Saul saw the Philistine camp, he grew afraid and lost heart completely. 6He consulted the LORD; but the LORD gave no answer, neither in dreams nor by Urim nor through prophets. 7Then Saul said to his servants, “Find me a medium through whom I can seek counsel.” His servants answered him, “There is a woman in Endor who is a medium.”8So he disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and set out with two companions. They came to the woman at night, and Saul said to her, “Divine for me; conjure up the spirit I tell you.” 9But the woman answered him, “You know what Saul has done, how he expelled the mediums and diviners from the land. Then why are you trying to entrap me and get me killed?” 10But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, you shall incur no blame for this.” 11“Whom do you want me to conjure up?” the woman asked him. “Conjure up Samuel for me,” he replied.12When the woman saw Samuel, she shrieked at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” 13But the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” “I see a god rising from the earth,” she replied. 14“What does he look like?” asked Saul. “An old man is coming up wrapped in a robe,” she replied. Saul knew that it was Samuel, and so he bowed his face to the ground in homage.

Here is a picture of him kneeling down at the first appearance of Samuel!

Saul and the Witch of Endor, by Benjamin West
Saul and the Witch of Endor, by Benjamin West, c. 18th century. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom.

The meeting between Saul and Samuel quickly goes downhill from there. Samuel basically yells at Saul and predicts his imminent death.

NABRE

1Samuel 28

15 Samuel then said to Saul, “Why do you disturb me by conjuring me up?” Saul replied: “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are waging war against me and God has turned away from me. Since God no longer answers me through prophets or in dreams, I have called upon you to tell me what I should do.” 16To this Samuel said: “But why do you ask me, if the LORD has abandoned you for your neighbor? 17The LORD has done to you what he declared through me: he has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David.18“Because you disobeyed the LORD’s directive and would not carry out his fierce anger against Amalek, the LORD has done this to you today. 19Moreover, the LORD will deliver Israel, and you as well, into the hands of the Philistines. By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the LORD will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”20Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, in great fear because of Samuel’s message. He had no strength left, since he had eaten nothing all that day and night. 21Then the woman came to Saul and, seeing that he was quite terror-stricken, said to him: “Remember, your maidservant obeyed you: I took my life in my hands and carried out the request you made of me. 22Now you, in turn, please listen to your maidservant. Let me set out a bit of food for you to eat, so that you are strong enough to go on your way.” 23But he refused, saying, “I will not eat.” However, when his servants joined the woman in urging him, he listened to their entreaties, got up from the ground, and sat on a couch. 24The woman had a stall-fed calf in the house, which she now quickly slaughtered. Then taking flour, she kneaded it and baked unleavened bread. 25She set the meal before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they got up and left the same night.

The Endorian Sorceress Causes the Shade of Samuel, by Dmitry Nikiforovich
The Endorian Sorceress Causes the Shade of Samuel, by Dmitry Nikiforovich Martynov, c. 1857. Ulyanovsk Regional Art Museum, Ulyanovsk, Russia.

I love that look that Samuel gives us during this whole scene. It’s like it has finally dawned on him that he is doomed in every possible way and there is no going back now. When he initially had the witch contact Samuel, he was hoping that there would be words of comfort. But there were no words of comfort.

And yes, even though the woman is kind and feeds him as a last sort of meal thing, it is not enough to save him. The next day, as Samuel predicted, Saul’s three sons die in battle and Saul, realizes what has happened, kills himself. The bible describes the scene this way:

NABRE

1Samuel 31

1 Now the Philistines went to war against Israel, and the Israelites fled before them, and fell, slain on Mount Gilboa. 2The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons. When the Philistines had struck down Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, sons of Saul, 3the fury of the battle converged on Saul. Then the archers hit him, and he was severely wounded. 4Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through; otherwise these uncircumcised will come and abuse me.” But the armor-bearer, badly frightened, refused, so Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. 5 When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell upon his sword and died with him. 6Thus Saul, his three sons, and his armor-bearer died together on that same day.

The Suicide of Saul, by Pieter Bruegel the Elde
The Suicide of Saul, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1562. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

So, what does this story teach us?

  1. It is a bad idea to consult the dead. First of all, they don’t really seem to like it at all. Second of all…
  2. If the spirits don’t lie to you outright (which is always a possibility!), they might just tell you the stuff which God has revealed to you previously that you didn’t really want to listen to before.

Basically? If you pray to God and listen very closely to God and do what He wills — even if you really don’t want to do it — it’ll probably turn out better than if you deliberately go against God and try to take things in your own hands and follow your own selfish and base urges.

As it turns out, following God is really the best way!

The other way simply leads you to your doom.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of three, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer

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