How did Saul speak to Samuel at Endor?
Texts in question: 1 Samuel 28:11–15
“Then the woman said, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’ And he said, ‘Bring Samuel up for me.’ When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, ‘Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!’ And the king said to her, ‘Do not be afraid. What did you see?’ And the woman said to Saul, ‘I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.’ So he said to her, ‘What is his form?’ And said, ‘An old man is coming 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 down. 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.’ ”
Proof texts: 1 Samuel 28:6; Deuteronomy 18:10–12
The story of the witch of Endor, found in 1 Samuel 28, tells a sad tale of the results of disobedience toward God. Saul was a powerful spiritual leader. God appointed him to be the first king over Israel. He was a mighty ruler and was filled with the spirit of God.
However, he was also a stubborn man. He was weak in many ways, and he refused to repent when confronted with his sins. Instead, he chose rebellion against the Lord. He steadily lost power over the latter part of his reign and eventually died by his own hand.
By the time he consulted the witch at Endor, he had become a desperate man. God no longer answered his prayers, and he felt increasingly powerless over his enemies, his kingdom, and himself. In desperation, he asked the witch to raise the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel, who had been his counsel while he was alive.
Many people use the story of Saul’s encounter with the spirit summoned by the witch as proof that people continue to live in spiritual form after death. How else, they reason, can Samuel have appeared to Saul during this Old Testament séance?
Truly, if it were the actual spirit of Samuel, we could draw conclusions about death and the afterlife. However, if the spirit was simply impersonating Samuel, then we can draw no real conclusions at all. The Bible is very clear that demons can impersonate other beings, even beings of light, but are not, themselves, deceased human beings (see 2 Corinthians 11:14).
Samuel was a faithful man for his entire life. He was dedicated to the service of God at his birth, and he received direct communications from heaven until his death. Unquestionably, he had God’s favor. If he were alive in spiritual form after death, he would surely be in heaven in the presence of the Lord.
This should help us know the true nature of this spirit. God had chosen to stop communicating with Saul because of his rebellion and refusal to repent. First Samuel 28:6 makes God’s silence plain:
“And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.”
The Bible plainly states that God refused to speak to Saul through His prophets. Therefore, if Samuel were still alive, he would not have received any word from God for Saul. Yet the story with the witch tells us that the spirit “Samuel” did speak to Saul, and even delivered a prophetic message to him (see 1 Samuel 28:16–19). If God did not speak to Saul through the prophets, yet Samuel delivered a prophetic message anyway, then Samuel would have been in rebellion against God. Why would Samuel, a man who was obedient to God every moment of his life, choose to rebel after his death? It’s simply illogical.
We must also remember that God gave specific instructions to His people against performing witchcraft, sorcery, necromancy, or even associating with people who did these things. The Bible plainly warns in Deuteronomy 18:10–12:
“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 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.”
Saul was aware of this instruction. He had evicted all mediums and spiritists from the land of Israel during his reign (1 Samuel 28:3). Therefore, when he consulted the witch at Endor, he was breaking God’s command as well as his own. The spirit that appeared to him could not have been from heaven, because God had specifically forbidden all such forms of communication with the dead.
If the spirit wasn’t Samuel, it could only have been a demon. Demons appearing to people on earth do not tell us anything about life after death.
*All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.