3 Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists. 4 So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. 6 When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants, "Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her." And his servants said to him, "Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor." 8 Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, "Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you." 9 But the woman said to him, "Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?" 10 Saul vowed to her by the LORD, saying, "As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing." 11 Then the woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" And he said, "Bring up Samuel for me." 12 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." 13 The king said to her, "Do not be afraid; but what do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a divine being coming up out of the earth." 14 He said to her, "What is his form?" And she said, "An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe." And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage. 15 Then Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" And Saul answered, "I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and no longer answers me, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do." (1 Sam. 28:3-15)
This passage is always troublesome. If there is a majority position on this it is: it wasn’t really Samuel but either trickery or the work of Satan. I am not so sure.
Reading the passage carefully it does appear that the so called “Witch of Endor” saw Samuel, but Saul did not. That is compelling evidence of a hoax.
On the other hand, in the conversation between Saul and Samuel that ensues, the scripture reads as if the words are Samuel’s, as in verse 15 above. And the converstion is meaningful, and Samuel's words appear to be accurate. Why didn’t the writer clarify that it wasn’t really Samuel?
Interestingly, Greek writers refer to her as a ventriloquist.
I would summarize that there are four possibilities:
- The Witch of Endor was a fraud and this is garden variety trickery. But how did she “invent” such meaningful words for Samuel? Perhaps Saul’s desperate state, rendered unto him because of his sinfulness, was well known.
- It was the work of Satan. Still trickery, but supernatural trickery. Maybe the Witch was also a fraud, which would liken her to Whoppi Goldberg in Ghost. Her own surprise at “Samuel’s” appearance would contribute to her agitated state. Or maybe she was not a fraud but a long term minion of Satan. However, why then is the scripture unclear, and why doesn’t the apparition appear to Saul?
- It really was Samuel, whose spirit was summoned against his will by the power of Satan. There is no indication elsewhere that Satan has this power, and if he did you would think he would use it regularly.
- It really was Samuel, and God, in His purpose, sent Samuel’s spirit. But again, why didn’t Saul see him?
To me, the last explanation is the best at fitting both the immediate data and the rest of scripture. It attributes whatever supernatural power was present to God. It also best explains the conversation between Samuel and Saul.
It is all rather confusing. But like I have written before (but not for a while), a wise pastor once told me: it’s not the things I don’t understand in the Bible that keep me awake, but the things I do understand.
One thing is for sure: do not mess around with spiritists and their ilk. Even if they (as is likely) are frauds, you are messing in an area in which God has explicitly forbidden us to tread.