Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Witch of Endor

This post may take a couple of weeks to get through.

There is a very peculiar story in the Old Testament that caught my attention the other day (probably because it sounded like something out of Lord of the Rings). I have been reading through 1 Samuel, about Saul and David, and came upon Saul’s visit to a medium/necromancer/Witch of Endor (NIV). The story is in chapter 28 of 1 Samuel.

Basically, Saul hasn’t heard from the LORD in a while and is terrified because he is about to go to war with the Philistines. Saul, out of fear (see 28:5), goes to drastic measures to hear from his former prophet and friend, Samuel (who is dead, v.3). What does Saul do? He goes and visits a medium/or witch and has her summon up Samuel from the dead. Surprisingly, she does! Samuel appears (he comes up out of the ground, v.13) and enters into a conversation with Saul (vv.15-19). How do we explain such a story? There’s no such thing as ghosts right?

There is nothing in this text (or elsewhere in the Bible) to suggest that Saul is speaking to a demon or angel, that this is all just a vision/dream, or that the women is possessed by a spirit and the spirit is speaking through her. Saul is really conversing with a dead person. Samuel, slightly irritated (?), even asks Saul why he has bothered him (v.15). This story real and it is recorded in one of the historical books of the Bible. I’ll be back next week to discuss some implications this story has for us today. In the meantime, this is definitely a story well worth reading and studying. I would love to hear what you find. I put a link in below to some excellent commentaries/reference works on this passage if any of you feel like diving head first into this.

Excellent commentaries/reference works on 1 Samuel and the Witch of Endor:
NIV Application Commentary, Bill T. Arnold (personal fav!)
New International Commentary (OT), David Tsumura
The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (very handy resource)
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Ronald F. Youngblood
Cults of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Ugarit, Theordore J. Lewis

1 comment:

Mr. Guthrie said...

Tim, I agree with you that Saul was actually conversing with Samuel. Some commentators maintain that Saul was actually speaking to a demon because they fear that to say otherwise would encourage people to become involved in the occult thinking that witches and mediums were able to contact God Himself or His angels; they do not understand that God himself intervened in His power during an occult practice to accomplish His own purposes. This comment has been rewritten a few times so that readers do not misunderstand what I am saying. I hope what I said is clear. I have always been intrigued by Samuel's statement in verse 19 that both Saul and his sons would be with Samuel the next day. What does this say about the destination of the dead prior to Christ's death and resurrection?