The Bible clearly condemns the practice or spiritism. Moses wrote.
You shall not eat anything with its blood. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft . . . . Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:26,31).
The Lord warned the people through Jeremiah.
You, therefore, must not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For they are prophesying a lie to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land; I will drive you out, and you will perish (Jeremiah 27:9,10).
Those who practice such things were not to be tolerated by God’s people. To the contrary, they were to be put to death.
You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live (Exodus 22:18).
The Witch Of En Dor
Although the Bible condemns spiritism, or the living talking to the dead, there is an episode in Scripture that seems to give some justification to this practice.
The book of First Samuel gives us the account of the experience of King Saul with a medium at the city of En Dor. The prophet Samuel was dead, and the army of the Philistines had gathered to fight against Israel. Seeing the vast army of the enemy, Saul became afraid. He decided to inquire of the Lord. However God was no longer speaking to Saul because of his continual disobedience. The Bible says.
And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets (1 Samuel 28:6).
Had Turned Back On Saul
Since God had turned His back on Saul, the king decided to resort to spiritism. Saul had previously put all the witches out of the land.
Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. Saul had expelled the mediums and the wizards from the land (1 Samuel 28:3).
Although all the mediums and spiritists had been driven out of the land, Saul asked his servants to find a medium he could consult about the future, seeing that God would tell him nothing. Discovering that there was a medium at the town of En Dor, Saul disguised himself to get information about the future.
Consulting The Medium
Saul came to the medium at En Dor at night. He asked her to bring up the prophet Samuel for him. The Bible says the following thing happened.
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” The woman said, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground” (1 Samuel 28:12,13).
Samuel spoke to Saul saying.
Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up? (1 Samuel 28:15).
Samuel complained about being disturbed from his place in the realm of the dead.
Samuel then went on to predict that Saul would die the next day. The Scripture tells us that Saul did indeed die as Samuel predicted.
The battle pressed hard upon Saul; the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by them. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him (1 Samuel 31:3-5).
Number Of Questions To Answer
There are a number of questions to answer concerning this account: Who appeared to Saul? Was it the prophet Samuel? If it was not Samuel who appeared to Saul, then what happened? Was it a trick by the witch, some sort of demonic manifestation, or some hallucination by Saul? If it was Samuel, then how was he able to appear? Did God allow him to speak to Saul, or did the witch have the power to call up the righteous dead.
The questions have been long-debated with advocates to be found for each point.
Option 1: Samuel Did Not Appear
It is possible that Samuel did not appear to Saul. There are many arguments that are raised against an actual appearance of Samuel. They are as follows:
1. Why Speak To Saul This Way?
Saul had earlier attempted to inquire of the Lord but He would not speak to him through the biblically ordained means? Why then would the Lord speak to Saul through a medium at a seance?
2. Bible Condemns Mediums
God has always spoken against consulting mediums in the strongest of terms. Why would He act contrary to what He had previously revealed? Since God does not change, this could not have been an authentic appearance of Samuel.
3. Strange Place For Miracle
This would have been a strange place for God to perform a miracle. There is no similar example in Scripture of God speaking His Word in the midst of such an obvious evil situation.
4. Prophecy Did Not Come To Pass
Some have argued that the prediction did not come to pass. Saul was not killed by his enemies, rather he killed himself. Therefore the prophecy was false. Since it was a false prophecy, it could not have been given by God.
5. Dead Cannot Return
Furthermore, the Bible teaches that the dead cannot return to the living. After the death of his son, David testified that the child could not return to him.
But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me (2 Samuel 12:23).
Since the Bible teaches the dead cannot return, this could not have been the appearance of dead prophet Samuel.
6. Seems To Give Credence For Spiritism
A final objection to the genuine appearance of Samuel is that it seems to give some sort of credence to the living talking to the dead. If God allowed it on this one occasion, why wouldn’t He do it on other occasions? This opens the door for believers to dabble into areas in which God expressly forbids them.
What Did Happen?
If this is the case, then there are basically three things that could have happened when Saul met the medium.
1. A Demonic Spirit Spoke To Saul
It has been argued that the witch actually called up a spirit from the afterlife, but that spirit was not Samuel. It was a demon impersonating Samuel. This demon, impersonating Samuel, told Saul only part of the truth. The Bible teaches that demons are able to utter half-truths. The Book of Acts tells us that a woman who was possessed with an evil spirit followed the Apostle Paul.
While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation” (Acts 16:17).
Part of what she said was true – the apostles were proclaiming the true way of salvation. However her overall message was one of deception.
The text does not represent this as a demon impersonation. If it was a demonic spirit instead of Samuel, why did this spirit tell the entire truth? There were no-half truths in the response of this personage to Saul. This is not consistent with the way demon spirits work. The message sounded like something Samuel himself would have said, if he were still alive. This is one of many signs in the account that it was an authentic appearance of Samuel.
2. It Was A Fake Appearance
There is also the view that the witch faked Samuel’s appearance. Saul was tricked into believing that it was really Samuel when it was only some type of deception on the part of the witch. The arguments for this are as follows:
Woman Called A Ventriloquist
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, uses the word eggastrimuthos (ventriloquist) to describe the woman (verse 9) and those who practice the same type of divination. This indicates that she had the ability to deceive people into thinking there was some other personage present by the throwing of her voice.
Probably Recognized Saul
Though she pretended ignorance, she probably recognized Saul from the beginning. We should not assume that his disguise fooled her.
Saul Prevented From Viewing Samuel
In addition, it was only she that saw Samuel. Saul did not. He was prevented from viewing the spirit. Consequently she only pretended to be surprised by the appearance of Samuel when, most likely, she saw nothing.
Relied On What She Said
Since the king saw and heard nothing, he had to rely on the woman to tell him what this spirit was saying. He did not converse directly to Samuel.
Not A Great Prediction
To say that Saul would die the next day in battle was not any great prediction seeing that they were outnumbered by the Philistines.
Saul Killed Himself
Finally, Saul did not die by the hand of the Philistines the next day, he killed himself after he had been wounded.
All these arguments have lead many to assume we have a hoax on the part of the woman and not a genuine appearance of Samuel.
The main problem with this view is there is nothing in the account to indicate that it was a hoax. A straightforward reading causes one to assume that Samuel actually appeared.
Also, the witch herself seemed genuinely terrified when Samuel appeared.
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” The king said to her, “Have no fear; what do you see?” The woman said to Saul, “I see a divine being coming up out of the ground” (1 Samuel 28:12,13).
It does not give the impression that she was acting. The visitor was not whom she was expecting. This implies that there was some authentic appearance of the dead rather than her own witchcraft or trickery. She was not expecting Samuel to appear.
Also, the account does not say that it was only the woman who heard and saw Samuel. She saw him at the beginning and explained to Saul what he looked like. When the conversation of Samuel and Saul took place there is no indication that Samuel spoke through the woman rather than speaking directly to Saul.
3. Saul Suffered A Hallucination
It is also possible that Saul had some sort of hallucination when he thought he spoke to the dead prophet Samuel. Since he desperately wanted to talk to Samuel, Saul fooled himself into believing that he was actually conversing with the dead prophet.
This hallucination was not limited to Saul. The witch saw it also and was horrified. This would rule out something that was merely in the mind of Saul. The text also implies that the witch talked to Samuel. Consequently we are dealing with more than a hallucination.
Summary To Option 1
There are a number of reasons why the appearance of Samuel to Saul at En Dor is denied. It seems to contradict the way God works in the rest of Scripture as well as give credence to spiritism. Because of these factors, many Bible students deny that the dead prophet Samuel actually appeared to speak to Saul.
Option 2: Samuel Did Appear
There are, however, many Bible students who believe that it was actually Samuel who spoke to King Saul that night. A straightforward reading of the account makes this apparent. The reasons for holding this view are as follows.
1. The Bible Says Samuel Appeared
The Bible says Samuel appeared (verses 14,15,16,20). This seems to settle the matter as to the identity of the spirit that spoke to Saul.
2. Description Of Samuel
The description of Samuel is authentic. The medium said that Samuel was wearing a robe of a prophet. This was the robe Saul had taken and ripped as Samuel declared the kingdom had been ripped out of his hand (1 Samuel 15:27-28). This would have convinced Saul that it was actually Samuel.
3. Reaction Of Medium
The medium reacted as though the spirit of Samuel actually appeared. She was terrified and cried out and the top of her voice. Her reaction suggests that his appearance was unexpected. This was something different than what usually happened when she practiced her art. She claimed she saw a god (Hebrew Elohim). This probably refers to the spirit of one who had died. This is an indication that she was not really expecting the genuine spirit of Samuel to appear. Whatever she had expected to happen was thwarted by Samuel’s actual appearance.
4. Prior Exchange
The words of Samuel to Saul alluded to a prior conversation between the two. Only the real Samuel would have said this to Saul, not some impersonator,
5. Samuel The Prophet
Samuel’s role as a prophet in Scripture is well-documented. The message he gave Saul with respect to his future is consistent with what we know about Samuel and his office as a prophet.
6. His Prediction Was Correct
Samuel said that Saul would join him the next day in the realm of the dead. Saul did die the next day. Consequently, the prediction was correct. Since only God knows the future, it must have been Samuel who spoke to Saul. It is not a contradiction that Saul fell upon his sword and killed himself. He was in the process of dying when he took his own life.
7. Another Unusual Method Of Communication By God
God also used an unusual method in communicating His message to Balaam (Numbers 22) – He spoke through a donkey. Therefore, we should not limit God’s methods in speaking to humanity.
8. Saul Bowed To Samuel
The fact that Saul bowed in obeisance to Samuel showed that he understood it was really Samuel who had appeared.
9. Message Consistent
The message given was consistent with something God or Samuel could have said. There is nothing inconsistent in this message with God’s nature or His plan for humanity.
Saul asked counsel of her that had a familiar spirit to inquire of her, and Samuel made answer to him.
This addition to the text, gives further testimony to the belief that it was actually Samuel who appeared.
How Did It Happen?
If it was Samuel who appeared to Saul, then there are two basic possibilities as to how he appeared.
1. The Witch Actually Called Up Samuel By Demonic Power
2. Samuel Appeared By God’s Design
1. Did The Witch Call Up Samuel?
It has been argued that the witch, through demonic power, actually called up Samuel from the realm of the dead. This would be a demonic miracle. The Bible warns us about the power of the Devil. Paul wrote.
The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:9,10).
Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (Matthew 7: 22).
Though Satan and his demons can perform deceiving signs, they are always under God’s ultimate control. God is the one who has the authority over life and death.
Satan Can’t Do Miracles
In addition, there is no evidence that Satan, or his demons, can perform actual miracles. Therefore the miracle of calling the spirit of Samuel from the realm of the righteous dead is not something that Satan, or his demons, have the power to do. Those who are in God’s hands are protected from Satan’s power.
Finally, we see that witchcraft is condemned in this passage. Samuel said to Saul.
Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? (1 Samuel 28:16).
All of these factors would indicate that Samuel was not called up by some demonic power.
2. Did Samuel Appear By God’s Power?
Since it seems that Samuel did appear, and that it was not due to demonic intervention, the best answer seems to be that Samuel was permitted to appear by God’s power. On this one occasion, God allowed Samuel to be brought from His presence to speak to Saul. It was His final word of judgment to the disobedient king.
Not Basis For Talking To Mediums
Whatever happened in this episode, it is not to be used as a basis of attempting to contact the dead through mediums. In the strongest of terms, God forbids any contact with mediums. The result of what happened to King Saul – his death the next day after he consulted a medium – serves as a further warning not to delve into this forbidden area.
Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance (1 Chronicles 10:13).
Survival Beyond Grave
This episode does establish that at this time in Israel’s history, there was a belief that there was life beyond the grave. In that life, people kept their personal identity. Samuel appeared in the same form in which he had died – as an old man wearing a robe.
At En Dor there was an episode with King Saul and a witch. The Bible says she called up the spirit of Samuel who spoke to Saul about his upcoming death. The fact is that Saul did die the next day. It has been debated as to whether it was really Samuel who spoke to Saul rather than some demonic spirit, or some trick on behalf of the medium. If it was Samuel, there is also the questions of why and how he was allowed to appear. There are many unanswered questions that surround this episode. Whatever the case may be, this story does not give any basis for the living to attempt to contact the dead. The fate of Saul gives further testimony of the bad things that happen when people attempt to contact those in the spirit world rather than the true and living God.