Reply To: Who was the witch of Endor

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The witch of Endor was the Necromancer visited by king Saul. The Law of Moses couldn’t have been clearer on the matter of divination: Don’t do it. Three times the book of Leviticus warned against acting as a medium or spiritist—or seeking the counsel of one ( Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27). And in case that had not been clear enough, Moses repeated the admonition in his farewell speech to the Israelites ( Deuteronomy 18:9–13). Saul had even taken it upon himself to expunge the mediums and spiritists from Israel—one of the few good things he had done as king.

One, however, survived the purge: the unnamed witch at Endor. More precisely, she was a medium or necromancer—one who consulted the spirits of the dead. Saul went to her out of sheer desperation. God had long since given up talking to the king who would not listen, and Saul needed to know what to do about the Philistine army camped nearby.

In one last pathetic scene before his death in battle, Saul asked the necromancer to conjure the spirit of Samuel using her ritual pit that was dug into the earth and supposedly connected to the underworld. The game was up as soon as Saul mentioned the name Samuel. She understood immediately—face-to-face with the man who had driven her kind from the land, she cried out in terror.

With reassurances from Saul, she proceeded to conjure Samuel’s spirit. Saul, however, got more than he bargained for. Scholars debate the significance of what took place in 1 Samuel 28, but the writer seemed to accept that the figure who appeared was the deceased prophet. Samuel’s words were not encouraging: He revealed that God was about to take the kingdom from Saul’s hands and that by the following day Saul and his sons would be every bit as dead as Samuel was. Saul’s fate was sealed.

Some may question why God would allow Samuel (or some manifestation of him) to appear by means of a practice that was expressly forbidden. While the practice of divination is in no way encouraged in 1 Samuel 28—in fact, the story seems to highlight Saul’s humiliation in sinking to such measures—it does affirm God’s supreme power over all things seen and unseen. God’s sovereignty extends even to the spirit world.