1 Samuel 28 and the Witch/Medium: What spirit did she bring up?

Who/What does the Witch of En-dor call up for Saul (1 Sam. 28) [see text below]

  • No one, it was a hoax, she's a fake

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • The Devil, disguised as Samuel

    Votes: 11 16.2%
  • Samuel

    Votes: 54 79.4%
  • Other

    Votes: 3 4.4%

  • Total voters
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Puritan Board Senior
Hey, I like this thread. It reminds me of the time that I had an OT prof try proving that Moses didn't really write the laws of God on his own, but that he came up with them by plagiarizing them from the law code of Hammurabi. Of course, the Scriptures say "Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying...", but come now, let's not be so facile in how we allow ourselves to understand the text.

Even if Calvin, Henry, and Gil came to the same conclusion (the latter two most likely drawing from Calvin to begin with) that gives it no added weight. Calvin is no more a "doctor" of the church than D.A Carson. Both are good exegetes, but that gives them no special status before which we should bow. Servants of the Word is all they were/are.


Puritan Board Senior
Been punched in the eye more than once in my life (and so had Calvin, so I guess I am in good company) :p


Puritan Board Doctor
I believe that the genuine Samuel genuinely appeared, for reasons already mentioned several times - the primary one being that the biblical text really presents no other option.

The woman was a fake, but God used her to allow Samuel to appear in order to reinforce the fact to Saul (who, due to his own sin and obtuseness) that his goose was cooked.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Just so we're clear, you're saying Calvin (et al) simply reject the Bible's witness, because the text of Scripture only allows of one interpretation, and they don't hold it.

Thanks for that.

I really don't mind folks telling me "you're wrong Bruce, and here's why I think so." But I have to say that it's discussions like this that give me sympathy for those who deny "6-day Creation." I think it's a serious misreading of the text to deny it, but I understand why good men, who get the gospel of Christ right, get angry when they are told they reject the testimony of Moses concerning creation, and merely impose their own.

I grant that they ARE wrestling with the text, while I think they are handicapped mainly not by other theological commitments, but by extra-biblical presuppositions. But I grant them the option of a textual footing.

In the case in front of us, where my presuppositions are entirely theological, I am denied the courtesy of even an acknowledgment of having a textual option?!? Mine is not a novelty that arose in the church for the first time ever in the past 150 years, folks.

Who do we think we are, to tell men some of whom spent more time immersed in the text of Scripture than we've been years alive on earth that they may read the Word of God, but they evidently reject what it says? "Because there are no other options, only mine, only the one I happen to agree with."

Well, there are other options regarding "Samuel's shade." And they've been expressed in this thread. And they arise from the text, and from a theology that guides our exegetical labors, ST and BT being complementary disciplines.

I think there are (minimum) two HUGE textual questions for the pro-Samuel crowd to answer, namely the significance of "Samuel's" rising up from the ground, and his declaration that Saul will be with him. As soon as one starts explaining these observations in terms of "realm of the dead," and alleged "OT perspective" on the afterlife, he leaves the text behind, and begins his own version of systematic theologizing.

So, please, let's be done with this self-serving declaration concerning "the only interpretive option," and such. The sun doesn't rise and set with Calvin's opinion, but it is sheer folly to say that he (and those who agree with him) took illegitimate liberties with the text, because they didn't LIKE where it was taking them.

Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
I suppose I come down on the side of it being Samuel, only because I see no compelling reason for it to be other than what v12, 14, 15 and 16 state (as the narrator, not as any of the people).

While that means I do believe it was Saul, that does not mean that I believe the witch had the power to do what was accomplished. That it happened is attested in scripture. There is no other section of scripture that changes what we see here, but there is nothing here that implies the witch had real power.

What is conjecture is coming up with what the scripture does not say. It does not say what was happening "behind the scenes" as we get a unique glimpse in Job. In Job, we see a unique revealing of the nature of the evil that befalls a man. We see Satan before God and God's commending Job for his righteousness, and yet allowing evil to befall Job. Yet there is nothing in 1 Sam 28 that gives any indication of this (or of an evil spirit from the Lord). Presuming either probably comes from having already decided it must not be what it says it is ... Samuel appearing.

What is happening here is part of "the hidden things" of which we know nothing. Those things belong to the Lord. Can conjectures which allow this to be Samuel be made? Yes, but they need not be made. The text states it is Samuel. Given the plain meaning, would not there need to be conclusive reason that it could not have been Samuel before another interpretation should be attempted?

As such, let me pose a possible scenario. Though the witch is told to conjure up Samuel, she knows she has no power to conjure at all. The witch is surprised beyond belief that a spirit actually does appear. (It matters not why God either allows Samuel to do this task, or orders it to be so ... we do not see behind the curtains as we do in Job, but just the events in this world. It matters not that God has not previously not given Saul any information, and we don't know why he chose to do so through this means.) She is somehow informed that it is in fact Saul that had asked for the task at that time. The spirit of Samuel does as he is bidden.

Ultimately, the interpretation is that Saul sinfully seeks what to do, even if it means seeking a witch. In doing so, he is confronted by God through the spirit of Samuel when he does consult a witch (and we need not give the witch any power to do the conjuring, but only state that the events we see are what the narrative states). Samuel tells Saul what is to happen, and admonishes Saul for seeking when he already knows that God has abandoned him and given the kingdom into the hands of David. Why God ordained this, we do not see, nor are we given an explanation of why God would allow this to occur as if by the work of a witch.

Before you would consider any other interpretation, the one above would have to be refuted. I see no reason to demand that we know (as we are shown in the book of Job) the reasons why this was done. I see no irrefutable proof that it could not be Samuel doing as God bids. I know of no point of orthodox theology with which this interpretation would conflict. In the absence of any compelling reason, the simple interpretation should be viewed as more likely than one that requires conjecture.

-----Added 8/15/2009 at 01:20:13 EST-----

Just so we're clear, you're saying Calvin (et al) simply reject the Bible's witness, because the text of Scripture only allows of one interpretation, and they don't hold it.

I would not say that Bruce. I might disagree with Calvin (et al) on some points, but I hope you would know that I respect them (and you!) very much. It isn't that any Christians reject the Bible's witness, so much as they see the Bible through their own life and ideas. That is true of every one of us (I know it is true of me). I can no more divorce myself of everything I have experienced than I can change the color of my skin.

We know and respect each other (or at least you know I respect you). We will have differences on some passages of scripture while we are in this age, but I am confident that we both will have a perfect theology when we leave this age. Until then, we can be iron sharpening iron ... and I welcome your insight and knowledge even in those areas with which I disagree.

I also acknowledge that there are times when I say things too emphatically. Forgive me if I have in this discussion. I have not and do not mean to offend.

-----Added 8/15/2009 at 01:33:43 EST-----

When "Samuel" said to Saul that he and Isreal will be with him, it is a strong evidence that this "Samuel" is not the prophet Samuel. For it is clear, the soul of Samuel is with God, and is not in hell. Also this cannot be the grave, for Saul's body and his sons were not buried immediately, but burnt later.

The idea of Sheol in the OT is the place of the dead, irrespective of their being righteous or unrighteous. This can be clearly seen if one looks up all the references for Sheol (e.g. Ecc 9:10, Psa 6:5 there are many more, and it is not the grave as such, but the place of the dead). You present a false dichotomy that it is either the grave or heaven/hell. The OT does not hold such a view for Sheol.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I do not doubt you. I was primarily responding to the post immediately above mine, which states that beside the view contrary to mine "the biblical text really presents no other option."

That's putting it pretty strongly.

And, it makes it appear as though actually dealing with the bona fide textual arguments in favor of the other opinions is unnecessary (because how can you rebut something that doesn't exist!). It is hand-waving, mere assertion in lieu of argument; but it is also rhetorical dynamite. It raises the stakes, because it brooks no dispute. Because to argue against that position is tantamount to arguing against God. It fiat declares: "there are no abiguities here, move along, move along."

re. your comment on Sheol: you must admit there is NO reference to Sheol in the passage itself. Therefore, that view is the other side theological import to the text.

So, you see, neither side can escape the intrusion (positively speaking) of theological antecedents. Each side weighs one or more specific aspects of the story in the text as the strongest coloring factor.

Peace, brother. Good night.


Puritan Board Graduate
I'd have to agree with those that believe that it was Samuel, for several reasons:

First of all the text itself. As Andrew pointed out in (vs. 12) "the woman saw Samuel" in (vs. 14) it says "Saul knew that it was Samuel" and in (vs. 15) the narrator of the book does address him as Samuel. That's three times identifying the spirit as Samuel! Not once does it say "a likeness of Samuel" or "a vision of Samuel" or "an evil spirit in the likeness of Samuel". Also, the woman cried out and was afraid by what she saw. (vs. 13.) This lends me to believe only two possibilities: that what she saw was either an evil spirit or samuel himself.

However, the spirit fulfills the qualifications of a true prophet. God made it clear in His Word that we would know a prophet when their words come to pass. Dt 18: 21-22

Also, there are several instances in Scripture when a person was raised from the dead. Immediately, I think of Elisha in the OT and Lazarus in the NT. If God could bring up men from the dead both in body and spirit, how could he not be able to bring up one's spirit from the dead?

Also, if we look at the character of Satan......his goal is to always focus on self and away from God! We know that Scripture teaches that the devil is the father of lies and confusion. Yet this spirit did not confuse Saul, in fact it told him the truth and pointed to Saul's disobedience! Yes, the devil twists Scripture and tells half-truths.....yet there is not one instance in Scripture that the devil has pointed to man's disobedience! That is something that only a spirit of God could do, in my humble opinion!


Puritan Board Freshman
The devil desguised as Samuel

-----Added 8/17/2009 at 05:51:50 EST-----

I like what Matthew Henry has to say about this passage:

We have here the conference between Saul and Satan. Saul came in disguise (v. 8), but Satan soon discovered him, v. 12. Satan comes in disguise, in the disguise of Samuel's mantle, and Saul cannot discover him. Such is the disadvantage we labour under, in wrestling with the rulers of the darkness of this world, that they know us, while we are ignorant of their wiles and devices.

I. The spectre, or apparition, personating Samuel, asks why he is sent for (v. 15): Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up? To us this discovers that it was an evil spirit that personated Samuel; for (as bishop Patrick observes) it is not in the power of witches to disturb the rest of good men and to bring them back into the world when they please; nor would the true Samuel have acknowledged such a power in magical arts: but to Saul this was a proper device of Satan's, to draw veneration from him, to possess him with an opinion of the power of divination, and so to rivet him in the devil's interests.

II. Saul makes his complaint to this counterfeit Samuel, mistaking him for the true; and a most doleful complaint it is: "I am sorely distressed, and know not what to do, for the Philistines make war against me; yet I should do well enough with them if I had but the tokens of God's presence with me; but, alas! God has departed from me." He complained not of God's withdrawings till he fell into trouble, till the Philistines made war against him, and then he began to lament God's departure. He that in his prosperity enquired not after God in his adversity thought it hard that God answered him not, nor took any notice of his enquiries, either by dreams or prophets, neither gave answers immediately himself nor sent them by any of his messengers. He does not, like a penitent, own the righteousness of God in this; but, like a man enraged, flies out against God as unkind and flies off from him: Therefore I have called thee; as if Samuel, a servant of God, would favour those whom God frowned upon, or as if a dead prophet could do him more service than the living ones. One would think, from this, that he really desired to meet with the devil, and expected no other (though under the covert of Samuel's name), for he desires advice otherwise than from God, therefore from the devil, who is a rival with God. "God denies me, therefore I come to thee. Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo." --If I fail with heaven, I will move hell.

III. It is cold comfort which this evil spirit in Samuel's mantle gives to Saul, and is manifestly intended to drive him to despair and self-murder. Had it been the true Samuel, when Saul desired to be told what he should do he would have told him to repent and make his peace with God, and recall David from his banishment, and would then have told him that he might hope in this way to find mercy with God; but, instead of that, he represents his case as helpless and hopeless, serving him as he did Judas, to whom he was first a tempter and then a tormentor, persuading him first to sell his master and then to hang himself. 1. He upbraids him with his present distress (v. 16), tells him, not only that God had departed from him, but that he had become his enemy, and therefore he must expect no comfortable answer from him: "Wherefore dost thou ask me? How can I be thy friend when God is thy enemy, or thy counsellor when he has left thee?" 2. He upbraids him with the anointing of David to the kingdom, v. 17. He could not have touched upon a string that sounded more unpleasant in the ear of Saul than this. Nothing is said to reconcile him to David, but all tends rather to exasperate him against David and widen the breach. Yet, to make him believe that he was Samuel, the apparition affirmed that it was God who spoke by him. The devil knows how to speak with an air of religion, and can teach false apostles to transform themselves into the apostles of Christ and imitate their language. Those who use spells and charms, and plead, in defence of them, that they find nothing in them but what is good, may remember what good words the devil here spoke, and yet with what a malicious design. 3. He upbraids him with his disobedience to the command of God in not destroying the Amalekites, v. 18. Satan had helped him to palliate and excuse that sin when Samuel was dealing with him to bring him to repentance, but now he aggravates it, to make him despair of God's mercy. See what those get that hearken to Satan's temptations. He himself will be their accuser, and insult over them. And see whom those resemble that allure others to that which is evil and reproach them for it when they have done. 4. He foretels his approaching ruin, v. 19. (1.) That his army should be routed by the Philistines. This is twice mentioned: The Lord shall deliver Israel into the hand of the Philistines. This he might foresee, by considering the superior strength and number of the Philistines, the weakness of the armies of Israel, Saul's terror, and especially God's departure from them. Yet, to personate a prophet, he very gravely ascribes it once and again to God: The Lord shall do it. (2.) That he and his sons should be slain in the battle: To-morrow, that is, in a little time (and, supposing that it was now after midnight, I see not but it may be taken strictly for the very next day after that which had now begun), thou and thy sons shall be with me, that is, in the state of the dead, separate from the body. Had this been the true Samuel, he could not have foretold the event unless God had revealed it to him; and, though it were an evil spirit, God might by him foretel it; as we read of an evil spirit that foresaw Ahab's fall at Ramoth-Gilead and was instrumental in it (1 Kings xxii. 20, &c.), as perhaps this evil spirit was, by the divine permission, in Saul's destruction. That evil spirit flattered Ahab, this frightened Saul, and both that they might fall; so miserable are those that are under the power of Satan; for, whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest, Prov. xxix. 9.

Contrast Saul's seeking a medium with the Mount of Transfiguration.

Matthew 17:1-3 And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

Our Lord was on a high mountain; symbolic of being in heaven, where God resides. No medium was sought, yet the symbol of the Law (Moses), and of the one to make straight the way of the Lord (Elijah), appear. They appear in the light; whereas Saul sought Samuel in the darkness. They appeared on a high mountain in the presence of the King of Kings; whereas the apparition of Samuel was summoned from below and in the presence of a minister of Satan.



Arbitrary Moderation
Since this thread has been going on for a while, I thought I would toss in one more opinion for consideration -- that of Vermigli. What follows is his brief conclusion of the matter after an extended exposition of the various Rabbinic and Patristic argument of the matter in his commentary on Samuel (found also Loci Comm., I.10)

But to shew at last what mine opinion is, I am mooued by these reasons to think, that it was but an imagination. First, seeing God would not giue answere unto Salue, neither by prophets, nor by priests, nor by dreames; it is not credible, that he would answere him by the dead, and especiallie seeing he had expresselie forbidden by the lawe. Futher, it must needs be doone, either by the will of God, or by the power of the art. By the will of God it could not be doone, bicause he forbad it: neither by the power of the art; for witches have no power ouer the godlie. Moreoever, Samuel must haue come, either willinglie, or constrained: willinglie he could not, for then he should haue consented unto witchcraft: and to saie that he came against his will, that were not fit. I knowe, these reasons are not so strong, that they can persuade an obsitinate man. But yet if we consider what belongeth unto God, and what should reuoke us from euill arts, they be effectuall inough.
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