The Witch of Endor and Samuel’s Death

1 Samuel 28:8-15 “Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.”… Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”… He said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe… Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” 

 

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Sometimes this passage is used to prove that Samuel, who was dead, must really be conscious in the afterlife since he was able to verbally communicate with King Saul. Some fundamentalists even presume that the deceased Samuel resides in heaven at this very moment.

Some considerations will easily dismiss these claims.

  1. The passage nowhere says that Samuel was in heaven. Rather, Samuel has come up from the grave in 28:8, 11, 13, and 15. The woman of Endor said that she saw Samuel coming up out of the earth. This seems to indicate that Samuel had died and was buried in the ground like virtually every other person in the Hebrew Bible before him.
  2. The earlier account of Samuel’s death clearly states that he was buried (1 Sam. 25:1).
  3. It is interesting that Samuel states that Saul and his sons will be with him tomorrow (28:19). This means that the wicked Saul and his sons will go to the same place where Samuel went, being the grave/Sheol. All come from dust and all return to dust (Ecc. 3:20).
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3 thoughts on “The Witch of Endor and Samuel’s Death

  1. I have always thought this was a very interesting and challenging passage. It’s not challenging in the sense that it is necessarily hard to understand, but it presents an oddball situation that I somehow have to reconcile with what I believe. It’s messy, and the implications are possibly far-reaching.

    If I believe that the dead are unconscious in the grave (which I do), and if I also believe this is indeed Samuel talking (it is presented that way), then I also have to believe something special is at work in this situation that allowed Samuel to be “conjured up.”

    Normally, I dismiss ideas of “witches” or “psychics” talking to dead people as voodoo-mystic nonsense, but here we have a biblical description of it happening. It makes me wonder if it was an isolated incident, or if things like this really do happen on occasion… by whatever mechanism was at work. That’s not the most comforting thought, but this account of Samuel certainly opens up those kinds of possibilities.

    The normal way of things is that the dead “sleep,” as you pointed out a couple posts ago. Something is a work here that has upset the normal balance (something rooted in the occult, etc?). This is suggested to me by Samuel’s words, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Emphasis on “disturbed.” It sounds similar to something we’d say if we answered a phone call in the middle of the night. We’re supposed to be sleeping right now…

    1. Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing them. Yes, this account is odd and certainly uncommon (not the norm)! I think this is rooted in the occult, something the Israelite king was not supposed to associate with.

  2. Someone once brought to my attention the significance of verse 12. “When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice…” Perhaps her fear and surprise at the sight of Samuel indicates she knew she did not have the abilities she claimed to have (bringing people up from the grave) but that rather God was intervening in this case.

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