1 Samuel 28 (NRSV)
Saul Consults a Medium
3Now Samuel had died,
Samuel’s death was originally reported in 1 Samuel 25:1. Here, the fact is mentioned again to emphasize the spiritual vacuum left by Samuel’s departure.
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.
As per God’s clear command.
Leviticus 20:6, 27 (NIV)
“I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people.“A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.”
4The Philistines assembled, and came and encamped at Shunem.
“Shunem, in the Valley of Jezreel, was about twenty miles north of Aphek, the most northerly Philistine city. The fact that the Philistines had penetrated thus far gives an indication of their dominance over Saul’s kingdom, and of their intention to press further east to the Jordan.”
–Joyce G. Baldwin (1921-1995)
Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. 5When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, not by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets.
7Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, so that I may go to her and inquire of her.”
His servants said to him, “There is a medium at Endor.”
8So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes and went there, he and two men with him. They came to the woman by night. And he said, “Consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one whom I name to you.”
9The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the wizards from the land. Why then are you laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?”
10But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”
Saul promises — in the name of the Lord, no less! — that she can do what is evil in the Lord’s sight! We see how totally confused Saul is in his life right now.
11Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”
He answered, “Bring up Samuel for me.”
Saul often did not listen to Samuel when he was alive, yet now he drags him up from the dead.
12When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice;
Perhaps she screamed because her contacts with the spirit world were always either her tricks or demonic. To suddenly encounter a dead person who arrived with Holy Spirit power must have been a shock to her. I think we can agree, too, that Samuel came not because he was called by the medium, but because God sent him.
and then the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”
13The 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.”
14He said to her, “What is his appearance?”
She said, “An old man is coming up; he is wrapped in a robe.”
So Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.
15Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; so I have summoned you to tell me what I should do.”
“Saul is asking for guidance when his course of action is obvious: he has to fight the Philistines. What he really wants is reassurance that all will be well and that he will win the battle.”
–Joyce G. Baldwin
16Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17The Lord has done to you just as he spoke by me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, David. 18Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord, and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you today. 19Moreover the Lord will give Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines; and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”
Bad news for Saul: Not only will the Israelite army lose the battle, but Saul and his sons will die.
20Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel; and there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night.
It wasn’t just that Samuel told Saul that he would die or fall in battle before the Philistines. Far worse to Saul was the knowledge that the Lord was his adversary. Not only were the Philistines set against him, so was the Lord God. Knowing this was more than Saul could bear.
21The woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, “Your servant has listened to you; I have taken my life in my hand, and have listened to what you have said to me. 22Now therefore, you also listen to your servant; let me set a morsel of bread before you. Eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”
23He refused, and said, “I will not eat.”
But his servants, together with the woman, urged him; and he listened to their words. So he got up from the ground and sat on the bed.
24Now the woman had a fatted calf in the house. She quickly slaughtered it, and she took flour, kneaded it, and baked unleavened cakes. 25She put them before Saul and his servants, and they ate.
Saul’s last meal. Now I would have asked for my son Sean to make me grilled salmon with fennel and romanesco (his food pictured above). Then for dessert I would love my friend Linda’s cream puffs (which are sort of like unleavened bread!), filled with lemon cream and topped with warm chocolate sauce. Delicious! What meal would you choose?
Then they rose and went away that night.
from Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who
by Frederick Buechner
WITCH OF ENDOR
As soon as King Saul passed a law against witchcraft and drove all practitioners out of the land, the Witch of Endor traded in her broomstick on a bicycle, changed her pointed black hat for a summer straw, flushed a great many evil-smelling concoctions down the john, and tried to go straight.
But then Saul fell on evil times. He felt so sure David was after his throne that he grew paranoid on the subject. He was convinced his own son Jonathan had sided against him too. And the Philistines were gathering for a massive attack at Gilboa. He had to know how things were going to turn out, and since he and Yahweh were no longer on speaking terms as far as he was concerned, and the prophet Samuel was dead, he was forced to go elsewhere for his information.
He tried a dream-book, but none of his dreams were in it. He tried things like tea leaves and ouija boards, but they all malfunctioned. So he asked his servants whether they happened to know if anybody was still around who might be able to help, if they knew what he meant, and they told him about this old party in Endor who looked like something straight out of Charles Addams.
Saul disguised himself heavily for the visit, but as soon as he stepped through the door and said he wanted her to conjure up somebody who could foretell the future, she grew shrill and suspicious. What did he want to do, she said, get the cops after her? And only when he swore by Yahweh that he wouldn’t breathe a word to a soul did she go so far as to ask him who exactly it was he’d like her to try to get hold of for him. As soon as he said Samuel, she knew there could be only one person in Israel who would dare face that fierce old ghost, and the cat was out of the bag.
“You are Saul,” she said, and by that time he was past denying it. The next thing she knew, he’d let out a yelp that not only was enough to awaken the dead but did. “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe,” she said, and Saul realized immediately he was the right old man and bowed so low his beard touched the carpet.
Except on the grounds of wanting to make himself even more miserable than he already was, it’s hard to explain why it was his old enemy he’d asked for. Even before Samuel opened his mouth, Saul knew what he was going to say, and sure enough he said it. Samuel told him that everybody was against him including Yahweh, and not only would the Philistines win at Gilboa but by that time the next day Saul and all his sons would be joining him in the grave. Saul crumpled in a heap to the floor.
The witch did all she could to get him back on his feet. She tried to make him eat something, but he refused. She told him that she’d done what he’d asked for and the least he could do in return was to take enough to get his strength back and go, but he didn’t even seem to hear what she was saying. Finally with the help of the servants she managed to get him to where he was sitting on the edge of the bed, and when she produced a little meat and some freshly baked bread, he stuffed a bit of it into his mouth and then left without saying a word.
Nobody knows what the witch did after they were gone. Probably she just sat there in a daze for a while, trying to pull herself together with the comforting smell of the bread she’d baked. Maybe she decided to get out of Endor for good in case Saul broke his word and squealed on her. But she needn’t have worried about that because Saul had no time left to squeal on anybody.
On the next day he was just as dead as Samuel had risen from the grave to tell him he’d be, and this side of Paradise or anywhere else, she’d never have to worry about seeing him again. Unless she got herself talked into having another seance, of course, but the odds against that seem overwhelming.
HERE is a whole different kind of bewitching — Barbra Streisand sang the show tune “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” on the Judy Garland Show in 1963. She was 21.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.