Saul, Samuel and my Grandmother

At a recent meeting at work, someone involved with spiritism informed me that they saw my dead grandmother standing behind me. I duly asked for a description and was told she had grey hair and glasses. In fact, my grandmother had white hair and glasses. It’s tempting to consider this person a charlatan; most grandmothers’ hair turns grey and most have poor eyesight. I understand, however, that she is considered successful in such circles. Even allowing for levels of gullibility among known believers in contacting the dead, she must presumably appear to get it right sometimes.

It wasn’t a particularly interesting event at which the two of us attended; one wonders why my grandmother would have felt the need to turn up. This is not the main reason that I disbelieve that my grandmother was present; by God’s grace and Christ’s blood, she is before the throne of the Lamb. It would take something pretty interesting to draw away one’s gaze from such a sight, and my meeting at work was unlikely to have provided this.

That conversation does raise the question of Samuel and the Witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28. The story can be read here. I’ll offer brief commentary on select verses for consideration. 

11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you? ”And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”

The woman is apparently accustomed to bringing up a whole range of characters. Notice Saul’s assumption that Sheol, the place of the dead, is down below, as one might expect with a word translated pit or grave.

12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”

Why does Samuel take her by surprise? Is she a phoney, unaccustomed to seeing actual spirits? In which case a real spirit would give her the heebie-jeebies. Or does she normally call forth the spirits of the wicked, so that the vision of a righteous man gave terror to her dark heart? It is interesting how what she saw also revealed Saul’s real identity, but not, apparently, the spirit’s.

13 And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.” 14 So he said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” 

She does not recognise Samuel; her description of the spirit confirms his identity to Saul. In life, Samuel was one of the persons this woman generally avoided. Interestingly, Samuel’s garment is the means of his recognition, yet spirits do not require clothes as they have no bodies to cover. 

 And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down. 15 Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

Samuel has apparently been in Sheol, the Hebrew place of the dead. The spirits of the righteous anticipated Christ releasing them to paradise after the crucifixion, but dwelt in that murky place until then. Whatever Samuel was doing there, he didn’t wish to be bothered. 

Having asked Samuel’s advice, the reply comes:

16 Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and has become your enemy? 17 And the Lord has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbour, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”

This is no flattering deceit; this is the message that the real Samuel would have given had he been alive. So this spirit sounds like Samuel, looks like Samuel and has the same attitude towards Saul as Samuel. But was it really him? I find it strange that he would answer a summons sent by a witch or even a king, and that such individuals even had the means of asking. On the other hand, this spirit simply tells Saul what he already knows- that he is subject to God’s judgment. Perhaps any old lying spirit might have repeated this.

20 Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day or all night.

Notice Saul concludes his séance in a far worse state than when he started. Even if it really was Samuel who came forth, no-one in this account- the witch, the king or the spirit- is better off. Interesting, the Hebrew word Sheol is spelt the same as Saul. It is related to the verb ‘to ask’. This may be because Sheol always asks for more inhabitants, or it may be a reference to the likes of the witch who approach its denizens with questions and requests. Either way, Saul the king asking of sheol only confirms his own spiritual death and the end of his dynasty.

Note that Samuel’s appearing does nothing to alter Saul or his fate. As Father Abraham remarked: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, then they will not be convinced even if someone rises up from the dead.”