King Saul and the Witch of Endor: It’s not about the Ewoks (1 Samuel 28:3-25)

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I’ve been writing this blog long enough to be comfortable in making a confession: some biblical stories are just awkward.

Especially when they take place in Endor, which as far as I’m concerned is a moon in Return of the Jedi.

Here’s the deal: while Saul is still nominally king of Israel, he’s been rejected by God. The new king in waiting, David, is growing in strength, and the metaphorical wheels have come off Saul’s reign. He finds himself facing a serious battle with the Philistines, and while it’s standard practice to ask God what to do in this situation, the doomed Saul is getting no reply.

This is where it gets messy.

None of the usual means of enquiring from God are working, so Saul tells his servants to find him a witch.

This is how far from grace Saul has fallen. Leviticus 20:6 says “ 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.” Saul is on a sticky wicket here, especially as he’s previously outlawed mediums. Now he thinks one will help him get a message from God.

This is why this story is awkward: it works. Or seems to at least. They find a witch, and Saul visits her disguised as an old man. And then something weird happens. She appears to summon up the… Ghost? Spirit? of the prophet Samuel.

I don’t know what to do with this.

On one hand it implies that this stuff is real and dangerous; fair enough, as there’s no evidence that the source of ‘Samuel’s appearance is anything good. Fair enough.

But the message he gives is right. God has rejected Saul, he has appointed David to be king. The battle does end in Saul’s death. So is this God allowing a message through in extraordinary circumstances? Doesn’t that just seem wrong somehow? Am I using too many italics here?

But wait – maybe this whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe, up to this point, Saul had a chance to end his reign in a better way? Maybe the message from ‘Samuel’ messes with Saul’s head so much that it affects the outcome of the battle? The man was tormented by an evil spirit at one point, and maybe shows signs of depression – the decision to visit the witch may have been more catastrophic than he expected. Maybe God’s earlier silence forces Saul to face the consequences of disobedience throughout his reign, leaving him easy prey for whatever spiritual mojo is being used by the witch.

The simple fact is, I don’t know what to do with this story. Saying it warns us not to get involved with mediums is one thing, but there seems to be more going on than that. And I don’t know what that is.

Any ideas? Leave a comment!

 

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2 thoughts on “King Saul and the Witch of Endor: It’s not about the Ewoks (1 Samuel 28:3-25)

  1. No ideas, really. But I do know that there are a lot of stories in the Bible that I have no idea what to do with. In Deuteronomy, at one point Moses warns the people that even if a prophet says something true, the people are not to listen to him if he leads them to other gods. But later Moses tells them that the way they know a prophet is from God is if what they say comes true.

    No idea what to do with that either.

    • Yeah, stories like these always feel like they have a key verse missing somewhere that clears things up! Maybe it’s just God’s way of forcing us to work at things…

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