Samuel’s Ghost

TODAY’S ‘Bible in 90 Days’ Reading: I Samuel 16:1-28:19

Television executives have learned one thing in recent years: viewers love the supernatural. Nearly every channel has offered a ghost hunting series, even Animal Planet! We watch these ‘hunters’ seek out the ‘unquiet dead’ beneath the eerie glow of night vision cameras, all too send chills up our spines and convince even believers that the dead humans walk the earth.

Balderdash. Scripture is clear that those who die pass from this life to the next (to face either reward or judgment) in the blink of an eye. We do not tarry here, trying to work out ‘unfinished business’.

There is, however, one event in the Bible where a departed human is called up from the grave–and I’m not speaking of Christ. In I Samuel 28, we see a picture of a king in trouble. Saul, who once found favor with the Lord, has now gone mad. Troubled by an unclean spirit (sent by God), King Saul is convinced that David ‘is out to get him’. He yo-yos between wanting to love David (almost as a father) to wanting to kill him. David, whom the Lord has chosen to succeed Saul, has joined up with the Philistines to escape this death sentence.

Terrified that David might just ‘win’, Saul seeks God’s blessing on the coming battle. The Lord, however, is silent. Saul uses every means he knows to get an answer from God, but nothing, not even the urim (one of the priestly stones, worn as part of the ephod) will speak. God is as silent as the grave.

During his reign, King Saul has made an effort to remove all sorcery from Israel, but apparently some remains (no doubt part of God’s plan). After inquiring of his men  if any remains with a ‘familiar spirit’ in the land. You can only imagine how Saul’s men must have reacted (interesting that these guys know about the ‘witch of Endor’). But, perhaps they had grown accustomed to their king’s mad behavior.

So, Saul disguises himself as heads over to see ‘the woman’ in Endor. She is never named, but she plays a major role in the events to come. Saul tells her to bring up Samuel, the prophet, and the woman is terrified when she actually sees him! Here’s how it goes, according to the NIV:

11 Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

“Bring up Samuel,” he said.

12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

13 The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”

The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”

Now, we’ll pause here for a moment to see how the NIV has rendered this passage. The Hebrew phrase in verse 13 (ah, thirteen!) is thus: elohim alah erets. The NIV says ‘ghostly figure’, the KJV says ‘gods’. Which do you think is correct? There’s a BIG difference between ghostly figure and gods. Remember that ‘sheol’ is the abode of the pre-Christ dead, saved or unsaved, but that a great chasm separates the part called ‘Abraham’s bosom’ or ‘Paradise’ from ‘hell’ (gehenna). Did the witch ‘see’ this abode? I’m betting she got a glimpse and it scared the heck out of her!

The NIV goes on:

14 “What does he look like?” he asked.

“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.

Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.

15 Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”

16 Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has departed from you and become your enemy? 17 The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. 18 Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. 19 The LORD will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”

20 Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night.

Saul didn’t get the answer he’d wanted, huh? Saul’s story is yet another example of the Lord revealing His plan through very flawed people. Saul began as a talented but unassuming man who just happened to be really tall. He ended as a broken madman, hiding in a woman’s tent for comfort.