Issue #80 -------
October 29, 2003
Faithless is he that says farewell
when the road darkens.
--- J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973)
The Fellowship of the Ring
In 1 Samuel 28 we find the story of king Saul seeking out the "Witch of Endor" and the apparent appearance of the deceased Samuel from somewhere beyond the grave. Some have appealed to this event to suggest the conscious existence of a person's "undying spirit" in some location beyond this present physical realm. However, is that truly what this account suggests? Or, are there other possible interpretations to this admittedly difficult passage in the Bible?
God had commanded His people: "Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:31). "As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people" (Leviticus 20:6). "Now a man or a woman who is a medium or a spiritist shall surely be put to death" (Leviticus 20:27).
King Saul was not an overly righteous king, but to his credit he "had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists" (1 Samuel 28:3). Indeed, he had prescribed the death penalty for those who were found practicing this evil, godless craft (vs. 9-10). As one commentator astutely observed, however: "Although Saul had removed the sin of witchcraft from the land, he had not removed it from his heart." At a time of personal desperation, rather than turning to his God he turned to the forces of evil for guidance.
His fate for this folly is described in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14. "Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse." One interesting observation to this later summation of the events of 1 Samuel 28 is that there is no mention whatsoever of the "spirit" of Samuel having been called up .... only that Saul had consulted with this woman from Endor, a town on the north shoulder of the hill of Moreh, near Jezreel.
There has been tremendous debate over the centuries as to what exactly occurred that day when Saul consulted this woman who was practicing the "black arts." There is no question that this woman was not a servant of the Lord. If she was in league with any spiritual force, it was with Satan rather than God. The apostle Paul warns the brethren in Corinth that there is a very real danger associated with idolatry --- it places those who embrace it in fellowship with the evil forces behind these godless practices. There are real spirit beings (demons) against which the godly struggle in this life. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). Thus, Paul warns his readers to stay away from such activities of darkness, because "I do not want you to become sharers (participants; fellowshippers) with demons" (1 Corinthians 10:20).
The woman from Endor was in fellowship with the forces of darkness; she was a participant with demons. I doubt that any person would seek to refute that. She stood in opposition to God in every way, and God's punishment for such was death!
This raises an interesting question, and, for the purpose of even asking this question, we must make some assumptions (which those who embrace the traditional position on the nature of man regard as fact). Assuming that mortal man is in possession of an inherently immortal spirit-being which indwells him and which is incapable of ever being destroyed or dying, and which thus of necessity must exist consciously somewhere after being separated from the body at the moment of biological death ..... assuming this, simply for the sake of argument in this present study, is it possible for a person who is in league with the forces of evil to call forth righteous, disembodied spirit-beings from their blissful abode?! Can those serving Satan really yank a saved soul out of its spiritual repose? Do the wicked of this world have that kind of power?
It seems to me this is a very grave (pun intended!!) theological problem! Personally, I can not imagine how such could be the case. Dr. Lewis, in his book Cults of the Dead, wrote: "Was the woman actually able to raise up the righteous dead (i.e., Satan having power over the saints)?" (p. 115). This is a very troubling question, and has bothered people for centuries! Can Satan actually reach into Paradise and drag "souls" out of there for his own devious purposes?
There are two major theories which have been put forward over the centuries to try and explain this passage of Scripture (as well as many minor, less logical, and at times almost ludicrous, theories):
THEORY ONE --- God Himself intervened in this situation and by His power raised up Samuel to appear unto Saul. And the purpose was to deliver a message to Saul. There are some problems associated with this view, however, as one might well expect. Would God work hand-in-hand with a "witch" (as the KJV describes her)? Also, keep in mind that from the text itself (1 Samuel 28) there is no indication that this appearance was at the hand of God; nowhere does it suggest God did this, but rather that the woman called him forth. One might perhaps assume God did it, but such is not stated ... it is purely conjecture on the part of interpreters.
God certainly had the power to raise up Samuel and send him to Saul at this time with a message, had He chosen to do so. There is no doubt about that. But did God do this? One may assume it, but one cannot prove it. Here's something else to consider: even if God did send Samuel to Saul at this time, this in no way proves the conscious existence of an "undying spirit-being" in some Hadean holding cell after the physical death of its "host body" and prior to the day of the resurrection of that body and final judgment. God could just as easily have raised Samuel's mortal remains from the dust of the ground, breathed life back into this dead body, sent him to deliver this message, and then returned Samuel to his slumber in the dust of the ground (Daniel 12:2). That also is a legitimate possibility, and one far more consistent with the remainder of Scripture pertaining to the nature and destiny of man. The text itself does not suggest anything about Samuel's state prior to this calling up. The only possible allusion is when Samuel says, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" (1 Samuel 28:15). This really does not "prove" either interpretation, however, as this statement could just as easily refer to being disturbed from his "sleep in the dust of the ground" as to his conscious bliss in some intermediate "holding area" which was interrupted by this summons.
Yes, it is certainly possible that God could have raised Samuel and sent him to Saul .... but it is odd, is it not, that the character said to be Samuel (in 1 Samuel 28:15) attributes the raising up of himself to Saul and this woman from Endor. Why didn't this apparition acknowledge that it was God who raised him up? This is more than a little puzzling. Thus, at best, the Traditionalists seek to build their doctrine upon sweeping assumptions with no textual or contextual substantiation. That is poor hermeneutics, and additionally a mighty unstable foundation upon which to build a theology.
THEORY TWO --- The other major theory proposed is that this "being" who was "raised up" was not Samuel at all .... if indeed there was even a being present (remember: only the woman saw him; Saul never actually saw this being ... go back and read this!!!). It is possible this was a demon pretending to be Samuel. The woman, after all, was in league with demons, not with God or the righteous dead. If she herself saw something, what she saw may have been one of the very beings with whom she was in fellowship. The text actually seems to indicate she was shocked by what she saw, which has led some to speculate she was more of a "fake" (to earn money), and thus it surprised even her when something actually appeared.
The early church Fathers typically took one of two views: (1) Either God Himself raised Samuel from the dead and sent him to Saul (they simply could not abide the view that a "witch" could raise the righteous from the dead), or (2) this was "just demonic deceit, and what appeared was not really Samuel, but a demon in his guise" (Origen and the Witch of Endor: Toward an Iconoclastic Typology). Some have even suggested that God sent a demon to deliver this message, and perhaps even frighten this woman into repentance, or to allow her, and Saul, to suffer the consequences of their delusion resulting from their association with the forces of evil. "And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false" (2 Thessalonians 2:11). "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over" to that which they had chosen in His place (Romans 1:24-32). The fact that the biblical summary of Saul's sin on this occasion (found in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14) never mentions Samuel being present at all, but only that Saul consulted with this woman, has led many to believe that this narrative was simply an example of "demonic deceit."
But what does one do about the message given that day by "Samuel"? Could this message have come from a demon? Would demons speak words of truth? And for what purpose? Let's not forget that Paul warns us to be aware of the fact that "deceitful workers disguise themselves as apostles of Christ" and "even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Satan even quoted Scripture on occasion!
And don't forget the "spirit of divination" that possessed the slave girl (Acts 16), which kept crying out this message after Paul, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation" (vs. 17). Paul cast out this evil spirit in the name of Jesus Christ, even though what was being proclaimed was true! We should never discount the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that the forces of evil will at times speak words of truth if in so doing it serves to further their ultimate deception and continue their undermining of God's purposes.
It is at least a possibility that a message of truth was indeed conveyed to Saul; one which was credible enough to make him believe he was hearing from Samuel, and perhaps even from God. Would this not, therefore, lend a sense of validity and credibility to the testimony, indeed the work, of this medium and spiritist? Would not Saul, the king, now perhaps be led to believe that these mediums and spiritists were indeed in contact with God Himself and the departed "spirits" of the righteous?!! Would this not perhaps lead Saul to rethink his ban on their activities, and thus give them a free hand throughout the land? Would Saul now be led to perhaps believe these mediums actually had the approval of God, since God had spoken to him through their mediation? Yes, Satan is a cunning and devious foe. It is at least possible this could have been the explanation for this "appearance" of "Samuel" to Saul, and it is certainly not beyond the power of Satan to perform such a feat of deception, nor is it outside the parameters of biblical teaching that God would allow such a delusion to come upon those who had persisted in rejecting His counsel. The forces of evil, Jesus warns, "will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24). This very likely is exactly what Saul encountered that day.
Dr. Kretzmann writes, "That this apparition could not have been the real Samuel is evident .... the devil has no jurisdiction over those who have fallen asleep in the Lord." He goes on to warn, "What the diviners or clairvoyants state is not all falsehood and deception; for the devil is able, with God's permission, to perform works which, to all appearances, are identical with miracles, and to uncover the future. Christians, therefore, will take the greatest care in fleeing from the temptation of consulting such soothsayers" (Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 1).
As a side note: there is an interesting passage in the Babylonian Talmud which shows how some of the ancient Jews perceived this event: "A Sadducee once said to Rabbi Abhu, 'Ye say that the souls of the righteous are treasured up under the throne of glory; how then had the witch of Endor power to bring up the prophet Samuel by necromancy?' The Rabbi replied, 'Because that occurred within twelve months after his death; for we are taught that during twelve months after death the body is preserved, and the soul soars up and down, but that after twelve months the body is destroyed, and the soul goes up, never to return'" (Treatise Shabbath, fol. 88, col. 2). So I guess there is a 12 month grace period where one can still capture a "roaming soul" before it is secure in a place of repose!! Right?!! This has about as much authority and believability as many of the fanciful theories of the "afterlife" promoted in more recent times in "Christian" circles.
Well, what can be said with certainty about this event in 1 Samuel 28? Actually, very little! There is much we just don't know, and probably never will know this side of heaven. We can speculate a great deal, and form numerous opinions, and make countless assumptions, but we have very little in this passage with which to form doctrine with regard to such matters as the nature of man or the nature of what occurs between death and the resurrection. Even if one takes the events of this account literally, as most Traditionalists do, and even if this "witch" (or even God, for that matter) did raise up the real Samuel, it in no way proves conscious existence of "immortal spirit-beings" in some so-called "Intermediate State," for Samuel could just as easily, and far more consistently with Scriptural teaching, have been raised from an unconscious sleep in the dust of the ground than from a conscious state in some nether realm (the same argument being true of Moses' appearance at the Transfiguration of Christ, by the way -- Matt. 17:3). There is simply insufficient information in this account from which to formulate any doctrine one way or the other. Indeed, the whole incident raises far more questions than it provides answers ... at least with regard to the nature of man and his eternal destiny.
As mentioned earlier, nothing is said of any conversation of Saul directly with Samuel himself, but rather the inquiry was directed to, and the guidance came from, the medium (1 Chronicles 10:13-14). Indeed, 1 Samuel 28:6 makes it very clear that God had chosen not to respond to Saul through any means. "When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets." God was not speaking to Saul at this point in Saul's life. This is brought out again in vs. 15-16 where both Saul and "Samuel" make it clear that the Lord had departed from Saul and was no longer speaking to him through ANY means. Does it not seem rather odd, therefore, that God would suddenly decide to speak to Saul through a "witch," or through one supposedly raised from the dead (Samuel), when He would not speak through any of the normal means available to Saul?
Frankly, I seriously question whether this "being" (which Saul never saw, by the way) was actually Samuel. Even if the woman was not speaking herself, and Saul heard some other voice, it could easily have been the work of a demon. I think it is really important to keep in mind that this chapter in question begins with the clear statement that God was not speaking to Saul by any means. That is a very important point! Isn't it just possible that fact remains constant throughout the passage? It just may be that this whole event was not from God at all, but a demonstration of the power of evil over one who has given himself over to it instead of to God. The forces of evil can be very, very deceiving and misleading in a person's life, and will ultimately prove destructive ... as it did with Saul! The Bible never declares that any of this event came from God!! If anything, the opposite seems far more likely.
One final thought -- in 1 Samuel 28:19 this apparition, which Saul thought was Samuel, declared, "tomorrow you and your sons will be with me." Well, this turned out to be a true statement, for the next day Saul and his sons were DEAD ... just as Samuel was. However, where exactly was Samuel, according to the Traditional perspective? The traditionalists would claim his "immortal soul" was in Paradise. However, is that where Saul would be? Enjoying the comforts of eternal bliss? Snuggled up in peaceful rest in Abraham's bosom?! The biblical text gives strong evidence that Saul most likely will not experience eternal salvation. His death is not portrayed in any way as a spiritual victory! Thus, in what sense would Saul and his sons be with Samuel? The only view truly consistent with Scripture is that they would both be in the dust of the ground ... dead ... awaiting together the resurrection to judgment. Thus, if this account is taken literally, we must ask of these Traditionalists: Were Saul and his sons saved? Are they and Samuel now together ("you and your sons will be WITH me") in Abraham's bosom, experiencing the joys of their salvation? I have been asking this question of the Traditionalists for years .... and not one has yet ever given an answer! One is left to wonder why!!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, my precious brother, I have been reading from you for many years and I have been blessed beyond measure. You have been a big help in keeping my eyes wide open and in showing forth many of the newly uncovered nuggets of Truth that I continually search for! I pray that God will continue to bless you as you serve Him without compromise! Keep on keepin' on!! The end is much closer than when we first began!
From a Preacher in New Mexico:
I see you got another note from your Texas friend who addresses you as "Apostate Al." I pray that his notes do not discourage you. The arrogance of one who would suggest that God will not answer your prayers because you do not agree with him in every detail is mind-boggling.
From a Reader in West Virginia:
I continue to enjoy your writing and look forward to each issue. As a side benefit, I appreciate the quotes you find to headline each essay. The O'Neil quote on #77 was a keeper! I wanted to pass along a Walter Lippmann quote I came across: "Where all think alike, no one thinks very much." I appreciate your willingness to think. It is a great encouragement to those of us out here thinking on our own!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, this was an interesting study. I have wrestled with the concept of death, and a personal experience has helped me understand death in the concept of time. I wondered about the time passing from our death until the end of the world. Would we be cognizant of time? You had alluded to the finality of death, both physical and spiritual, in other Reflections and I have thought much about this.
A few years ago, I was visiting NASA near Houston. I was on a tram and I passed out. I remember feeling nauseous and I simply blacked out. I closed my eyes and in what I thought was the next moment, I opened my eyes and I was laying on the ground next to an ambulance. My shirt was off and electrodes were hooked to my chest and a paramedic was bending over me checking a computer readout. I was puzzled. Where was I? It seemed like only a second from the time I closed my eyes until I opened them in a very different place. Several minutes had obviously elapsed, but in my mind it was instantaneous from black-out to waking up. When I read your Reflections, I thought this may be what it will be like in death. One moment we will die and the next moment (at least it will seem to us like a moment) we will open our eyes and be in the presence of Jesus. We may be dead for thousands or tens of thousands of years, but it will seem that no time passed from death to waking in the presence of our Lord. What a great thought to reflect on. Thank you for your Reflections.
From a Reader in Okinawa, Japan:
Al, Keep up the good work. You are doing an outstanding job. Many blessings to you from Okinawa, Japan.
From a Reader in Hawaii:
Al, Your Reflections continue to amaze me. The latest on death is no exception. Thank you for being so bold as to speak the truth.
From a Reader in California:
Without regular prayers for the sick, anointing with the assurance of healing, and evidence (testimony) to the same, we simply don't have anything to draw from when we or others are ill. I myself have been witness to "miracles" (or the providence of God, or whatever one wants to call it). I believe in "miracles." That is, I believe God answers the prayers of believing people. While preachers teach from the pulpit the need for prayers for the sick, they do not go to the home, hospitals, etc. with the real expectation of a healing because out of the same mouth comes lesson after lesson on the fact that the time of miracles has ceased. How can a congregation "believe in" a miraculous recovery while being taught such abominable heresy from the pulpit?
Thank you for your articles and inspirational writings. Thanks too for the testimony to so many truths that I have the opportunity to read from various people in your "Reflections from Readers."
From a Reader in Nevada:
Al, I really enjoy your REFLECTIONS, and each day I look forward to getting another one, even though they are not daily. It hurts me to see folks putting you down with this "Apostate Al" stuff. I know they may honestly disagree with you on different subjects, but I just don't understand why they have to be so nasty. I was subjected to ungodly attitudes as I was put out of the One Cup brotherhood (said this way as a means of identification). I know the hurt that comes with such attitudes. But, I thank God for you and pray that you will continue to publish these Truths regardless of those self-righteous attitudes. Also, please forward me a copy of IS HELL FIRE ENDLESS? by Dr. Leroy Garrett.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Thanks, Al, for another wonderful article (DEATH: Defining the Biblical Parameters). When I was reading this one, things that I have been chewing on for a while finally "clicked." I had long wondered about the lake of fire, the "second death." It is now my belief that those who experience the "second death" will, in fact, cease to exist. You have a gift for presenting difficult topics in simple, easy to understand ways. Thank you for all the hard work you put into your Reflections, and for taking a stand even in the face of contempt which some, unfortunately, choose to send your way. You continue to be in my prayers, brother. May God bless you in the work He has called you to do!
From a Preacher in New Mexico:
Good job, Al. Your discussion of Death begs the question: What is the biblical meaning of the Resurrection?
From a Reader in Nevada:
Al, I have all of your articles as they appear in the Archives. However, I am sure you have many other articles that have appeared in papers, magazines, etc., and I suspect that folks like me would like to read all of them. Have you considered gathering all of your articles and having them published in book form? Do you have someone who would financially commit to seeing this publishing project through to completion? I would like to see your work available in book form and would be interested in financing or helping to finance this project.
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