Did you know that there is a story about a witch and a ghost in the Bible?
Did you also know that the witch is a hero and a model of faith?
With Halloween coming up, I thought I’d tell you about this important Biblical story found in 1 Samuel 28.
The Back Story – King Saul
The story centers around the first king of Israel, a man named Saul. Like most of the kings, the Bible has a negative view of Saul. He is one of the many bad kings of Israel.
Saul’s main adviser was a prophet named Samuel. Saul didn’t always listen to Samuel, which got him into trouble, but Samuel was Saul’s direct connection to God. Whenever Saul needed God’s advice, he went to Samuel to hear a word from God.
Samuel died in his old age. Soon after Samuel’s death, the Philistines were on the move against Israel. Saul had no one to turn to, except maybe the dead Samuel.
Saul previously expelled all the mediums and wizards from Israel, apparently following a couple of laws found in Leviticus. The worst of these laws states, “A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them.”
Introducing the Witch of Endor
Here is the point of this essay: as is often the case, the Bible subverts its own violent laws. In this case, it shows the Witch of Endor as a hero of the Bible and a model of faith.
The war against the powerful Philistines made Saul desperate to hear from God. So Saul demanded his servants to, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, so that I may go to her and inquire of her.” His servants responded that there was a medium who was in hiding in a town called Endor.*
Saul disguised himself as he traveled at night to meet the witch. He was afraid that someone might see him and he knew she would be frightened if she saw the king, so he pretended to be a common person.
When he and two of his servants arrived at her house, Saul requested her to, “Consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one whom I name to you.”
The witch responded with fear, saying that the king “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?”
In his desperation, Saul promised that she would be safe from the king’s wrath. He requested that she bring up Samuel. The witch immediately knew that only Saul would ask for Samuel. She cried out, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”
Saul calmed her fears and asked her to continue. She began to see a “divine being” who was an old man wrapped in a robe. Saul knew it was the prophet Samuel. A very cranky Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
Saul replied that he was in great distress because of the Philistines and he needed Samuel’s advice.
But Samuel only had bad news for Saul. The Lord had chosen another person to be king. Samuel prophesied that Saul and his sons would be killed the next day and join Samuel in the place of the dead.
The Heroic Witch Is a Model of Faith
Now, how do you think the Witch of Endor responded to Saul’s bad news? If I were the witch, I might curse him with a spell or at least curse him with some trash talk. “Serves you right, you jerk! You came after me and payback is a you-know-what!”
But the Witch of Endor didn’t do either of those things. Instead, she offered him compassion, grace, and hospitality. The Bible repeatedly states that one of its main ethics is to show hospitality to strangers.
Saul was the witch’s enemy who expelled her and possibly tried to kill her, but instead of seeking revenge, she acted with love and compassion towards him in his time of need.
After hearing the message from Samuel, Saul’s whole body fell to the ground and trembled with fear. He hadn’t eaten anything that day. He had no strength.
Then the story says, “The 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. Now 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.’”
But the Witch of Endor gave Samuel more than just a morsel of bread. She cooked her fatted calf and baked him bread. Samuel and his servants ate her food and went on their way.
The Witch of Endor fulfilled the law in Leviticus 19:18 that states, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
In her grace, compassion, and hospitality, the Witch of Endor nurtured Saul in his time of need. This makes her one of the true heroes of the Bible and a model of faith.
*Does Endor ring a bell to you? Yes, my fellow Star Wars fans will know that this is where George Lucas got the name Endor for the planet with the cute little Ewoks.