Samuel’s Immortal Soul?
Did King Saul actually see Samuel’s Immortal Soul that came down from Heaven and spoke with him?
By Peter Salemi
King Saul was in a whole heap of trouble with the Philistines, not to mention he saw David as a threat to his reign as well. So King Saul was deeply troubled and God abandoned Saul long before this!
With the prophet Samuel dead, and he abandoning the true faith, King Saul went to the witch at Endor and asked her: “I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.” (1 Samuel 28:8). Why did King Saul turn to paganism to seek help? As we shall see Saul practiced and believed in sorcery and paganism for quite a while.
Then the witch asked him, “Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.” (v.11). Did King Saul believe in the immortal soul? Many Protestant evangelicals and other groups who believe in the immortal soul feel this scripture shows that King Saul and the Israelites believed in the concept of the immortality of soul, even though you cannot find that belief anywhere in the Old and also the New Testament’s! Yes Saul did believe in it! But it wasn’t due to his belief in the true God and the Bible! No! He turned from God and believed in the pagan concept of the afterlife which includes the immortality of the Soul!
God says clearly, “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
“Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
“For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.” (Deut 18:10-12). Was Saul obeying this commandment? No! He clearly forsook the religion of God and took up paganism.
Notice what scripture says here, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night….So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it;” (1 Samuel 15:11; 1 Chronicles 10:13). Saul even killed God’s priests! (see 1 Sam 22:17-23).
From the time before God called David to this time, Saul abandoned God continually to the point-God finally stopped answering him, because God knew Saul did NOT have a repentant heart.
Saul seeks the Witch
Scripture says, “And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.
“Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor.” (1 Sam 28:6-7).
Now if Saul abandoned God, Why did Saul “enquire of the Lord”? Was it out of belief and obedience? No! Jamieson Fausset and Brown Commentary states, “Since it was a part of the official duty of the high priest to ask counsel for rulers in all matters affecting the national interests of Israel… It appears that Saul also, in the brief period of his theocratic allegiance, inquired of the Lord through the same medium (1Sam 14:18-19). But he had long discontinued such applications, his impulsive and wayward temper driving him to neglect them, probably from the day that God gave him no answer (1Sam 14:37).” (emphasis added). Saul being king consulted when he wanted to, if he even bothered to, not that he believed, or even wanted to know what God had to say. Due to his desperation at this time, enquired to see what God would say, looking for anything or anyone to help him.
Saul had no repentance in his heart, so he went to paganism for many years, and sought the witch at Endor during this desperate time.
Notice this verse that says, “And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?” (v.9). This seems to say that Saul was still obedient to God, but this was happened only when, “Saul in the earlier part of his reign been earnest in his zeal for the Mosaic law,” (Pulpit Commentary, emphasis added; see also Ellicott). The Law of God was established by God through Moses, Joshua and Samuel for the general population of Israel. Saul enforced the law early in his reign and even though he abandoned God, Israel as a whole did not, so Saul was not going to change the law of the land, Israel was still obedient.
Notice the next verse, “And Saul sware to her by the LORD, saying, As the LORD liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing.” (v.10) .
First, It is evident that the oath “as the Lord liveth,” had, as “used by such a person as Saul, become a common and established form of swearing in Israel.”
(JFB Commentary). Not that he believed in the God any longer, it was just a common expression among the Israelites when giving an oath.
The K&D Commentary writes, “an oath which showed how utterly hardened Saul was” (emphasis added). He was determined to say anything to get what he wanted, and so swore an oath to her whom he knew God would not approve of. He was at the point of no return! He believed in the witch and what the witch could do and not God, this is why he said, “Bring me up Samuel.” (v.11).
Can we Talk to the Dead?
What does the Bible say about talking to the dead? Is it possible? What is the state of the dead?
“the dead know not any thing” (Eccl 9:5). The Bible also says, their “thoughts perish” (Psalm 146:4) when they die.
God plainly says, “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? [Lowth renders it, ‘In place of (consulting) the living, should one consult the dead?’]” (Isa 8:19).
Clarke’s commentary says, “Should not a nation seek unto its God? Why should you seek unto the dead concerning the living?” God says plainly that you cannot consult the dead about the living because the dead KNOW NOT ANYTHING! God is alive seek him for answers not the dead.
Saul’s Mental State
Why did Saul go to a witch? We must also consider Saul’s state of mind. Early in his reign, under the tutelage of Samuel, Saul had been the great champion of Israel, pushing its enemies back and making good progress in forging a nation out of the twelve tribes. Yet, just about the time David came on the scene, he began to display severe emotional problems, exacerbated by “the Spirit of the Lord depart[ing] from Saul” and “a distressing spirit from the Lord troubl[ing] him” (1 Samuel 16:14). Saul forsook God (1 Sam 15:11). Evidently, God allowed a demon to cause Saul distress—perhaps severe melancholy and fits of sullenness and anger—and only David’s playing of his harp drove the demon away (verse 23).
At this time Josephus says of Saul, “[He] became weak and foolish; lost all courage and greatness of mind, was timorous and fearful, and alarmed by everything, and was full of envy, suspicion, rage, and despair.” (Antiqu. l. 6. c. 8. sect. 2.)
Once David had slain Goliath and begun to receive acclaim from the people, Saul became murderously jealous of his young servant. Saul’s distress soon warped into real anger (1 Samuel 18:8) and suspicion (verse 9), and the next time David came to play his harp for Saul, the king cast a spear at him, shouting, “I will pin David to the wall!” (verses 10-11). The younger man escaped, only to have the scene repeated sometime later (1 Samuel 19:9-10). Not long thereafter, David had to flee and hide in the wilderness.
We see, then, that Saul was highly susceptible to demonic influence and was emotionally unstable. The distressing spirit that God allowed to torment him had played with his emotions for years, and it is likely that as he aged, as David eluded capture, and as the Philistines grew in strength, Saul only became more depressed and fearful. By the time he was camped on the slopes of Mount Gilboa, brooding over the advance of the Philistine army into camp on the opposite hillside, he was in a state of severe misery and near-terror, knowing that no happy ending awaited him the next day. And with the demonic influence that was with him for years is it any wonder that he turned to paganism, and believe in the pagan concept of the immortal soul? This is why there were still witches in the land, Saul was keeping them, and inquiring of them as well-This was not his first time inquiring to familiar spirits.
Saul himself, emotionally unbalanced, was predisposed to the sway of a demon. Knowing these things makes all the difference in how we understand the events at En Dor.
Saul and the Witch at Endor
With all this background and understanding, going through these scriptures we can understand exactly what happened.
Who did the witch and King Saul see? Was it Samuel? No! Samuel is dead (see 1 Sam 25:1; 28:3) lying in his grave, unconscious and sleeping with his “fathers” as the Old Testament continually tells us (see,1Kings 2:10; 11:21, 43; 14:20, 31; 15:8, 24; 16:6, 28; 22:40, 50; 2Kings 8:24; 10:35; 13:9, 13; 14:16, 22, 29; 15:7, 22, 38; 16:20; 20:21; 21:18; 24:6; 2Chron 9:31; 12:1; 14:1; 16:13; 21:1; 26:2, 23; 27:9; 28:27; 32:33; 33:20).
Let’s examine the scriptures to understand who they actually saw.
“And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled.” (1 Sam 28:5). We see here that Saul was greatly disturbed and mentally unstable. He enquired of God but that was just out of sheer desperation. Because of the influence of an evil spirit he turned to paganism, and therefore went to a witch that can conjure up spirits. (1 Sam 28:7).
“And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night:” (1 Sam 28:8) Why did he disguise himself? “A hypocrite will at length be detected, that he may be detested.” (Trapp’s Complete Commentary of Old & New Testaments, emphasis added). Saul being Israel’s King meanwhile at the same time practicing divination, if any found out all would have abandon him for saying one thing yet doing another.
This verse continues, “and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.” Or as it should read, “Divine to me through necromancy, and bring me up whomsoever I tell thee.” (K&D Commentary). Does this sound like someone who obeyed the true God? Absolutely Not! Saul was completely fallen from Grace at this point and practiced paganism and sorcery.
Then, “said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.” Saul wanted Samuel! If he obeyed God he would know that Samuel was dead and “slept with his fathers.” He would know that God says you cannot speak to the dead. But Saul rejected the faith and turned to paganism which believes that the dead are still conscious after this life and have an immortal soul. It is in this belief that Saul was counting on to get some guidance.
“And when the woman saw Samuel,” (v.12). Was it Samuel she saw? No! The narrator is just telling what they “perceived” (see v.14) was Samuel because that’s who Saul wanted.
Actually her description of what she saw is in the next verse and she does not say it was Samuel, she says, “for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.” (v.13).
The plural word Elohim is used in the Bible not only for the true God but also for false gods (Gen 35:2; Ex 12:12; 20:3). What the medium saw was a false god or evil spirit impersonating Samuel.
A further study we notice that, “ ‘Gods’—this is the rendering of the Hebrew word Elohim. The English Version, however, follows the majority of the Versions here… however, reasoning from Saul’s words which immediately follow—“What is his form?”—suppose the Elohim to signify, not a plurality of appearances, but one God-like form: something majestic and august” (Ellicott Commentary).
In fact one translation renders the verse, “And the woman said unto Saul, I saw a GOD-LIKE BEING coming up out of the earth” (Jewish translation). The woman merely recorded that she saw a “god-like being” ascending out of the earth, not Samuel. The account continues in Verse 14.
“And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.” (v.14). Saul “perceived” from her description that it was Samuel, not from what he saw himself but from the description of the witch, which led him to another error, accepting the voice as that of Samuel. 1 Chronicles 10:13 tell us plainly that Saul had inquired after a familiar spirit and NOT of Samuel the prophet.
The woman described what she saw as:
· A godlike being
· An old man with a mantle
Not one word that it was Samuel! Of course, Saul wanted to see Samuel-the woman thought she could raise Samuel-Saul reasoned in his mind (perceived) that it was Samuel. But it wasn’t. What was it?
Demonic Spirit Deceived them
Satan is the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2)-he is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4)-he can TRANSFORM HIMSELF into an ANGEL OF LIGHT (2 Cor. 11:14). Satan-and his demons-have the power to produce visions-seemingly to appear in other human forms, in other animal forms-in various shapes and sizes. 1 Samuel 28 describes a demon bringing forth an apparition in the form of an old man covered over with a huge blanket or mantle.
The next verse gives us the understanding of who they saw and spoke to, “And Samuel said to Saul,” (v.15). Again the narrator is just telling what they “perceived” (see v.14) was Samuel.
“Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.” (v.15). Notice this phrase “to bring me up” that is used here, and in verses 8 and 11. Verse 13 says, “I saw gods ascending out of the earth.”
The fact that the spirit rises “out of the earth” is a telling detail. The Bible consistently indicates that spirits that come from the earth are not from God, as His messengers come from Him in heaven (see Galatians 1:8; Revelation 10:1; 14:6, 17; 15:1; 18:1; 20:1; etc.). Spirits associated with the earth are demons, who come from Satan, the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4; see Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2; Luke 4:5-7; Revelation 12:9; 13:1-2, 11; 16:13-14). The writer of the book is indicating that this spirit is not Samuel but a demon impersonating him.
Some argue that in “vv.16-19 Samuel knew everything that happened to Saul and what would happen in the battle as well; and that he and his sons would die. So it must be Samuel’s immortal soul from heaven and not a demon.” However, some points must be made:
1. Demons are aware what is going on in the affairs of men and intervene in events (see Daniel 10:12-13; Rev 12:9; Matthew 4:8-9; Eph 6:12; 1 Chron 21:1; Job 1:7; Rev 2:10)
2. When it comes to demons telling Saul about his death and his sons. Many times we see demons telling the truth. They said Jesus is the son of God, (Luke 4:41). Was this a prophecy? Telling him what would happen before it happens? God warned of false prophets being accurate about the future yet they were still false prophets due to the source of their prophecy (Deut 13:1-3). Demons know the future and have false prophets that will see visions. (1 Kings 18:19). Therefore it would seem that there are also prophecies from the demons. God says that it’s a test and Saul failed the test sealing his fate.
3. If this was Samuel, and he was a man of God therefore he would be in heaven. However why does “Samuel” ask Saul, “Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me UP?” If Samuel was in heaven, he wouldn’t have come up; he would’ve come down, because God’s messengers come from Heaven (Galatians 1:8).
4. Why would God break his own law? Warning against consulting “familiar spirits” (Lev 19:31; Isa 8:19), a transgression that was punished by death (Lev 20:6, 27)? In fact, Saul himself died because “he was unfaithful to the Lord . . . and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance, and did not seek guidance from the Lord” (1 Chron 10:13-14). The reason the death penalty was inflicted for consulting “familiar spirits” is that these were “evil spirits,” or fallen angels impersonating the dead. Such a practice would eventually lead the people to worship the devil rather than God. God hardly could have prescribed the death penalty for communicating with the spirits of deceased loved ones if such spirits existed and if such a communication were possible. There is no moral reason for God to outlaw on the pain of death, the human desire to communicate with deceased loved ones. The problem is that such communication is impossible, because the dead are unconscious and do not communicate with the living. Any communication that occurs is not with the spirit of the dead, but with evil spirits-this is why it was outlawed!
5. Lastly, for such an interpretation that assumes that the Lord would speak to Saul by a medium, a practice He had outlawed on the pain of death, after, he had refused to communicate with Saul by legitimate means (1 Sam 28:6)? A communication from Samuel, speaking as a prophet, indirectly would be a communication from God. Yet the Bible expressly states that the Lord refused to communicate with Saul (1 Sam 28:6). Why would God reject to talk to Saul through Samuel the legitimate way, but speak to him through a medium?
King Saul clearly abandoned the faith and practiced and believed sorcery and paganism including the belief of the immortal soul. These scriptures in no way proved that humans have an immortal soul. Instead the Bible says when humans die they are unconscious in the grave asleep awaiting the resurrection from the dead, and there is NO communication with the dead. Samuel is not in heaven, as Jesus confirms, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven” (John 3:13).
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1. Pulpit Commentary
2. Josephus (Antiqu. l. 6. c. 8. sect. 2.)
3. Ellicott Commentary
4. Jamieson Fausset and Brown Commentary
5. Keil and Delitzsch Commentary
6. John Trapp Complete Commentary
7. Jewish translation of the Bible
*Read our booklet Life after death? Here for further study.