Written by: Don Carson
THERE ARE SEVERAL QUESTIONS about the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28) that we cannot answer. Was the prophet Samuel actually called up by her mediumistic activity, or was this some sort of demonic deception? If Samuel was called up, was this an exception of what God normally allows or sanctions? And if it really is Samuel, why does he bother answering Saul at all, thereby satisfying Saul's lust for knowledge of the future, by whatever means, even means that were specifically condemned in Israel?
While it is difficult to provide confident answers to some of these questions, certain points stand out.
(1) What is evil in spiritism is not that it never works (some of it may be manipulative hocus-pocus; some of it may actually provide answers), but that it plays into the hands of the demonic. Above all, it turns people away from God, who alone controls both the present and the future. To find guidance for one's life by such means will not only lead one astray sooner or later, it is already a badge of rebellion--a terrible thumbing of the nose at God.
(2) Saul is playing the part of the hypocrite. On the one hand, he has banished mediums and spiritists from the land (1 Sam. 28:3); on the other, he desperately wants one himself. Had Saul lived longer, there is no way this two-facedness would have long remained hidden from the people. The very foundations of order and justice in a society are unraveling when the powers that be indulge not only in the personal hypocrisies that afflict a fallen race, but in public breaches of the law they are sworn to uphold.
(3) When God does not answer by any of the means he has himself designated (1 Sam. 28:6, 15), this does not constitute warrant for defiance of God, but for repentance, perseverance, and patience. There is something dismally pathetic about seeking God's counsel while happily taking action that God himself has prohibited.
(4) The heart of Saul's sin is what it has been for a long time. He wants a domesticated god, a god like the genie in Aladdin's lamp, one pledged to do wonderful things for him as long as he holds the lamp. He somehow feels that David now holds the lamp and wishes he could get the power back, but does not perceive that the real God is to be worshiped, reverenced, obeyed, feared, and loved--unconditionally. Here is a man who thinks of himself as at the center of the universe; whatever gods exist must serve him. If the covenant God of Israel does not help him as he wishes, then Saul is prepared to find other gods. This is the black heart of all idolatry.