Friday, June 10, 2011

Saul and Sorcery: Who Really Showed Up that Night

There are two general, opposite, and very interesting thoughts--convictions, actually--being espoused regarding the ghost that really appeared that night in that dark hideaway in Endor: was it a familiar spirit (a demon) in disguise as the Prophet Samuel? Or was it the real thing--the Prophet Samuel himself?

A Demon In Disguise?

Because of the involvement of demons, we can at this point understand why many readers believe that it was not the real Prophet Samuel but a masquerading spirit that appeared to Saul on the night of the consultation. The Biblical consideration to this is compelling.

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It is a Biblical tenet that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). From this verse, it is understood that the spirit of the deceased is immediately taken to one of two spiritual worlds: heaven or hell. Jesus Christ used this principle in a parable He taught in Luke 16:22 and 23:

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.”

“Abraham’s side” in the passage is another name for heaven. In the tale, the rich man requested Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth and warn his brothers about hell (verse 27). The patriarch ruled the appeal out of the question, claiming that the mortal agents of “Moses and the Prophets” serving the purpose of warning other mortals (verse 29). This suggests that a sort of pre-existing mandate stands against heavenly souls returning to the land of the living, imposing that mortal souls that have expired from their earthly lives have no longer any business in the plane of flesh and blood.

Apparitions of the dead seen by the living are, therefore, demon spirits in disguise deceiving and paralyzing hearts and minds under the power of grief or fear. And such was accomplished with Saul after the words of Samuel’s ghost sent him sprawling on the ground petrified (1 Samuel 28:20). Needless to say, the ghost and the entire episode rebuilt the witch’s confidence in her spirit worship and in herself. Then using a simple gesture of urging the king to dine to regain his strength, she confirmed that she had gained the respect of three men who held the conviction that would not suffer a witch to live.

“When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, ‘Look, your maidservant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.’ He refused and said, ‘I will not eat.’ But his men joined the woman in urging him, and he listened to them. He got up from the ground and sat on the couch. The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate” (verses 21 to 25).

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The Real Thing?

Another perspective holds that it was the real ghost of the Prophet Samuel that appeared before the king. Throughout 1 Samuel 28, no direct reference or indication was made regarding any demonic deception. The texts instead plainly evoke “Samuel” and not anything like, “the spirit that masquerade as Samuel,” or “the impersonating spirit,” or “the spirit mimic,” or even “the familiar spirit.” Examine these verses:

“When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out…” (verse 12).

“Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground” (verse 14).

Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’” (verse 15)

Samuel said, ‘Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has turned away from you and become your enemy?” (verse 16)

The Bible itself confirms that it was “Samuel” that appeared that night. The "Samuel" which  was first mentioned in verse 3 was the same one throughout the rest of the chapter.

Though it is a relatively easier and convenient way to explain the appearance of a man of God in a necromantic rite, a lot of Bible students will vehemently resist the suggestion that God would actually use the dark art to send His Word. Well, first of all, God did not use necromancy as an avenue for His message. When the witch saw Samuel rising from the ground, she was no longer in control. God had by then intervened—or interrupted. By His sovereign will.

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Observe that in the eleventh verse, the woman begins her ritual in full confidence of her ability to summon any spirit from the ground. But by the time she recognized the Prophet Samuel, her confidence drained away as quickly as air escapes a punctured oxygen tank underwater. She knew she had no power or authority to summon this man of God; when she cried out at the top of her voice (verse 12), she knew she was no longer in control of the beckoning. That night, the witch came face-to-face with the same helplessness that paralyzed the Egyptian magicians who tried to discredit Moses: “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).

God and His Sovereign Will: His Right to Intervene

God did not soften His policy on the practice and practitioners of black magic. He did not cooperate that night with the power of the witch. He instead stuck His finger and came in uninvited into the affair, giving Saul the answer he sought and the confirmation of Samuel’s prophecy regarding how this king’s life of rebellion ended up in divination (1 Samuel 15:23).

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 The sovereignty of God is one important aspect that many modern Christians forget in considering His will. For example, certain Charismatic Christian movements during the latter decades of the twentieth century have overstressed the role of faith as a main element that “moves” God, smearing a ridiculous analogy of a vending machine responding to a drop of a
coin in the coin slot. In the same mistake, we have been absorbed in learning the things that “move” God but disregard the fundamental fact that God wields the right to do whatever He wants. Though His Word assures us that He will do what is right and just, He retains the choice to move His sovereign will without securing anybody’s permission.

It was through His sovereign will that He chose Saul king over all Israel (1 Samuel 9:16). And as Saul later in his reign chose to impose his will over God’s, God in turn chose to impose His will to abandon Saul in the last years of his reign and interfere in the séance of his final night on earth.

[We got more, so stay tuned! Yeah, I know, I know it takes around a month, but hey, I'm workin' on that! Like now: a few minutes after I've uploaded the first Saul and Sorcery this month, here I am with the second one! Ain't that somethin'?! Gives ya more to expect next time we continue our exposition on the great King Saul.]

Saul and Sorcery: Of Idols and Demons

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One of King Saul’s decent accomplishments was the banishment of all mediums and spiritists from his kingdom (1 Samuel 28:3). A great dread of Saul fell upon all witches and wizards, prompting them to flee either to regions beyond Israel’s borders or to enemy-occupied territories within the country—so that when he himself later suddenly needed the services of one, he had to skirt incognito around a massive Philistine army assembled over at Shunem (verse 4). He specifically headed for the ancient Israelite town of Endor. It is an intriguing fact that way before the Prophet Samuel ever met Saul, the man of God had already hinted on this place through the mention of “Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor” (1 Samuel 12:9). Endor lay around the vicinity where this great and ruthless Canaanite general met his defeat in the hands of Barak the Judge. Two hundred years later, Endor came into Philistine control, an ideal place for a sorceress to ply her trade, free from the judgment of Saul. Yet even in this supposed refuge, the terror that gripped the witch when the disguised king came to consult her was such that converted her notoriety into a dagger on her neck.

“’Consult a spirit for me,’ [Saul] said, ‘and bring up for me the one I name.’ But the woman said to him, ‘Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?’ (verses 8-9)

The statement of the witch revealed a terrible fear enshrouding her, forcing her to hide away. It appeared that the fear of God continued to be seen in Saul even as the Spirit had already departed from him. The dread was so great that no bitter grumbling or vengeful slander against the king was noted of the woman.

A Life for a Life: Saul Saves the Witch from God

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Whether the witch was an Israelite or not, the Bible is silent on the matter. But the kingdom was well-known for its law against those who dabbled with the occult arts. If one be caught in Israel summoning a ghost, Leviticus 20:27 had one prescription for him: death by stoning. Unlike in our impression of the punishment, a person condemned to be stoned was not merely pelted to death with fist-sized rocks by a surrounding group of community members. This will take a protracted length of time for the victim to keel over and die. Stoning to death was quick, facilitated by an assailant who smashed the skull of the fated with the biggest rock his strength could wield. It was usual to take a single blow to finish the job; but in cases when the victim survives, another or the same executioner repeats the blow with the same or another, more fatal rock until there is no longer any life in the victim’s body left to drain away. It was a very ignominious way to die, the most shameful method applied by the Israelites to the most shameless violations of human and spiritual rights. In the context of ignominy, stoning accomplished for the Israelites what crucifixion later did for the Romans. And in this context, we could somehow imagine the terror that paralyzed the woman when she realized she was caught red-handed in the same gaslight with the Royal Witchkiller himself!

“Then the woman asked, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’ ‘Bring up Samuel,’ he said. 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!’” (verses 11-13)

For a person who had worked with death, she was certain that the ghosts she summoned by her sorcery had now come for her. But Saul assured her her life:

“Saul swore to her by the Lord, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this’” (verse 10).

According to 1 Chronicles 10:13, Saul committed this violation: “he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance.” It was yet another case of Saul changing his mind. He allowed a sorceress to live when the Law of Moses stipulated death (Exodus 22:18). He himself consulted one when the Law prohibited it (19:31). Saul sealed his fate more when he protected the medium from his hand. While God prescribed severe judgment on any Israelite who turns to an occultist (Leviticus 20:6), how much graver it would be for a king who does the same!

“So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse” (1 Chronicles 13:14).

The king’s weakened physical condition grew worse after the séance. In gratitude for her life, the medium returned the favor to Saul by successfully pleading to him to dine on the slaughtered calf she prepared. After this, we no longer have anything on the witch again. All we can surmise is that she was delivered from her fear, which is more than what we could say about Saul.

The Sin of Witchcraft and the Evil of Idolatry: The Link Between Idols and Demons

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The whole point why witchcraft infuriates God is that it is run by demons. Whether we are talking about voodoo with its Catholic trappings or the Kabala in all its Jewish sophistication, witchcraft is greatly enmeshed with the practice of idolatry—another demonically woven misbelief. The collusiveness of idolatry and witchcraft is so seamless that it reaches a stage when telling them apart becomes utterly irrelevant. It can also be said that witchcraft is idolatry’s credibility. Though the Bible repeatedly reminds us of the initial worthlessness and pointlessness of worshiping idols, the lure, however, oozing out of this false faith has gathered for its own a fierce following that could insulate itself from incendiary tirades of truth and even deny the existence of the Living God to the point of death. An undercurrent that provides substance to this audacity is witchcraft.

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When King Saul forced his own directives against God’s specific orders, he had deliberately carved a path from rebellion to witchcraft. Hence, the Prophet Samuel’s prophetic denunciation: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (1 Samuel 15:23, King James Version). Equally as important, note that the Prophet also exposed the king’s arrogance in the context of idolatry—“and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (Ibid., New International Version). The Prophet was precise when he cited Saul’s “stubbornness” (Ibid., King James Version). Saul continued to hold on to the throne as Israel’s king even when the Prophet Samuel declared two times, in their final encounter in 1 Samuel 15, that God had rejected him as king right then; the Divine verdict was even reinforced through the allegory of the Prophet’s robe being torn away (verses 27 to 28). After all this, Saul started down a trail haunted by demons. In 16:14, with the Spirit of the Lord gone from his life, an evil spirit came to terrorize him; in 18:10, another evil spirit oppresses him and arouses him to kill David; in the twenty-eighth chapter, he decides to consult a witch. After his grim death, the Philistines take his body and offer it up as a victory offering to their idols.

“The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among the people. They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan” (31:8 to 10).

It is uncanny how the Bible substantiates with several references the unholy bond between idolatry and witchcraft, in the premise that both are devises of demons.

The Apostle Paul taught about the collusion idols and demons in 1 Corinthians 10:20 to 21: 

“No, but the sacrifice of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s Table and the table of demons.”

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The Apostle John the Revelator documented how people of the future would “not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood” (Revelation 9:20). In association to idolatry, the Apostle identifies into its web the wickedness and perversions all “murders, the magic arts…sexual immorality” and “thefts” (verse 21). Even in enumerating those condemned to everlasting torment, the mere mention of “those who practice the magic arts” provided him the inclination to include “the idolaters” (21:8).

[More to come! Oh, yeah. The Bible version I used, unless indicated otherwise, was the New International Version.]