He said to her [the witch of Endor], "In what form is he?"
And she said, "An old man comes up, covered with a mantle". And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and made obeisance.
The purpose of today's post is a little different than in past Sundays; I want to show you how we in the Western world can sometimes miss the meaning of Scipture ... but first a little background. Saul has lost his favor with God, and is desperately trying to cling to his throne as King of Israel. He has chased after David in hopes of defeating and killing his rival. In the meantime, the prophet Samuel has died, and along with him Saul's connection to the Lord. The fading king attempts to seek the Lord's direction, but God no longer answers him, "neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets" (1 Samuel 28:4).
The mention of Urim, refers us to the elements on the breastplate of judgment worn by Aaron, as Chief Priest (Exodus 28). Urim was the Light of God, and Thummin was the Perfection of God. Together they evoked the Divine Counsel of God. When Aaron consulted God about a matter before the people, God would make Himself known to Aaron. As 1 Samuel 28:4 tells us, God did not extend advice to Saul because he no longer had the Light (Urim) of God shining on him and could not call upon the Divine Counsel of God.
Saul is deprived of God's counsel and that of Samuel, the prophet. So, what does he do? He asks his servants to find him the Witch of Endor, a medium who could summon spirits. He disguises himself and goes to see her. And who does he want her to call up? Samuel, his trusted prophet and advisor. The witch calls up the spirit, and she apparently recognizes Samuel, and then realizes that it is King Saul who has deceived her; the very king who had "cut off" the mediums and wizards from the land. She fears for her life, but Saul assures her she will not be punished, and then asks the witch to describe Samuel. We have now arrived at our selected verse and the object of this post.
What are we to make of this verse and those that surround it in Scripture? Could it really be Samuel, God's prophet that has "come up"; that has appeared as a "ghost" or "spirit"? For hundreds of years many in the Christian Church have understood this passage to indicate that it was not Samuel who actually appeared, but a demonic spirit. This is due to our Western mindset and our interpretation of the Bible from a Western context.
In that vein, here is how the Modern Church interprets this series of events in 1 Samuel, Chapter 28 .... God permitted the devil to put on the shape of Samuel. Saul, who no longer received the love of God's Truth, was given up to a strong delusion and a lie. The Church will say, "Why did he not realize that Samuel, a man of God, would not have come up out of the earth, but would rather have come down from heaven? Therefore this has to be an evil spirit! But instead of humbling himself and repenting before God, Saul seeks the spirits of the dead and the devil; so God gave him over to deception. The spirit also reveals that because the Lord has departed from Saul, God will hand him over to death the next day at the hand of the Philistines.
Now, I would like to offer another interpretation of this event. For the last few years, I have grown into a different understanding of the Bible than that of the mainstream Church. Our Bible speaks to all believers and followers of Jesus Christ, but God breathed the inspiration for His Book into the minds and hearts of Hebrew and Greek men. The Bible must be interpreted from a Middle Eastern viewpoint... it is a Middle Eastern book. Therefore, we have to look through Hebrew eyes to gain clear understanding of God's intentions.
So, here is how the nation of Israel and Hebrews would interpret this Scripture .... The spirit who appears to Saul is actually the real Samuel, who has been residing down in Sheol since his death. This is where all the dead resided at that time because, remember, Jesus has not yet come, been crucified, and descended into Sheoul to take the captives with Him to heaven (See Ephesians 4:8-10, and Psalm 68:18). Before Christ's ascension, the spirits of all the dead were waiting in Abraham's bosom (Sheol) to be redeemed. Christ did that as explained in 1 Peter 3:18-20.
Furthermore, when the spirit of Samuel predicts Saul's death the next day, the Hebrew mind discerns that the spirit could only have known that information if God had sent him. God would not send an evil spirit with His information; therefore this spirit who claims to be Samuel is actually God's prophet. Also, the Hebrew mind knows that this could not be an evil spirit sent by the devil, because Satan does not have access to God's plans. He is limited in his knowledge of God's strategy, and would not be able to correctly predict Saul's death.
But the Western Church was too uncomfortable with the idea of Sheol, or the underworld of the dead, and they had to explain this appearance of Samuel as an act of an evil spirit. But if you let Scripture say what it really says, you can see the Truth right there on the page.
I can't tell you how blessed I have been to re-read my Bible from the context of a Hebraic and Middle Eastern context. It has opened up my understanding to new heights. Passages that have been confusing and cloudy, and didn't make sense to my Western mind, suddenly come alive in the light of a Hebrew perception. Praise God, for His unceasing revelation of Himself through His Word!