Necromancer of Endor

The prophetess who foretold future events in the reign of King Saul was simply called the Necromancer of Endor (also the “witch” of Endor). When Saul saw the Philistines had gathered together and pitched camp in Shunem, he feared the buildup of hostile forces and the coming war. He decided to assemble all of Israel and pitch his own camp in Gilboa. He prayed to God for insight and inspiration. God didn't answer his prayers, send messages to him in his dreams, or speak to Saul through the prophets.

Because she knew that Saul had recently rid the country of all wizards and soothsayers, the woman was afraid to meet the king. She thought he was attempting to expose her prophetic gift by asking her to invoke a ghost. When she did what he requested, she would be trapped. Saul put on a disguise and, with two other men, went to see her at night.

As already noted, the woman feared reprisals, and refused to give Saul predictions of his future. Not realizing who he was, she said to 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?” (1 Samuel 28:9).

Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. (1 Samuel 28:7)

The Necromancer Conjures Samuel

Saul swore an oath that no harm would come to her. She finally agreed to his wishes and asked whom she should conjure. He replied, “Samuel.” The woman had a vision of an old man with a shawl draped over his shoulders. Saul believed it was Samuel, and asked him to predict the future outcome of the war with the Philistines. Samuel confirmed Saul's worst fears: The king not only would not prevail against his enemies, but because he had disobeyed God, he was going to die, along with his sons.

Necromancer is an old-fashioned word with a root form in Greek, Latin, and Old English. It also means “sorcery.” A necromancer, in Old Testament usage, was one who used black magic to predict the future by means of communicating with the dead, rather than hearing the voice of God. The Necromancer of Endor conjured a deceased prophet of Saul's choosing.

The Necromancer Offers Bread to the King

King Saul's worst fears had been confirmed, and he collapsed to the ground. The necromancer told him that she was going to give him a morsel of bread for strength. Saul had not eaten in days, but he refused, saying he didn't want food. But the woman and Saul's servants convinced the king that he ought to eat before going back to his men, so she made some unleavened bread and prepared a fatted calf, and the king and his men ate before leaving to meet up with his army (1 Samuel 28:20–25).

Just as shamans summoned spirits or ancestral ghosts, necromancers or witches called forth such beings using specific intonations and incantations. Necromancy was widespread among the Chaldeans and Babylonians. The book of Deuteronomy warns against the use of necromancers for consulting the dead (Deuteronomy 18:9–12).

The Prophecy Proves True

The battle between the Philistines and the Israelites ensued, resulting in defeat of Saul's forces. His sons, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Melchishua died in battle. Saul asked his armor bearer to thrust a sword through him, but the man was afraid and refused. King Saul then took his sword and fell upon it. (1 Samuel 31:4). Thus, the prophecy of Samuel through the Necromancer proved true.

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