1 In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. And Achish said to David, “Understand that you and your men are to go out with me in the army.” 2 David said to Achish, “Very well, you shall know what your servant can do.” And Achish said to David, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.”
3 Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. 4 The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”
8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” 9 The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 10 But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” 11 Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” 13 The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” 14 He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.
15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” 16 And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”
20 Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. 21 And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, “Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me. 22 Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.” 23 He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed. 24 Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, 25 and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night. (1 Samuel 28:1-25)
Instead of dealing with the entire text, I will focus my thoughts on some of the key questions which have long been debated on this chapter of Scripture. Did the woman actually raise the spirit of Samuel? Was the one who appeared actually Samuel? Does this episode support the position that certain individuals can and should contact the dead for counsel?
If we consider the possibilities of what actually happened at En-dor, I see the following being the options for an explanation as well as an answer to the first 2 questions:
1. The woman actually raised the spirit of Samuel appeared.
2. The woman actually raised a spirit who pretended to be Samuel.
3. The woman did not raise a spirit, nevertheless, a spirit pretending to be Samuel appeared.
4. The woman did not raise a spirit, nevertheless, the spirit of Samuel appeared.
The woman, one who has performed this forbidden practice before, appears surprised at what takes place. Verses 12 and 13 reveal that she was not expecting what was taking place. It is very possible her previous attempts at contacting the dead were most likely fake, hence, she always knew what was going to happen. But that is not the case in this situation. I don't believe the woman actually did the "raising" of the spirit. She may have went through the motions of doing so but, in the end, she is as surprised as anyone as to the results. This interpretation of the text eliminates possibilities 1 and 2.
But a spirit did appear. Hence, the next question concerns the identity of that spirit. Is it Samuel or is it not? Verse 14 indicates Saul knew it was Samuel and he certainly knew Samuel's appearance. Verse 15 indicates it was Samuel speaking to Saul. Now, it is possible, some spirit has come forth appearing in both form and word to be Samuel but who is not actually Samuel. Angels often take the form of a man in Scripture. Certainly that is within the realm of possibility. Some angel has appeared as Samuel.
Yet, if this spirit appears as Samuel and claims to be Samuel (explaining verse 15), then this spirit must be demonic for no angel of the God of truth would ever commit such a deception. Therefore, if this spirit is NOT actually the spirit of Samuel, it must be a demon. Such an act is well within the capability of Satan and his demon followers. It would be easy for a demon to fool both the king and the woman. Perhaps demons had answered the woman's pleas in the past, appearing as certain loved ones for those who inquired. If the woman did not raise Samuel's spirit, rather, a demon appeared on its own as Samuel, then the 3rd possibility is the solution.
But again, this is problematic for one essential reason. The words given by the spirit in the subsequent verses are exactly what take place. Why would a demonic spirit arise as Samuel and then give Saul a truthful message? Such behavior is far too uncharacteristic of a demon, a follower of the "father of lies".
That leaves us with possibility 4 which I believe is the correct interpretation. The woman went into her routine to raise the spirit of Samuel and Samuel's spirit actually arose and spoke to Saul. The woman was shocked to see Samuel actually come forth. This was not the result she expected for never before had her routine produced a true spirit!
The spirit which appeared was, indeed, the spirit of Samuel from Sheol (the place of the dead). Samuel shares with Saul the truth about his future which was completely fulfilled. The one who raised his spirit to give Saul this message of doom was God Himself, the one who is "the resurrection and the life", the one who has the power over life and death. None who believes in the God of the Bible can doubt God's ability to permit the spirit of a deceased individual from speaking to someone who is living.
The fact God so raised Samuel's spirit on this occasion does not imply He will do so at the request of an individual. God repeatedly condemns the practice of attempting to communicate with the dead (necromancy, e.g., Deut. 18:9-12). For reasons not revealed by our Lord, He chose, in this specific situation, to allow Samuel once again to declare His message to this failed king. I think to say much more about the event would be more speculation than interpretation.
I should note that not all Christian scholars agree with my understanding of this text. Martin Luther, himself, wrote the following about this text:
"From this we may easily learn, that the coming up of Samuel was an apparition, 1 Sam. 28, 13, inasmuch as it is altogether contrary to this commandment of God. It is therefore not to be assumed that the real prophet Samuel came up by the power of the witch of En-dor. But that the Scriptures are silent on this point, not telling us whether it was the real of false Samuel, is because they demand of everybody to remember well that through Moses God forbade to consult the dead. And he never revokes his Word, as Job says and Balaam also, Num. 23, 19. How can the witch have any power over the saints, who are resting in God's hands?"
I reserve the privilege of conscience to change my mind upon further study of God's Word!