Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious
group variously known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children
of God,” or the “Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian
This page is one in a series on the
Family practice of contacting the dead, who are said to act as 'spirit
One of the most
controversial Family teachings concerns their long-standing belief that
Christians may freely communicate with “spirit helpers.” To the Family,
spirit helpers are people who have died, or angels, or other
spiritual beings who are active in the ‘spirit world,’ an unseen
dimension that coexists with the visible material world. According to
the Family, these beings are unrestricted by human limitations and
actively assist Christians in their work for the Lord. For a general
summary of Family teaching regarding spirit helpers and an introduction
to this series, click here.
The Bible recounts that on the night before his final battle, King Saul
went to a witch in order to contact the prophet Samuel, who had died
some time before. The Family claims that this story sets a precedent for
contacting people who have died, especially as Samuel was a godly man, a
true prophet of God. In general, the Family does not condone going to
witches, but this passage is used in the Family as proof that contacting
the dead is in fact possible.
This page examines the
story of Saul and the witch in light of the Family practices of
contacting the dead.
Saul and the witch
was in trouble. Israel had been fighting the Philistines for many years,
and now they were invading again. The prophet Samuel was dead (1 Sam
25:1) and it seems there was no replacement.
28:1,3,4,5 Now it came about in those days that the Philistines
gathered their armed camps for war, to fight against Israel. 3 Now
Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in
Ramah, his own city. 4 So the Philistines gathered together and came
and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they
camped in Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he
was afraid and his heart trembled greatly.
Under the anointing of
the spirit of God, Saul had been a fearless king. But when God "rejected
him from being king" (1 Sam 15:26), the spirit of God departed (1 Sam
16:14) and Saul's courage also departed. The two armies were camping
only a few miles from each other, and the Philistines looked formidable.
Saul needed assurance
that he would not face defeat in the forthcoming battle. He first
attempted to talk to the Lord.
1 Sam 28:6 When Saul
inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams
or by Urim or by prophets. NASU
The Lord, however, was
not responding. He had rejected Saul and already chosen David to be his
successor (1 Sam 16:13). It seems Saul did not try very hard to inquire
of the Lord, because in another account of the same story, the record
categorically states that He "did not inquire of the Lord" (1 Chron
10:14). Regardless of his effort on this occasion, however, Saul had
never been keen on full obedience to God, sometimes only partially
obeying God's instructions, and sometimes giving a show of obedience,
while disobeying the key commands.
It did not take long for
Saul to disobey the Lord again. After his cursory attempt to inquire of
the Lord was unsuccessful, he immediately began looking for spiritual
help from another direction.
1 Sam 28:7 Then Saul
said to his servants, "Seek 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 woman who is a medium at En-dor." NASU
He had to ask his
servants for help, because he himself had cleansed Israel from this sin,
probably under the prophet Samuel's direction. Saul had decreed that all
mediums were to be put to death (1 Sam 28:9).
1 Sam 28:3 And Saul
had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists.
His servants knew of a
witch at End-dor. En-dor was several miles into Philistine territory, so
to get there, Saul had to make a dangerous journey in disguise past the
enemy camp into the land of his enemies.
1 Sam 28:8 Then Saul
disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two
men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said,
"Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to
Apparently mediums were
those who consulted the spirits of the dead, whether through occultic
practices or through deception. The NIV has Saul saying, "Consult a
spirit for me" and the NKJV says "Conduct a seance for me."
The woman was concerned
for her safety, knowing King Saul's decree, even though she was in
1 Sam 28:9-10 But the
woman said to him, "Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has
cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are
you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?" 10
Saul vowed to her by the Lord, saying, "As the Lord lives, no
punishment shall come upon you for this thing." NASU
receiving a personal guarantee of safety, the woman was obliging.
1 Sam 28:11 Then the
woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" And he said, "Bring up
Samuel for me." NASU
Saul wanted to speak to
Samuel. He desperately wanted some assurance that the forthcoming battle
would go well for him.
1 Sam 28:12 When the
woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman
spoke to Saul, saying, "Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul."
Apparently the woman was
successful, for not only did she see Samuel, she saw through the king's
Was this really Samuel?
The MacArthur Study Bible says:
Though questions have
arisen as to the nature of Samuel's appearance, the text clearly
indicates that Samuel, not an apparition, was evident to the eyes of
the medium. God miraculously permitted the actual spirit of Samuel
to speak. Because she understood her inability to raise the dead in
this manner, she immediately knew 1) that it must have been by the
power of God and 2) that her disguised inquirer must be Saul.
The Keil and Delitzsch
Commentary on the Old Testament says:
The woman then
commenced her conjuring arts. This must be supplied from the
context, as v. 12 merely states what immediately ensued. "When the
woman saw Samuel, she cried aloud," sc., at the form which appeared
to her so unexpectedly. These words imply most unquestionably that
the woman saw an apparition which she did not anticipate, and
therefore that she was not really able to conjure up departed
spirits or persons who had died, but that she either merely
pretended to do so, or if her witchcraft was not mere trickery and
delusion, but had a certain demoniacal background, that the
appearance of Samuel differed essentially from everything she had
experienced and effected before, and therefore filled her with alarm
and horror. The very fact, whoever, that she recognised Saul as soon
as Samuel appeared, precludes us from declaring her art to have been
nothing more than jugglery and deception; for she said to him, "Why
hast thou cheated me, as thou art certainly Saul?" i.e., why hast
thou deceived me as to thy person? why didst thou not tell me that
thou wast king Saul?
David Guzik says:
the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice: Why the
medium so shocked? Probably she was a fraud, and most of her
dealings with the spirit realm were mere tricks. Now, Samuel really
appears from the world beyond, and she is completely surprised to
have a real encounter with the spirit realm.
addition, we can say that this medium was familiar with the presence
of demonic spirits, the presence of the Holy Spirit was probably
completely unfamiliar to her. The holy presence of the Holy Spirit
may have seemed terrifying to her. "The indications are that this
was an extraordinary event for her, and a frightening one because
she was not in control." (Baldwin)
is going on here? This strange incident is controversial, and
several different approaches have been used to understand this
passage. Here are four of the most commonly suggested possibilities.
believe that this was a hallucination of the medium. But this
doesn't make sense, because it doesn't explain why the medium was so
frightened. It doesn't explain why Saul saw Samuel also, and why
Samuel spoke to Saul, not to the medium.
believe that this was a deception by the medium. But this also isn't
an adequate explanation, for the same reasons given to the previous
believe that this was a demonic impersonation of Samuel. It is
possible that the medium, with her occultic powers, summoned a
demonic spirit that deceived both her and Saul. But this suggestion
is also inadequate, because it does not speak to the issue of
motive. After all, what advantage does Satan gain by "Samuel's"
words to Saul?
believe that this was a genuine (but strange) appearance of Samuel.
This is the best explanation, because it is supported by the
reaction of the medium, who got more than she bargained for. It is
also supported by the truth of what Samuel said (and the text says
that Samuel said it). Some may say that it is impossible for Samuel
to reappear in some way, coming from the world beyond back to this
world. But Moses and Elijah also came from the world beyond back to
this world when they appeared with Jesus at the Transfiguration
Clarke makes an additional valuable point: "I believe that the woman
of En-dor had no power over Samuel; and that no incantation can
avail over any departed saint of God, nor indeed over any human
disembodied spirit." Samuel really came, but not because the medium
called for him. Samuel appeared because God had a special purpose
was God's purpose in sending such a strange appearance of Samuel?
This appearance of Samuel accomplished two things: it re-confirmed
the coming judgment upon King Saul's in a dramatic way, and it
taught the medium a powerful lesson about the dangers of her
believe Samuel did actually appear to Saul; and that he was sent by
the especial mercy of God to warn this infatuated king of his
approaching death, that he might have an opportunity to make his
peace with his Maker." (Clarke)
we close our ears to God, He will find unusual - and perhaps
uncomfortable - ways to speak to us. "That he did appear to Saul,
there can be no question, but he did not come in response to her
call. He was sent of God, for the express purpose of rebuking Saul
for his unholy traffic with these evil things, and to pronounce his
David Guzik's Bible commentaries
To the great surprise of
the witch, King Saul actually got the person he had asked for.
1 Sam 28:13-14 The
king said to her, "Do not be afraid; but what do you see?" And the
woman said to Saul, "I see a divine being coming up out of the
earth." 14 He said to her, "What is his form?" And she said, "An old
man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe." And Saul knew that
it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did
As if Saul was not scared
enough already, Samuel utterly terrified him
with a stinging rebuke of condemnation and judgement.
1 Sam 28:16-19 Samuel
said, "Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has departed from you
and has become your adversary? 17 "The Lord has done accordingly as
He spoke through me; for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your
hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. 18 "As you did not
obey the Lord and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the
Lord has done this thing to you this day. 19 "Moreover the Lord will
also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the
Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.
Indeed the Lord will give over the army of Israel into the hands of
the Philistines!" NASU
Samuel's prediction was
precisely fulfilled: his sons were killed in the battle, Saul himself
was gravely wounded, and afraid of torture he committed suicide (1
sinned by consulting the witch
It is at this point that
Family theology diverges from mainstream Christianity:
Family members do not consult witches.
Family teaching says
that the fact that Samuel himself did really appear is proof that
the spirits of departed people may visit the earth to communicate
with the living.
The Family teaches
that any believer may make contact with the spirits of the dead and
that these spirits may deliver genuine messages from the Lord. After
all, Samuel's prediction did come true.
Regarding the first
point, it is relevant to mention that the founder of the Family,
Berg/Dad published his own account of visiting a witch, and indicated
that he believed that the message he received from her was genuine.
Therefore, although consulting witches is not generally encouraged in
the Family, the founder himself did so on at least one occasion.
Regarding the second
point, the Family is guilty of drawing conclusions unwarranted by the
text: there is no indication that this incident sets a precedent
for the actions of either living believers or dead saints. The Family's
teaching on this topic is therefore either ignorantly incorrect or
Regarding the third point, the Bible is unambiguously
clear: Saul's action is strongly condemned. The parallel account
of the books of Samuel and Kings, the books of Chronicles, contains this
epitaph for Saul:
1 Chron 10:13-14 So
Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord,
because of the word of the Lord which he did not keep; and also
because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, 14 and
did not inquire of the Lord. Therefore He killed him and turned the
kingdom to David the son of Jesse. NASU
The NET Bible says:
1 Chron 10:13-14 So Saul died because he was
unfaithful to the Lord and did not
obey the Lord’s instructions; he even
tried to conjure up underworld spirits. 14
He did not seek the Lord’s guidance,
so the Lord killed him and
transferred the kingdom to David son of Jesse. NET
God killed Saul because:
As pointed out above, the
account says that at first Saul tried to inquire of the Lord (1 Sam
28:6), but when he received no answer, he decided to go to the witch.
Therefore, the fact that Saul asked counsel from the witch completely
negated his earlier attempt to ask the Lord. It seems that the Lord was
less concerned with Saul's initial intentions than with his actions. His
actions were wrong, and for those actions, God sentenced him to death.
Saul's action to consult
the witch was a sin. It did not matter that the person he wished to
contact was Samuel, a true prophet of God. It did not matter that the
spirit of Samuel actually appeared. It did not matter that the
apparition gave a prophetic message from the Lord. It did not matter
that the predictions given during this encounter came true. It did not
matter that the medium showed kindness to Saul
(1 Samuel 28:20-25). It did not matter that
Saul promised impunity to the witch before she called up the spirit of
Let us draw some
Saul received a
message from the spirit of a dead man; the Family receives many
messages they claim come via the spirits of dead people.
Saul contacted a
godly prophet; the Family has claimed to contact the spirits of
wanted counsel from the Lord; this is also the Family's claim.
Saul used the holy
name of the Lord Yahweh; the Family uses the holy name of Jesus.
Saul did in fact
receive a message from the Lord via Samuel; the Family makes
The prediction Saul
received came true; the Family claims that predictions they receive
in prophecy via spirit helpers also come true.
Saul went to a medium
to facilitate this encounter; the Family teaches that each member
may communicate with their personal spirit helpers. Some Family
members have actually been called 'mediums.'
Saul's action was
sin. The Family's actions are also sin.
Contrary to Family
teaching, this story does not prove that it is possible to contact the
spirits of departed saints. Rather, it unambiguously condemns the
practice as sin.
The Family has made a
grave error in accepting and promoting this practice, and Family members
who participate by "hearing from spirit helpers" or "getting messages
from beyond" are sinning against the Lord.
There is no justification
for this practice; it is evil in the sight of the Lord.
Hearing from Spirit Helpers
Messenger in Revelations
Lazarus and the Rich Man
Angels and Demons
The great cloud of witnesses
God forbids calling on the
Trying the spirits
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