As a little background, I had the TMS Bible Highlights a few years ago (when I was still an elder) when it was covering 1st Samuel 28 and the account about Saul going to the witch at Endor. I got the part out at work during a lunch break. I only had my Bible with me. So as I went over the material using the Bible alone and I came to the definite conclusion that it was Jehovah, or one of his angels, that had done the talking with Saul as "Samuel," and not Satan. (I'm thinking this analysis was done in the 2006-2008 time frame, or thereabouts.)
To my surprise, when I checked the WT publications after I got home, they came to the complete opposite conclusion. Discretion led me to leave that part of my research off when I handled my part. But I did put my complete (and verbose) analysis of the two opposing viewpoints in a file.
So what follows is what I came up with, written in a point-counterpoint style of argument, again, for anyone interested:
The Voice of the Prophet Samuel
Who was it that was speaking to Saul after the spirit medium at Endor ‘raised up’ an entity whom Saul identified as Samuel the prophet? (1Sa 28:3–19) What exactly was going on there? And is there any meaning for us? That is what this research will consider.
Actually, identifying the source of a voice from the spirit realm from some 3000 years in the past is a tall order. If it can be done with certainty it will take close attention to details. But that is what we will attempt to do here. And since a viewpoint on the topic has already been expressed [that of the Watchtower's by means of it publications], we will begin by looking at the reasons for Watchtower's published viewpoint.
The Case for Saying That the Voice Was Demonic
There are several plausible reasons for thinking that the person speaking to Saul was a demon. Foremost would be the fact that this spirit entity was summoned by means of the practice of spiritism. This avenue of seeking counsel was condemned by God through the Mosaic Law. (Le 19:31; 20:6; De 18:9–14; 1Ch 10:13) Although Saul might not have had all the details as to why it was condemned, he should have known that dead humans could not respond and that this was something that depraved pagans did. Reasons enough for avoiding it. (Gen 2:17; 3:17, 18; Le 18:1–5, 24–30)
Considering all that, the question has been asked (in WT publications): 'Could the witch at Endor force Jehovah to speak on this occasion, especially considering the fact that, previous to this, Jehovah had cut off all communication with Saul?' (1Sa 28:6) Thus, this is one reason that the WT feels that the voice that was identified with Samuel was of a demonic source.
Another claimed reason for saying that the voice must have been from a demon source is that the prophetic words spoken did not entirely come true. If this claim is correct, then, it would weigh heavily in favor of a demon source. Jehovah is “the God of truth” and he “cannot lie.” (Ps 31:5; Tit 1:2) Such inaccurate prophetic statements would have to be from some other source. What statements are alleged to have not come true?
One has to do with how Saul died. The battle account says that the Philistine ‘shooters, the bowmen, finally found [Saul], and he got severely wounded by the shooters. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer: “Draw your sword and run me through with it, that these uncircumcised men may not come and certainly run me through and deal abusively with me.” And his armor-bearer was unwilling, because he was very much afraid. So Saul took the sword and fell upon it. When his armor-bearer saw that Saul had died, then he too fell upon his own sword and died with him. Thus Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer, even all his men, came to die together on that day.’ (1Sa 31:3–6)
Here is what the spirit entity, posing as Samuel, foretold would happen: “And Jehovah will also give Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Even the camp of Israel Jehovah will give into the hand of the Philistines.” (1Sa 28:19)
The argument is made that Saul was not ‘given into the hand of the Philistines.’ Rather, he ran himself through with his own sword. And thus, as the argument goes, the prediction did not prove completely true.
A second argument concerning the truthfulness of these words is in regard to Saul’s sons. The spirit entity said: “Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me [in death].” But Ish-bosheth, one of Saul’s sons, did not die in that battle (due to not having participated in it). (2Sa 2:8–10) So, in saying “your sons,” one (Ish-bosheth) was left out, ostensibly making the prediction inaccurate.
In support of these 'proofs' are an array of well known Bible scholars and commentators ranging throughout centuries of history. (See it-2 pp.1027–8 under the subtitle “King Saul’s visit to a medium.”) And thus, the side for saying that it was the demons who were speaking as Samuel, rests its case.
Cross Examining the Evidence
From the very start, it would have to be acknowledged that the fact that a witch was involved weighs heavily in favor of the idea that the voice was of demonic origin. But is that fact, in this case, decisively conclusive? Is there any argument that might outweigh that fact?
What happened in the days of Moabite king Balak? He hired Balaam, a practicer of spiritism, to curse Israel. Evidently, Balaam was good at what he did since Balak specifically sought him. Balaam three times made pronouncements regarding Israel for Balak. Now ask yourself: Does the fact that Balaam was a spiritist prove that it was the demons who spoke on those three occasions? True, on most occasions, one could assume that demons were speaking through him. But not on this occasion. Jehovah spoke through him to Balak to prevent any cursing of Israel. (Num 23:4, 5; 24:12, 13)
And what if someone used the argument that ‘Balaam could not force Jehovah to speak through him’? In itself, that is a true statement. But in this case, it was not a matter of Balaam forcing Jehovah. Rather, Jehovah forced him. In the same way, in connection with the argument that the witch of Endor could not force Jehovah to speak, this argument is irrelevant if it was Jehovah that was wanting to do the speaking.
Consider another occasion. Israelite King Ahab was seeking counsel for war with Syria. So King Jehoshaphat of Judah said: “Inquire, please, first of all for the word of Jehovah.” So the king of Israel collected the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them: “Shall I go against Ramoth Gilead in war, or shall I refrain?” And they began to say: “Go up, and Jehovah will give it into the king’s hand.” This didn’t satisfy Jehoshaphat, so he said: “Is there not here a prophet of Jehovah still? Then let us inquire through him.” At this, Micaiah, a prophet hated by Ahab, was called. (1Ki 22:4–9; Also see commentary on this account here.)
Eventually, Micaiah pointed out that Jehovah had indeed spoken through Ahab’s false prophets by means of one of his angels. (1Ki 22:19–23) Of course, Ahab’s prophets may or may not have been involved in spiritistic practices. But, on the whole, they were supporters of the false religion setup in the Northern ten tribe kingdom. (1Ki 12:25–33) They were also supporters of wicked Ahab. For the most part, you would not normally expect Jehovah to speak through them. (2Ch 19:1, 2; Jer 23:13, 14, 16, 17) This may have been why Jehoshaphat asked for another prophet to speak. Yet, as Micaiah pointed out, Jehovah did speak through those prophets of Ahab on that occasion, albeit, deceptively. (Compare 1Ki 22:22, 23 and “his prophets,” and “these prophets of yours”)
All of this does not prove that Jehovah spoke as “Samuel” at Endor. What it does do is, it opens up the possibility of Him having done so. Based on these examples, the fact that a witch was involved would not automatically rule out the possibility that Jehovah chose to speak on that occasion. (Compare also Jn 11:49-52 where Caiaphas, an opposer of Jesus, is used to prophecy a truth. But like Balaam, he had selfish intentions.)
Also, Jehovah’s speaking to Saul on that occasion would not be outside of the Bible’s description of God’s personality. In what way?
When Balaam was determined to curse Israel for the payment, after having been warned not to do so, Jehovah intervened in an extraordinary way by positioning an angel to block him and causing his ass to speak. (Num 22:20–35) Similarly, when Moses persisted in his reluctance to go as Jehovah’s spokesman to Pharaoh, “then Jehovah’s anger grew hot against Moses” and he took the step of assigning Aaron as his mouthpiece. (Ex 4:13–16)
Thus, when Saul, as king of Israel, took the extraordinary step of seeking counsel through a spirit medium, after Jehovah had blocked normal channels, it would not be unprecedented for Jehovah to react angrily and intercept that effort. The tone of the words that the spirit entity at Endor spoke do match that aspect of Jehovah’s personality.
Again, this does not prove that Jehovah spoke on that occasion. But it does leave open the possibility that He did. There is a precedent that supports that possibility.
What About Saul’s Death?
What about the idea that the foretold words were inaccurate because it was Saul that actually killed himself rather than the Philistines. Well, what exactly did the spirit entity say would happen to Saul? It said, “And Jehovah will also give Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me”, that is, in the grave with Samuel. (1Sa 28:19)
Did the fact that a severely wounded Saul, his battlefield position near to being overrun, who then finished himself off with his own sword, did that prove that Saul had not been ‘given into the hand of the Philistines’? (1Sa 31:3–5; 2Sa 1:6–9) For example, would Saul's falling upon his own sword keep the Philistines from celebrating a victory over Saul and Israel in that battle, as if Saul had somehow cheated them? Not according to David’s dirge as recorded in 2 Samuel 1:20. As far as the Philistines were concerned, Saul and the Israelites had indeed been given into their hand, although, they likely credited their own gods rather than Jehovah.
Decades later in David’s reign, the same Bible writers referred to what happened on that battlefield. How did they then describe what had happened? 2 Samuel 21:12 says: “So David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the landowners of Jabesh Gilead, who had stolen them from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them on the day that the Philistines struck down Saul on Gilboa.”
Notice that, to the Bible writer of this account, the fact that Saul had actually finished himself off, that fact did little to change the outcome of the battle. The writer credits the Philistines with 'striking down Saul.' Notice too how First Chronicles 10:14 describes what happened: “And [Saul] did not inquire of Jehovah. Consequently he [i.e. Jehovah] put him to death and turned the kingship over to David the son of Jesse.” Here, Jehovah is credited with putting Saul to death, although, technically, Saul did the actual killing.
So reasonably, with regard to Saul’s death, were “Samuel’s” words, that ‘Saul would be given into the hand of the Philistines’, were they really all that incorrect? Not really. Not unless you were pedantically holding the "Samuel" entity to an exactness of speech that even the Bible does not do.
What About the Phrase “Your Sons”?
The spirit entity at Endor also told Saul that “your sons” would also die on that day. (1Sa 28:19) Yet Ish-bosheth, one of Saul’s sons, the youngest, did not die that day. In fact, it was about two years later when he was killed by some of his own men. (2Sa 4:5–8) Was “your sons,” then, a factual mistake?
First Samuel 31:2 says: “And the Philistines kept in close range of Saul and his sons; and the Philistines at last struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, Saul’s sons.” Here, “Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua” are referred to as “his sons” and “Saul’s sons,” without mentioning the fact that Ish-bosheth was also one of “Saul’s sons.” Similarly, First Chronicles 10:1–8 refers to “Saul and his sons” (1Ch 10:2), “Saul and his sons had died.” (1Ch 10:7) Here also the context makes it clear that “his sons” was referring to the three that died, without bothering to mention that there was a fourth son, Ish-bosheth.
Does the failure to mention Ish-bosheth make the account in First Chronicles 10 false or inaccurate? And if not, why then, would it make the words of "Samuel" in First Samuel 28:19 false or inaccurate? The claim that First Samuel 28:19 is false or inaccurate, while claiming that First Chronicles 10 is true, the only thing that does, is to make the one claiming such a thing sound unreasonable, does it not?
Why didn’t Ish-bosheth die also? First Chronicles 10:6 makes that clear when it adds: “And all those of [Saul's] house died together.” Obviously, “all those of [Saul’s] house” referred to "his three sons" mentioned earlier in 1Chr 10:6. Ish-bosheth did not die that day because he was not on the battlefield with his father. But why not?
There are at least two good reasons why he wasn’t there. The first was likely because of concerns for preserving Saul’s lineage. This would have concerned any Israelite, but especially a king. (Compare Nu 27:6–11; De 25:5, 6; 2Sa 18:18; 2Ki 11:1–3) The second reason has to do with the fact that, according to the Bible record, Ish-bosheth was not a very valiant man. He did not appear to be the type of person an experienced warrior like Saul would want fighting for him. (1Sa 10:26; 14:52; 16:18, 19; Compare De 1:28; 20:8; Ac 21:13; Contrast 2Sa 3:6–11 with 1Ki 2:13–25. See also Insight Volume I, under “Ish-bosheth.”)
So think about that. When Saul went to the witch at Endor, Saul would have already known which sons of his were going into battle with him, and which one was not. When the spirit entity said that the camp of Israel would be given over to the Philistines and that “your sons” would die, would not Saul naturally understand that to mean the three sons that were going to fight with him against the Philistines?
Or would the spirit entity, no matter who he was, interrupt the force of his powerful message in order to insert, what amounts to, a technical detail, especially when he knew that Saul understood exactly what he meant? The Bible writers at First Samuel 31:2 and First Chronicles 10:2, 7 felt no need to add this detail. So why should this entity have to?
Or look at it this way. What if, just for the sake of argument, you believed that the entity speaking was Jehovah? And what if someone tried to tell you that Jehovah’s words, there at Endor, did not come true? Would you not use these very arguments to defend God’s words as being completely truthful? If you would, then, in all fairness, you would also have to do that no matter who was speaking, would you not?
So really, given the context they were spoken in, it is not unreasonable to say that these words by the spirit entity were factually correct. Still, keep in mind what this does and does not do. It does keep open the possibility that it was Jehovah that was speaking. On the other hand, it does not prove that He did, for it is still possible for the demons to pass along truthful information for reasons of their own choosing. (Mr 1:24; Lu 4:34; 2Co 11:14)
Of course, in order to pass along truthful information, one would first have to have access to it.
Putting the Events in Order
Throughout the ages, Jehovah God has displayed an amazing ability to know the future. There are others, though, who have also shown some ability to do this. Meteorologists, for example, reading satellite and other sensor data, have sometimes predicted or “forecast” the weather with amazing accuracy, providing aviators and sailors an invaluable service.
Thus, to some extent, the ability to predict the future is directly related to one’s knowledge and understanding of the subject involved. By that standard it is no surprise that Jehovah excels at prophesying. But to illustrate the supreme advantage that Jehovah holds, imagine a meteorologist who could choose next week’s weather! (Le 26:3, 4; Joel 2:23; Am 4:7)
In theory, Satan’s ability to accurately predict the future would fall somewhere in between God and men. With that in mind, consider how the events of First Samuel chapters 27 thru 31 help us to identify the person speaking as “Samuel” at First Samuel chapter 28. (The See The Good Land Brochure would be an excellent aid for this. See pages 18–19.)
Chapter 27 describes how David and his men fled to Philistia to escape Saul’s efforts to kill him. During their 16 month stay, David was assigned to live in Ziklag. From there, he made raids on areas of southern Judah and towards Egypt. Achish, the Philistine king of Gath, thought David was raiding Israelite settlements. Thus, Achish thought, “[David] has unquestionably become a stench among his people Israel; and he will have to become my servant to time indefinite.” David, on the other hand, was leading Achish to believe this. He was carefully making sure that no survivors of his raids remained that might cause Achish to conclude differently. Perhaps David thought that this ruse was necessary while he was living in enemy territory. At the same time, he was clearing the Promised Land of illegal foreigners in preparation for his coming rulership.
Chapter 28 takes us to the eve of the battle between Saul’s army and the Philistines. The huge army of Philistia is encamped in the area between Shunem and Jezreel. (Compare 1Sa 28:4 with 1Sa 29:11 for location; Compare 1Sa 28:5 with 1Sa 29:1, 2 for size.) A fearful Saul disguises himself and goes diagonally behind enemy lines to Endor to speak with the spirit medium that lives there. The message he receives is stunning.
Then chapter 29 backs up a number of days and describes the massing of the Philistine army at Aphek, some 50 to 60 miles to the south of Jezreel. Here, David and his men are attempting to join in with the Philistine army for battle with Israel. And Achish has every intention of letting him do that. He is convinced that David will serve loyally. But the other axis lords of Philistia don’t see things that way. As the troops pass in review, they indignantly ask: “What do these Hebrews mean?” They even recognize David himself. Sure that this will lead to trouble, they insist that David go home to Ziklag. Achish reluctantly gives in to their wish. David, still, attempts to convince Achish to let him go. But Achish sends him home. The next morning, David heads south for Ziklag while the Philistines break camp and head north to Jezreel. The travel time to Ziklag appears roughly equivalent to the travel time to Jezreel, but they are in opposite directions.
Chapter 30 describes what happens when David and his men arrive in Ziklag. Earlier in the day, a marauding band burned the city and took their families captive and then headed back south towards Egypt. David and his men take up the chase and catch up with them the next day south of the torrent valley of Besor. In a day long battle, they make a deliverance and then head back home to Ziklag, arriving there probably a couple of days later. From here, he sends out ‘gift blessings’ to those that supported him.
Chapter 31 describes Saul’s battle with the Philistine army that ends in defeat for Israel and death for Saul and his sons. This battle takes place probably a day or two after David and his men battle the marauding band. David's mission to rescue their families has absolutely prevented him from joining the battle between Saul and the Philistines.
The Entity at Endor Knew Too Much
There are a couple of things about this account that indicate that it was not the demons speaking at Endor.
Ask yourself: Why was David attempting to join the Philistine military effort against Saul? It could not have been so as to defeat Saul. Twice before David had refused to do him injury. (1Sa 24:1–7; 26:1–13) And after the battle in which Saul died David punished those who claimed to have done injury to Saul and his family. (2Sa 1:1–16; 4:5–12) The Philistine axis lords were right to worry about David. David was going to attempt a rescue of Saul. (1Sa 29:1–5)
But that also tells us something else. David did not know that this was the battle that Saul would be “swept away” in. (1Sa 26:10) Jehovah did not reveal that to him. But several days later, after David had been sent home, the spirit entity that spoke to Saul spoke as if he knew for sure that Saul would die in this battle. If it was a demon, then how could he speak with such certainty? How did he know for sure what David did not know at all. And how could he know for sure that the battle would end disastrously in just one day? (1Sa 28:19 – “tomorrow”)
But, just for the sake of argument, suppose Satan chanced a calculated guess about those things. Some might think that a possibility. His spirit realm vantage point would allow him to see all of the forces involved and their battle strategies. (Although, historically, even those things have not always been decisive, especially when Jehovah is involved. Compare Ps 33:16, 17; Pr 21:31; Ec 9:11)
But in addition to that, how could Satan also know for sure that Jonathan would die? Had not Jonathan proved himself a valiant fighter in the past. Had he not also had Jehovah’s approval, and still had it, for all we know? (1Sa 14:1–14, 44, 45) He had humbly supported David, even making a covenant with him. (1Sa 18:1–3; 20:9–17; 23:16–18) So how could Satan know for sure that Jehovah would not, at the very least, rescue Jonathan in the coming battle?
The answer is obvious: Satan couldn’t know. The words of the spirit entity at Endor were not only correct, they were too correct, too detailed, and under those circumstances, spoken with too much authority to have been from Satan. They were spoken by someone who knew exactly what was going to happen.
The Message at Endor Was All Wrong
We started by recounting the argument that says that it had to be the demons speaking. According to that argument, there were minor inaccuracies in the prediction. Actually, if this was the demons speaking there at Endor, then, everything they said was wrong. How so?
At Genesis 3:15 Jehovah foretold that there would be enmity by Satan and his seed against ‘the woman and her seed.’ For Satan, this hatred has been a logical necessity. That 'woman’s' seed was foretold to eventually bruise him in the head, a death blow. If Satan wishes to continue in power, then, he must do something to that seed before it can do something to him.
This hatred is what has driven much of Satan’s strategy since that time, just as God had said. Thus, Jehovah not only foretold the future on that day in Eden, in a sense, he directed it to happen by giving Satan the information that he did. This, of course, does not make Jehovah responsible for the hatred shown since then. Nor does it harm God’s servants in the long run since He “makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God.” (Ro 8:28) But Jehovah God has, in effect, herded Satan by revealing only so much at any one time. (Compare Gen 3:14; And see also this post.)
In the days of David and Saul, what information was available to Satan about the seed? He would have known that the seed would be through the tribe of Judah and that he would be a commander or ruler. (Gen 49:10) He knew that David was of that tribe and had been anointed by Jehovah as king. (1Sa 16:1, 13) And he also knew that Saul was not of that tribe and that Saul was intent on killing David. Further, Satan had witnessed the fact that David always relied on Jehovah and had proved successful in battle against non-Israelites, striking down his “tens of thousands.” (1Sa 18:7) For Satan, at that point in time, Saul’s remaining in power was his best opportunity to get at the seed of the woman.
When Saul came to the spirit medium at Endor, he was hoping she could bring up Samuel. One wonders why he thought that she could do that. Perhaps it was symptomatic of how far he had departed from Jehovah. He had probably stopped reading God’s Word. (De 17:14, 18–20) He was also quite desperate. His words do indicate that he was not expecting to get in touch with demons. (1Sa 28:5, 11) But in fact, that is exactly what should have happened.
But now look at these same events from Satan’s standpoint. Saul had been a useful tool to him in trying to get at the promised seed. In fact, Saul was the best thing going for Satan at the time. Unfortunately, for Satan, the Mosaic Law prevented him from directly advising Saul. (Le 19:31)
When David was attempting to join the Philistine camp for battle, Satan, unlike Achish, could see what David was trying to do, that he was going to attempt a rescue of Saul. Satan would have seen the ruse David was playing on Achish in his raids. For Satan, the best course would have been to let David rescue Saul. From Satan's standpoint, nothing bad could come from it. Either David would die trying, or, he would defeat the Philistines and keep Saul in power. Maybe both. It had to have been Jehovah that sent David home that day at Aphek. (1Sa 29:6–11) Unknown to David, Jehovah had determined to bring Saul’s rule to an end at that time.
Several days later, Saul came to the spirit medium to get some useful counsel that might save him. What a golden opportunity this was for Satan to keep Saul’s rulership alive and perhaps give him another opportunity to try to kill David. Why not tell Saul to retreat? Or why not have him take a force of several thousand to Ziklag and attack David and his exhausted men? The Philistines would be pinned down fighting the rest of the Israelite army at Mount Gilboa. They would be unable to block him. (Compare 1Sa 27:1, 4)
Yet, the spirit entity that spoke with Saul did not do that. In strong, forceful language, the entity reiterated and confirmed what Jehovah had already said would happen to Saul. Why would Satan do that, against his own interests? The only answer that makes sense is: He wouldn’t. Which can only mean one thing: That wasn’t Satan that was speaking there at Endor.
On the other hand, if Jehovah had already determined to end Saul’s rulership at that time, it makes good sense that He would prevent Saul from getting Satanic counsel that might alter the chosen course of events.
The Strongest Proof That It Was Jehovah That Spoke
The strongest indication of all that it was Jehovah speaking as “Samuel” is contained right there within the words that were spoken. Read again the words at First Samuel 28:16–19. Do you see it? Seven times. (Compare 2Ti 2:19)
There are only a few places in the Bible where Satan and his demons are directly quoted. But never once will you find them using Jehovah’s name. Sometimes, people that they employ will use the Divine Name. But never them. (Gen 3:1–5; Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7;4:14–21; Mt 4:1–7; 8:29; Mr 1:24; Lu 4:1–8; 4:34; Ac 16:16, 17) Evidently, the Name and its meaning are repugnant to them. Perhaps this is an indication of what James was speaking of at James 2:19. And this coincides with their effort to remove it from the Bible, as well as the protection servants of God have found when calling upon him by name. (Pr 18:10)
This may very well explain why Jehovah has left the identity of “Samuel” misunderstood until now. By leaving, what appeared to be, an example of the demons using his name, God has left open the possibility that Satan might do so. He is, after all, capable of “every unrighteous deception.” (2Th 2:9, 10) This possibility can be seen by looking at how things would be if the identity of “Samuel” had been correctly understood.
There would have been no examples of Satan or the demons using God’s name in the Bible. Alert Bible students would have taken note of that. And some might have concluded that any voice from the spirit realm that did use God’s name could not be demonic. This would have given Satan the incentive to begin using it as a deceptive ploy.
By leaving that part of the account misunderstood, God’s servants are kept alert to the possibility of demon deception in this way. At the same time, it removes a possible incentive for the demons to make a deceptive use of God’s name in this way. It is a good example of what Jesus was saying at John 16:12 and has the effect of telling the demons to “be silent” when it comes to using God’s holy Name.
Interestingly, Satan knew who was actually speaking as “Samuel” there at Endor. He knew it wasn't himself or his demons. But to expose the truth so as to exploit it, he would also have to show that God’s name belonged in the account. The way the account is written, and the way God has allowed it to be misunderstood, has left Satan with his hands tied in the matter.
Sorry for the length. There is actually a bit more about a prophetic parallel. But that is for another time.