In the previous post, looking at the Witch of Endor narrative, we examined how Israel’s syncretism resulted in the mixing of their religious practices and worship with other nations. We saw how in the book of Leviticus, God warned Israel about the worship of pagan gods, child sacrifice, and the practice of necromancy. Then again in the book of Deuteronomy God warned Israel concerning pagan gods, child sacrifice, and the practice of necromancy. These warnings were then followed by songs written by Moses and David who reflect on Israel’s idolatry and pagan worship. Finally, we saw how the book of 1 Samuel tells the story of the first Israelite king Saul who did not heed Gods warnings and was removed from office as a result of his idolatry. In this follow up article we will examine the topic of necromancy, demonic activity and the dead after the event that occurred in Endor.
- Kings and Chronicles- Israel’s kings respond either in continued idolatry or faithfulness to God.
- Isaiah- Isaiah prophecies of the downfall of Egypt as a result of their pagan worship.
- Jesus- Jesus describes God as the “God of the living, not the dead” in contrast to pagan gods of death.
- New Testament- Paul reminds the church of their history and gives warnings concerning the future.
KINGS AND CHRONICLES
The book of 1 Samuel tells of the rebellion of the nation of Israel. The fundamental problem the author presents is that its leaders rejected a theocracy or kingdom led by God. Saul’s idolatry then becomes the test case for all the kings that will follow him in succession. The kings that follow will be described as more or less faithful to God on a sliding scale from good to bad depending on how they engage with the issue of worship. Examining each and every king would be labor intensive so instead we will look at the two kings on each end of this scale. What we find is that the worst king in Israel’s history magnifies the sins of Saul to an entirely new level, while the best king does away with idolatry and restores the practice of worshipping God alone.
King Manasseh is said to be the worst king to rule over Israel because he restored the abominations of the nations. The book of 2 Chronicles records, “Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:6) The book of 2 Kings also describes his reign by saying, “Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Hephzibah. He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel.” (2 Kings 21:1-2) The text goes on to describe his rule stating “he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. He made his son pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and used divination, and dealt with mediums (ob) and spiritists (yiddeoni). He did much evil in the sight of the Lord provoking Him to anger.” (2 Kings 21:5-6, cf. 2 Chronicles 33:6). Here we see another direct connection between the worship of the pagan God Molech by “making his son pass through the fire” and the interaction with necromancers. King Manasseh multiplied the mistakes of Saul and became the worst king in all of Israel’s history. This generational multiplication of sin is seen in other instances in the Bible as well. It is similar to how the Bible describes David’s initial marital unfaithfulness with Bathsheba and later David’s song Solomon is describes as having a multitude of wives and concubines. Sin left unchecked, has a tendency to grow out of control. We see this progression as well the narrative progression of violence in the book of Genesis as the story moves from the first murder in the story of Cain and Abel to the world being filled with violence just prior to the flood.
In contrast to Manasseh, was the king Josiah. Josiah is recorded as the best king who ever ruled, specifically because he cleaned God’s house by doing away with all the idolatry and demonic activity. The book of 2 Kings boasts “and like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.” (2 Kings 23:25). Josiah is seen as the man who restored the people back to the original covenant that Moses had established with God in the desert. Josiah was able to hit the reset button precisely because he heeded God’s commands which had been proclaimed to the people in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. 2 Kings describes how he destroyed the places of demonic worship. The book says that king Josiah “defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.” (2 Kings 23:10) Josiah defiled and destroyed the pagan place of worship which were being used once again to sacrifice innocent children in worship to a pagan god. “Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums (ob) and the spiritists (yiddeoni), and the household gods (teraphim) and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord.” (2 Kings 23:24) Once again, we have a text that makes a direct correlation between the worship of Molech, child sacrifice and necromancy.
Isaiah the prophet also spoke out against Israel’s “playing the harlot” to foreign gods and engaging with the demonic. Isaiah writes, “when they say to you, “consult the mediums (ob) and the spiritists (yiddeoni) who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?”(Isaiah 8:19) When Isaiah speaks about the ability to contact the dead, it is important for us to remember the Ancient Near Easter cultures that existed around Israel. Isaiah says that “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” is a context where every other nation around them had a god of the dead and a belief in a disembodied spirit underworld. The Caninities worshipped the god of the dead Mot. The Egyptians worshipped the god of the dead Osiris. The Greek’s worshipped the god of the dead Hades. The Norse worshipped the goddess of the dead Hel which is where we get our modern English word Hell found in the Bible. All of these cultures had created gods of the death and developed rituals and practices of worship around them. Later, Isaiah describes the fall of Egypt saying, “Then the spirit of the Egyptians will be demoralized within them; And I will confound their strategy, So that they will resort to idols and charmers and to mediums (ob) and the spiritists (yiddeoni).” (Isaiah 19:3) Isaiah says that in their distress, just like Saul when he had no other viable options, they will return to their necromancy and demonic activity for guidance.
All three of the gospels record an encounter in which Jesus spoke to the Sadducees concerning the dead. In this meeting, the Sadducees were attempting to trick Jesus. The Sadducees believed that when you died you were completely dead. There was no afterlife for them. This teaching was the orthodox view of the Israelites but stood in tension to the Pharisees who had adopted the Greek doctrine of the immortality of the soul. However, the Sadducees unlike the Pharisees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. At the end of their discourse Jesus tells the Sadducees, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Mathew 22:32, Mark 12:27, Luke 20:38) Here Jesus is making the point that the resurrection is necessary in order for God to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The parable of the ‘rich man and Lazarus’ is also another example where Jesus is correcting the Pharisees theology on the intermediate state. Jesus says that they won’t believe even if someone is resurrected from the dead. After his death and resurrection Jesus speaking to the disciples says, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). These three encounters reveal that the Sadducees view that death is final was correct, and that Pharisees belief in the resurrection was correct. Both groups beliefs in death and the afterlife were half correct.
For the follower of Christ, death is not overcome by a successful descent into the underworld which allows one to ascend back out of it. There are several Ancient Near Eastern tales of descents into the underworld. Some of the more well-known are; the Sumerian story of Gilgamesh, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Ugarit tale of Baal’s descent to Mot, and the Greek works of Homer. All of these stories describe a person who dies and their spirit or soul continues to exist after death. There are no stories similar to these found in the Bible. The Bible does not contain a story like this because death is not the continuation of life in a spiritual underworld. Paul told the church in Rome, “for to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” (Romans 14:9). Resurrection is what allows Jesus to be Lord of dead and living.
NEW TESTAMENT WITNESS
In our final section we will look briefly at a few texts found in the New Testament that support the overall argument that has been presented so far. In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth he describes how Gentile sacrifices are offerings to demons. In his letter to the church Paul reminds the congregation of Israel’s history with the practice of divination, necromancy and child sacrifice. Paul’s admonition to the church is to keep themselves pure and devoted to God alone. This was a challenge for a community that existed within a polytheistic culture that often dedicated their meals to pagan gods and deities.
1 Corinthians 10:18-22
“Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?”
Here Paul tells the church that just because someone sacrifices to an idol doesn’t make the idol real.
In the same way, we should understand in reading 1 Samuel 28 that God warned people against necromancy but that doesn’t mean it is possible to speak to the dead. Paul is giving the Corinthian church practical guidelines on how to live in a polytheistic culture that worshipped many gods and consecrated food that was sold at the market to idols. Paul reminds the church that as Christians we know that the gods that pagans’ worship are not real at all. Instead of worshipping gods, the pagans are unknowingly worshipping demons. Paul also warns Timothy, “but the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 4:1)
The book of Revelation also gives its readers warnings against idolatry which is associated with the demonic. The worship of inanimate objects is connected with demonic activity. John warns we should avoid such activity “so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.” (Revelation 9:20). Later John also warns that these “spirits of demons” will “performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.” (Revelation 16:13-14). Finally, we read that demons live in the empire. John says, “fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.” (Revelation 18:2). Demonic activity and false idol worship are something that the early church was concerned about and preached against.
In summary, what we have seen is that God continually warns his people not to fall into the pagan practices of worship that involves demonic activity. These religious rituals were being practiced by the Egyptians and Canaanites during the time that Israel existed as a nation. The story of the witch of Endor records Saul’s desperate attempt of divination in a time of fear. The author of the story reveals to the reader that Saul was rejected by God for practicing necromancy in the first place. When God is no longer speaking to Saul, he returns to this practice to try and seek knowledge of the future. Saul’s encounter with the witch at Endor is an encounter with a demon (elohim), and does not provide scriptural support for a disembodied afterlife.
COMPARATIVE TABLE OF TEXTS:
|Coming out of Egypt & Canaan||because he has given some of his offspring to Molech||Mediums (ob) spiritists (yiddeoni)|
You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead
|You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or witchcraft|
18 & 32
|those nations which you enter||makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire||One who calls upon the dead, divination|
|They sacrificed to demons who were not God|
|One who uses divination or witchcraft|
|Psalm 106||Our fathers in Egypt worshipped Idols of Canaan||The blood of their sons and their daughters,|
|sacrificed sons’ daughters to the demons||ate sacrifices offered to the dead, sacrificed to the idols of Canaan|
|1 Samuel overview||They have forsaken Me and served other gods from Egypt||gods (teraphim), wickedness, rebellion and divination (qesem)||burnt offerings and sacrifices to foreign gods|
|1 Samuel 28||Mediums (ob) spiritists (yiddeoni)||elohim||Sacrificial meal?|
2 Kings 21
1 Chron 33
|abominations of the nations||He made his son pass through the fire||Mediums (ob) spiritists (yiddeoni)||sacrificed to all the carved images and served them|
practiced divination and witchcraft
2 Kings 23
|Idols of Baal|
|that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech||removed mediums (ob) spiritualists (yiddeoni), gods (teraphim)||Removed all “high places” of sacrifice|
|Egyptians||Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?|
|Israel’s history||Sacrifice to demons||Sacrifice to demons|
|1 Timothy |
|Some will fall away from faith||Deceitful spirits||Doctrines of demons|
9, 16, 18
|Babylon a dwelling place of demons and unclean spirits||spirits of demons, performing signs||worship demons, and the idols of gold, silver brass, stone and of wood|