Can I help you gentlemen? I asked.
Yes, ma'am, answered the shortest man, perhaps you can. If I may ask I don't wish be indelicate, but are you a witch?
Am I what? I exclaimed.
We have been informed, he explained, that there is a woman, a woman living in this very house here in Endor, who has a familiar spirit. She can summon souls to appear and answer questions.
But I am not a witch, I asserted. My name is Rebekah.
And I am Ben, he replied, and this is Dan. He's, uh, my assistant.
And the tall fellow lurking behind you there?
The third man didn't speak at first. Then he said quietly, I would prefer to remain anonymous. He carried himself with dignity, but his face was lined with worry as though suffering great anxiety. He glanced about furtively as though surrounded by enemies. Could we perhaps go inside to continue this conversation, Witch?
My name is not Witch! I insisted. I am Rebekah! There are no witches in Israel.
No, of course not, Dan agreed.
After all, Yahweh said, Do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. [Deuteronomy 18:10-11]|
So we have read.
Yahweh also said, Thou shalt not permit a witch to live. [Exodus 22:18]| Witchcraft is a capital offense! And this law is now being enforced.
Therefore you're not a fortune-teller, Ben allowed. Nevertheless, you do seem to be an intelligent and perceptive woman. Perhaps we can discuss our concerns with you on that basis.
The tall man had begun muttering about Philistines. Ben glanced back and then whispered to me, We musn't upset him. Sometimes he's hard to control if an evil spirit seizes him. To calm him down, we once had to hire a boy to play lyre music. [I Samuel 16:14-16]|
We heard a groan from the tall man. Dan said apprehensively, The neighbors might be watching. May we please come in? I reluctantly agreed.
We Go Inside
Ushering them into the larger of my rooms and lighting a lamp, I remarked, So you're in search of a medium.
I gather that you want that medium to contact a spirit the spirit of someone who is no longer with you?
That is correct, ma'am.
For what reason is this someone no longer with you? Did he move away to a foreign country? Did he die?
Uh, we would rather not say.
They were testing me, wondering whether I could use psychic powers to divine the answer. Of course, psychic powers don't exist. But I do have powers of observation.
As we gathered around my table, the men took no particular notice of its Egyptian decorations. Hmm. Foreign furniture gave them no qualms.
But they did seem hesitant to sit on my black cushions. Hmm. Symbols of death provoked their superstitions. That suggested that their acquaintance's absence was due to his demise.
Let me guess, I said. I suspect this person is no longer among the living.
Perhaps, Dan admitted. And perhaps you already know his name. Do you? More testing.
You still think I'm clairvoyant? I shot back. How do I know you're not cops?
We're not what?
Law-enforcement officers. Perhaps you're trying to entrap me in a crime.
Oh, no, of course we're not doing that, protested Ben.
You must be aware, I said, that King Saul is eliminating anyone who calls up ghosts and spirits. Why are you trying to trick me into doing something that will lead to my death?
The tall man was sitting opposite me at the table. He solemnly leaned forward. As Yahweh lives, he promised, no harm shall come to you for this.
I Take a Chance
For some reason, I trusted him. All right, here, I said, let's shake on it. Give me your hands, gentlemen. Dan grasped my left hand, and Ben held my right. They extended their free hands to the tall man, who hesitated before taking them. I noticed he was wearing an impressive ring. This was certainly no common soldier. He was somebody important.
A thought occurred to me; call it intuition, if you will. I know King Saul stands a head taller than any of his people. And he's under great stress these days. He's been chasing his rival David while also leading his army against the Philistines, an intimidating force if there ever was one. It's easy to predict that he's going to lose to David, or to the Philistines, or to both. Saul's whole royal family is in danger of being wiped out.
The last I heard, the Israelite soldiers were encamped at Gilboa, not far from here. Could the man sitting across from me actually be Saul in disguise?
Whose ghost might the king want me to contact?
A little cold reading was in order. So whom do you desire to question? I began. The men remained silent. Let me ponder it, I continued. I wonder what the name might be. The answer isn't clear. Dark and murky. No, wait, now I'm getting something. Does his name, by any chance, begin with the letter B?
I felt a little flinch from Ben on my right, but the other two continued frowning in concentration, their eyebrows lowered. Not B.
Or could it begin with the letter H? No reaction from anyone.
Oh, wait, could it possibly begin with the letter S? Almost imperceptibly, all three pairs of eyebrows rose slightly. I think maybe it does! You wish to speak with a person whose name begins with S.
Now if it was Saul sitting across from me, it could not be Saul's ghost he was seeking. What S person had he known who was now dead? Someone famous, perhaps. Maybe the judge who had originally anointed him as king: Samuel.
I looked directly at the tall man. Am I correct, sir? Does this person's name indeed begin with S? He nodded. Then, I demanded, who is it? Samuel, he whispered. I was right!
The Ghost in the Table
Still holding hands with my séance partners, I gazed down at the table top. Samuel, Samuel, I called, are you here? Samuel, Samuel, great seer, prophet, judge over all Israel come forth! O Samuel, come forth! We implore thee, appear thou unto us!
Suddenly I pretended that I had seen something. I shrieked. Then I looked up at the tall man. Why have you deceived me? I upbraided him. You are Saul!
Don't be afraid, the king reassured me. What do you see?
I stared at the table again. I see I see a ghostly form coming up from the earth.
What is it like? he asked.
It is like an old man coming up, wrapped in a cloak.
That's him! Saul exclaimed. That's Samuel! I'd know him anywhere! He bowed down in presence of the ancient judge, leaning forward and pressing his head to the table top.
Ventriloquizing for the Dead
Following the customary procedure for these little dramas, I lowered the pitch of my voice to impersonate the ghost. Saul! Saul! I croaked.
Yes, Samuel, said the king, not looking up. I am here.
Why have you dared disturb me? Why have you raised me?
Because my troubles are great, he answered. He straightened and gazed toward the far wall. I am fighting against the Philistines. I am waging this war on God's behalf, but God has turned away. He no longer answers me. He doesn't speak to me through prophets, nor even through my dreams. I don't know what to do.
Have you tried flipping a coin? Have you used the Urim? I suggested.
That doesn't work, either. It used to work, Samuel, when you chose me and secretly anointed me. Do you remember? It was not your preference that Israel should have a king at all, but the people insisted. Therefore you publicly cast lots to make it appear that God was making the selection. You cast the Urim and Thummim to narrow it down to the tribe of Benjamin, and then to the family of Matri, and then to me, the son of Kish.
Yes, I replied in my low-pitched voice, recalling the stories that I'd heard from my brothers. I thought you looked like a king, because of your height.
I should have paid no attention to your stature. I should have listened to Yahweh. God doesn't see things the way people do. We look at outward appearances, while the Lord looks into the heart. [I Samuel 16:7]|
But now I know what was in your heart, Saul. Or what was not. You didn't cooperate with my little lottery, did you? You ran and hid. I wonder whether you ever really wanted to be king.
They found you hiding among the baggage! Look at the man whom God has chosen, I sneered. But the people didn't understand. They shouted, Long live the king! [I Samuel 9:5-10:25]|
Saul said, God chose me then, but now he is no longer with me. Yahweh has become my adversary. What shall I do, Samuel?
Why ask me? God has done what he said he would do. He has taken your kingdom away from you and given it to another, to David. I prophesized this would happen.
It Happened for a Reason
Remember when you first became king? God said to you, speaking through me of course, I shall punish the Amalekites because they opposed us on our way up from Egypt. Go now, Saul, fall upon the Amalekites! Destroy them! Spare no one! Put them all to death men, women, children, herds, flocks, camels, donkeys.
Yes, I remember, said Saul.
But you were greedy. You spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, everything worth keeping. Not only that, you thought the Amalekite king was worth keeping. You could get a ransom for him, so you didn't execute him either.
And then you lied to me! You told me you had carried out God's instructions. I answered, If you did, why do I hear sheep bleating? Why do I hear cattle lowing?
I did disobey.
And the word of Yahweh came to me: I regret that I ever made Saul king. Because he turned away from me, I shall turn away from him. [I Samuel 15]|
And now that has come to pass, said Saul sorrowfully.
Now that has come to pass, I repeated. I never saw you again, Saul, not to my dying day. But now, from the depths, I have returned to tell you: Yahweh shall give the Israelite army into the power of the Philistines.
The king gasped.
I say to you again: Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.
Saul was stunned. Be with Samuel where? In the grave? He began breathing heavily. He fainted, toppling off his chair and falling full length on the floor.
Poor man, said Ben, he's been so troubled that he hasn't eaten anything all day.
I almost felt sorry for him. Saul! Saul! I cried in my normal voice. I am Rebekah. I listened to your promise. I risked my life to obey you. Now you listen to me: You need to eat something! I've got a fatted calf out back; let me cook it for you. I'll even bake some bread, from scratch.
The king moaned and said he didn't want to eat anything, but Ben and Dan talked him into getting up and sitting on the couch. I prepared the veal cutlets and served them dinner.
Then they left. They were off to fight the Philistines, I suppose.
So that's what happened last night. I don't know what will take place today. But I confess that I have a premonition not about today, not about tomorrow, but about the day after tomorrow.
In my mind's eye I'm seeing Saul again. I'm standing on a rooftop, and I see him on a city wall. It's the city of Beth-shan. He's on the wall of Beth-shan. [I Samuel 31:8-10]|
retelling of I Samuel 28:3-25
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