As I am a church lady, it is my duty to have a beef with “Hollywood.”
Mine doesn’t involve the proliferation of violence, sex, drugs or bad language in tv and film. My protest revolves around the lack of comedy in “Bible productions” – comedy that is in the biblical text but is left out when brought to (imho pretty dreary) life on the big and small screen.
For example, Delilah is always cinematically portrayed as super-sultry in every way. However, in the Bible (see Judges 16:16), she turns out to be the world’s biggest harpy! (See my recent blog “Don’t Bet on the Bob-Tail When There’s a Nag” for more.)
There is one biblical character suffering the opposite problem. In the Bible, she is not funny at all; in fact, she has a significant part in the arguably only true tragic story of scripture. However, she is the inspiration for one of the wackiest characters to ever reside in TVLand.
I speak of the Witch of Endor (of 1 Samuel 28) and Endora (of Bewitched, of course.)
Endora is the wicked witchy-est of mothers-in-law who we love watching, especially when she’s making a monkey, literally or figuratively, of her human son-in-law Darren (whose name she forever refuses to properly pronounce). We even love watching her love it when “Durwood” is made a monkey by someone else....
Here is a short clip of Endora's reaction when Samantha's doddering Aunt Clara puts a spell on Darren and can't remember how to reverse it:
Endora’s namesake, on the other hand, is a completely different breed of black cat.
We are introduced to the Witch of Endor as King Saul, at the end of his rope, seeks her out. Saul is a man who never wanted to be king (his story begins at 1 Samuel 9), but he agrees to the job because God selected him and has suffered greatly pretty much ever since. God never wanted the people to have a king in the first place and has refused to forgive Saul for any of his leadership mistakes and has used that as the reason to deny Saul aid. (God has never been so cruel to one of His own; it goes to show just how much God does NOT want His people making their beds with and losing their souls to the world of politics. Something for another blog….)
By the time Saul journeys to Endor (chap. 28) he is terrified, heart-broken, and on the verge of complete madness as he foresees on the horizon another – and probably final – battle against the Philistines. His appeals to God and God-sanctioned oracles for direction in this battle have gone ignored. Alone now more than ever before, Saul has no choice but to seek guidance from one he earlier banished on order from God (Saul continues to follow God even as God has remained dumb); all who practice black magic are anathema to God as they participate in acts that are for God and God alone to do….
The witch is initially hesitant to welcome Saul, since he earlier condemned and expelled her. But he swears no harm shall come to her, and she relents. At Saul’s request she summons the ghost of (now-dead) Samuel, God’s prophet who ushered Saul into kingship and served at his right hand (even though Samuel's job most of the time was to tell Saul how angry and unresponsive God was and would be). Saul can’t have expected much in the way of good news in the present necromantic encounter, either, which only goes to show just how at the end of his rope Saul is.
Sure enough, once the witch conjures Samuel’s ghost, the ghost has nothing but bad news and more condemnation for Saul. The king will not only lose in the upcoming battle but will also watch his sons die. Why is this to happen? Saul didn’t follow God’s instructions in a previous battle: he was to destroy everything in his battle with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15), but Saul spared the best sheep and cattle to later sacrifice to God. You’d think the Almighty would find that an understandable flub, but NO! God remains unyielding in His mercilessness.
Has a character in scripture ever been made to feel as wretched??
Saul, not surprisingly, falls flat on the floor, overwhelmed not only with fear but also with feebleness for he’s eaten nothing all day. (Wouldn’t you be without appetite with this kind of stuff on your mind and heart?)
The witch then comes to Saul, seeing his terror, and she says,
“Your servant has listened to you; I have taken my life in my hand, and have listened to what you have said to me. Now therefore, you listen to your servant; let me set a morsel of bread before you. Eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”
In other words, “Now that I’ve done your bidding you must do mine: do what is needed to have the strength to face your death, no matter how awful it may be.”
All of us are called at some point to face death; we can run from it initially but it will catch up with us and, in the end, make us and any attempted avoidance look shameful and cowardly. The witch doesn’t want that to happen to Saul. Why? Maybe because she knows what it’s like to be terribly ostracized, and she doesn’t want to see Saul – or maybe anyone – have to end their lives in that state.
In fact, she gives him the hero’s sendoff: she gives him not only a morsel of bread but has a fattened calf quickly slaughtered so Saul can have a most elegant, honorable final meal.
I find this encounter of Saul and the witch to be one of the most moving in all of scripture. Caught in a war of wills between God and His people, Saul is not without faults but certainly, imho, does not deserve the fate he receives. And the hospitality the witch offers him surpasses even that, again imho, which Sarah and Abraham unsuspectingly offer angels.
The Bible is a document that CONSTANTLY invites us to be surprised by who in our midst is truly the holy one, the one bringing grace that indeed is always amazing and, always being offered. This story at 1 Samuel 28 could not be more true to this purpose.
Something to keep in mind, perhaps, as Halloween night approaches. And, perhaps also, as another episode of Bewitched beckons to be watched.