WITH COLLEEN TINKER
Q: What do Ellen G. White and King Saul have in common?
A: They both consulted the dead…but we are getting ahead of our story.
Saul, the first king of Israel, was nearing the end of his life. He had not honored God in his monarchy, and as the years passed, he became consumed with jealousy of David, the young man he had taken into the palace as his armor-bearer, the man who eventually became a mighty warrior for Saul and Israel. In fact, Saul’s rage was so intense he began looking for ways to kill David.
Our story begins as Saul’s reign nears its end. Samuel, the prophet and judge who transitioned Israel from a theocracy to a monarchy, had died. During his life, Samuel had been the man of God who had anointed both Saul and then David as kings over Israel. He had been the one to whom Saul had looked for guidance on the occasions when he turned to God, and he had been the man God used to establish David as the successor to the throne when Saul would finally die. David was hiding from Saul, but he was still fighting against Israel’s enemies, knowing that God would give him the throne in His time.
The infamous Philistines were once again mustering their armies to fight Israel. Saul gathered the Israelite armies together and camped in Gilboa, prepared to fight. When he saw the Philistine army arrayed against him, however, he was terrified. The ensuing story—perhaps the best-known story about Saul—is recorded in 1 Samuel 28:3-19.
His heart trembling with fear, Saul asked God for advice, but God did not answer him, “either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets” (v. 6). Desperate, Saul looked for an alternate source of information—and donning a disguise, he went to the witch at Endor.
Saul’s disguise was necessary, he believed, because he had previously “removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists” (v. 3). God’s law forbade consulting mediums or necromancers (Lev. 19:31) and stated that God would cut off from Israel anyone who did consult them (Lev. 20:6). Moreover, God declared that mediums and necromancers should be stoned to death (Lev. 20:27). In fact, Deuteronomy 18:9-12a says,
“When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD.”
Saul knew that consulting a medium was an abomination before God and had previously purged Israel of spiritists. Saul, however, was desperate. He had apostatized and had turned away from God, and now, faced with the terror of the Philistines before him, he revealed the darkness of his own heart. He went to a witch.
So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” But Saul swore to her by the LORD, “As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage (1 Sam. 28:8-14).
The witch, who was used to conjuring spirits, was terrified when she saw Samuel and instantly understood the truth: the disguised man before her was Saul. She knew she had been deceived.
The Bible continues,
Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done to you as he spoke by me, for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines” (1 Sam. 28:15-19).
Those details came to pass exactly. Saul ushered in the end of his own life by doing the very thing for which he knew God would cut him off from His people: he consulted a witch. He went into this ultimate act of disobedience and apostasy with his eyes wide open—and he knew that Samuel spoke the truth. He had trampled God’s law, and he sought information from a spirit. He knew he had turned his back on God.
God is sovereign; even evil must do only what He permits, and God can “trump” evil with His will.
What about Ellen?
Ellen White knew the biblical prohibitions against spiritism, necromancy, and witchcraft. She knew the Bible forbids consulting the dead. In the chapter “Ancient and Modern Spiritualism” of her Patriarchs and Prophets, condensed version, Ellen discussed the story of Saul and the witch of Endor. She wrote,
Modern spiritualism and ancient witchcraft—both holding communion with the dead as their vital principle—are based on that first lie by which Satan deceived Eve in Eden: “‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it…you will be like God.’ Genesis 3:4,5. Based on falsehood, both are from the father of lies.
God said: “The dead know nothing…Nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 9:5,6.1
Moreover, in chapter 67 of Patriarchs and Prophets, the full edition, she wrote:
The belief in communion with the dead is still held, even in professedly Christian lands. Under the name of Spiritualism, the practice of communicating with beings claiming to be the spirits of the departed, has become wide-spread. It is calculated to take hold of the sympathies of those who have laid their loved ones in the grave. Spiritual beings sometimes appear to persons in the form of their deceased friends, and relate incidents connected with their lives, and perform acts which they performed while living. In this way they lead men to believe that their dead friends are angels, hovering over then, and communicating with them. Those who thus assume to be the spirits of the departed, are regarded with a certain idolatry, and with many their word has greater weight than the word of God.2
Modern spiritualism, and the forms of ancient witchcraft and idol worship, —all having communion with the dead as their vital principle,—are founded upon that first lie by which Satan beguiled Eve in Eden: “Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof,…ye shall be as gods (Gen. 3:4,5). Alike based upon falsehood and perpetuating the same, they are alike from the father of lies.
The Hebrews were expressly forbidden to engage, in any manner, in pretended communion with the dead. God closed this door effectually when he said: “The dead know not anything.…Neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun” (Eccl. 9:5,6). “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” [Ps. 146:4]. And as the Lord declared to Israel: “The soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people” (Lev. 20:6).
The “familiar spirits” were not the spirits of the dead, but evil angels, the messengers of Satan. Ancient idolatry, which, as we have seen, comprises both worship of the dead and pretended communion with them, is declared by the Bible to have been demon-worship.3
Clearly, Ellen wrote against consulting the dead or thinking an appearance of a dead person was legitimate. She was very clear that one cannot listen to, take advice from, or seek counsel from the dead. In fact, she concludes her chapter “Ancient and Modern Sorcery” with this warning:
The word of the Lord to ancient Israel is addressed also to his people in this age: “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them;” “for all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord.” (Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:12).4
Importantly, these things Ellen wrote have remained in every reprinting of Patriarchs and Prophets. These clear warnings appeared first in 1890 when she published the book; they were in the 1913 version, and they are in the 2005 edition as well.
Ellen consults with James
In 1990, Arthur White, Ellen’s grandson, published a compilation of “gems of thought that have been gleaned from her letters, manuscripts, books, and periodical articles, many of which were written after she was 65—the 23 years from 1892–1915.” 5 (Interestingly, the book The Retirement Years is “temporarily out of stock via the Adventist Book Center web site. Some local stores may have stock. Please call your local store.” 6 This book has, in fact, been out of stock online and in most stores for at least seven months.)
In this book is a portion of a letter Ellen wrote to her son Willie five weeks after her husband James had died. She wrote:
A few days since, I was pleading with the Lord for light in regard to my duty. In the night I dreamed I was in the carriage, driving, sitting at the right hand. Father was in the carriage, seated at my left hand. He was very pale, but calm and composed. “Why Father,” I exclaimed, “I am so happy to have you by my side once more! I have felt that half of me was gone. Father, I saw you die; I saw you buried. Has the Lord pitied me and let you come back to me again, and we work together as we used to?”
He looked very sad. He said, “The Lord knows what is best for you and for me. My work was very dear to me. We have made a mistake. We have responded to urgent invitations of our brethren to attend important meetings. We had not the heart to refuse. These meetings have worn us both more than we were aware. Our good brethren were gratified, but they did not realize that in these meetings we took upon us greater burdens than at our age we could safely carry. They will never know the result of this long-continued strain upon us. God would have had them bear the burdens we have carried for years. Our nervous energies have been continuously taxed, and then our brethren misjudging our motives and not realizing our burdens have wakened the action of the heart. I have made mistakes, the greatest of which was in allowing my sympathies for the people of God to lead me to take work upon me which others should have borne.
“Now, Ellen, calls will be made as they have been, desiring you to attend important meetings, as has been the case in the past. But lay this matter before God and make no response to the most earnest invitations. Your life hangs as it were upon a thread. You must have quiet rest, freedom from all excitement and from all disagreeable areas. We might have done a great deal for years with our pens, on subjects the people need that we have had light upon and can present before them, which others do not have. Thus you can work when your strength returns, as it will, and you can do far more with your pen than with your voice.”
He looked at me appealingly and said, “You will not neglect these cautions, will you, Ellen? Our people will never know under what infirmities we have labored to serve them because our lives were interwoven with the progress of the work, but God knows it all. I regret that I have felt so deeply and labored unreasonably in emergencies, regardless of the laws of life and health. The Lord did not require us to carry so heavy burdens and many of our brethren so few. We ought to have gone to the Pacific Coast before, and devoted our time and energies to writing. Will you do this now? Will you, as your strength returns, take your pen and write out these things we have so long anticipated, and make haste slowly? There is important matter which the people need. Make this your first business. You will have to speak some to the people, but shun the responsibilities which have borne us down.”
“Well,” said I, “James, you are always to stay with me now and we will work together.” Said he, “I stayed in Battle Creek too long. I ought to have gone to California more than one year ago. But I wanted to help the work and institutions at Battle Creek. I have made a mistake. Your heart is tender. You will be inclined to make the same mistakes I have made. Your life can be of use to the cause of God. Oh, those precious subjects the Lord would have had me bring before the people, precious jewels of light!”
I awoke. But this dream seemed so real. Now you can see and understand why I feel no duty to go to Battle Creek for the purpose of shouldering the responsibilities in General Conference. I have no duty to stand in General Conference. The Lord forbids me. That is enough. —Letter 17, 1881.7
This letter reveals that, even though she knew she was seeing James in a dream, Ellen took his words to be God’s answer to her prayer for direction. “The Lord forbids me,” she concluded as she announced her decision to refuse to go to Battle Creek to take on General Conference duties.
Adventist apologists have attempted to normalize this account, citing her frequent statements condemning any sort of consultation with the dead as evidence that she really didn’t think she was getting advice from James, that this was merely another of her prophetic dreams from God.
In fact, Ellen did claim to receive many visions and dreams from God supposedly revealing His will to her. Moreover, in 1875 she claimed that “a young man of noble appearance” had repeatedly come to instruct her over a period of 26 years.8
She frequently claimed that an angel of God stood by her, guiding her. In fact, in 1904 she wrote, “‘Angels of God are in this room.’ The glory of the Lord was revealed. Light seemed to shine all through the house, and an angel’s hand was laid upon my head. From that time to this I have been able to understand the Word of God.”9
In fact, Ellen was used to seeing men and angels in her dreams, visions, and even in real life as explained in the previous quotation. She was used to receiving direction, information, and even illumination about the Bible from these beings. For her to dream of talking with James and taking his advice would have been a familiar experience.
She was used to receiving spirit guides to give her direction; James’s counsel to her confirmed her next decisions, and it was by no means unusual for her to claim that God was responsible for the counsel. She responded to James as to her familiar spirit guides.
No matter how one attempts to explain away this incident, the fact remains: Ellen consulted with her deceased husband James when she dreamed of riding with him. James was unusually detailed, considering he was a dream character, and he gave her direct and specific instructions. Ellen took his advice—and then she attributed that advice to God.
No matter how one might rationalize Ellen’s dependence upon angels and men who accompanied her in her dreams, this particular story is clear. In spite of her frequent warnings against consulting with the dead, in spite of her repeated declarations that appearances of dead people were manifestations of evil spirits, Ellen White consulted with and obeyed her dead husband when he appeared to her in this dream. She contradicted her own counsels, and she contradicted the Scriptures which she quoted.
And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? (Is. 8:19). †
Copyright 2015 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised November 10, 2015. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
James Valentine is the president and founder of Christian Apologetics Research and Information Services (C.A.R.I.S.) based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Never an Adventist, Jim’s early career in industrial chemistry was cut short when he realized God was calling him to apologetics work. He has become an expert in the pseudo-Christian cults. He has been collecting Ellen White’s books and writings for over three decades and is well-acquainted with her works—sometimes even correcting our citations with correct page numbers and editions.
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VOLUME 16, ISSUE 3