The Witch of Endor, William Sidney Mount, 1828
Ghosts… zombies… demons… disembodied hands… child sacrifices… bodies rising from graves… witches summoning spirits of the dead…
Did you know that all of these frightening images come not from horror movie plots, but are actual events recorded in the Bible?
First, let’s be clear. The Bible says: “Let no one be found among you who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.” ~Deut. 18:10-12
Nevertheless, some people just don’t listen or do what they’re told, even back in Bible times. Of course, the outcome of such disobedience is usually pretty bad. Halloween is right around the corner, and whether you celebrate it or not, it’s a good time to read the following Bible passages that feature each of the seven scary images mentioned above.
The Witch of Endor
Saul, the first king of Israel, had forbidden the conjuring of spirits, but he was desperate. He wanted to call up Samuel, a prophet who had died, to ask his advice. Saul consulted a witch, but she was used to dealing with a familiar spirit, a demon, and she couldn’t really call anyone back from the dead. So when Samuel actually did appear, she screamed and couldn’t believe it!
Saul said to his servants, “Seek me out a ghostwife, that I may go to her and inquire through her.” And his servants said to him, “There is a ghostwife at Ein-Dor.” Saul disguised himself and put on different clothes, and he went—he together with two men—and they came to the woman by night, and he said, “Conjure me, pray, a ghost, and summon up the one I say to you.” The woman said to him, “Look, you yourself know that Saul cut off the ghosts and the familiar spirits from the land. Why do you entrap me to have me put to death?” Saul swore to her, saying, “As the LORD lives, no blame will befall you through this thing.” And the woman said, “Whom shall I summon up for you?” He said, “Summon Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed in a loud voice. The king said to her, “Do not fear. But what do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “A god do I see rising up from the earth.” He said to her, “What does he look like?” She said, “An old man rises up, and he is wrapped in a cloak.” Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed to the ground and did obeisance. Samuel said, “Why have you troubled me?” And Saul said, “I am in dire straits, the Philistines are fighting against me and God has turned away from me and no longer answers me, neither through prophets nor dreams, so I called to you to let me know what I should do.” Samuel said, “Why do you ask me, when the LORD has turned away from you and become your foe? The LORD has done to you as He spoke through me, and the LORD has torn the kingship from your hand and given it to your fellowman, to David. In as much as you did not heed the voice of the LORD and you did not carry out His burning wrath against Amalek, therefore has the LORD done this thing to you this day! And the LORD shall give Israel, together with you, into the hands of the Philistines. Tomorrow, you and your sons will be with me. The camp of Israel, too, shall the LORD give into the hand of the Philistines.” Saul flung himself full length on the ground, as he was very frightened by Samuel’s words. ~1 Samuel 28:7-20 (trans. Robert Alter, Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings)
The Valley of Slaughter
The Valley of Slaughter was so named because of the great slaughter of the Jews about to take place at Jerusalem, a just retribution of their sin in sacrificing their children to Moloch in Tophet. The very place where they looked for help from idols was to be the scene of their own suffering at the hands of their enemies. This fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel 6:5, “I will lay the dead carcasses of the children of Israel before their idols.”
The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the LORD. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate. ~Jeremiah 7:30-34
The Walking Dead
This is the plague with which the LORD will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. ~Zechariah 14:12
Thus God will show his full displeasure against sin, so that sin is felt by the sinner in all its vile loathsomeness as a living death.
The Mysterious Hand
The music was playing and the dancers were dancing. It was the King’s great feast with a thousand lords in attendance.
The king was making merry and he called to bring forth the golden and silver vessels taken out of the temple in Jerusalem by his father, Nebuchadnezzar. When they were brought out, he, his lords, wives and concubines drank from them and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
Suddenly, the fingers of a mysterious hand without an arm appeared and wrote on a wall. The king was so frightened that his knees began to knock together and finally gave out from beneath him.
He called for the soothsayers and the enchanters and proclaimed that anyone who could interpret the handwriting would have bestowed upon them a robe, a golden chain, and would be given the position of third most powerful person in the kingdom. But none of them were able to decipher the writing on the wall.
The queen heard the king’s fear and told him of a wise man named Daniel and recommended that her husband send for him. The king summoned Daniel and told him what he would be given if he could just interpret the handwriting on the wall.
Daniel told the king that he could keep his riches and give his rewards to someone else, but that he would still explain the writing.
Daniel first told how the king’s father Nebuchadnezzar had become so arrogant and prideful that he was stripped of his glory and given the mind of an animal, and was sent to live in the fields like a wild donkey.
He remained like this until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men.
Then Daniel turned to the king and said…
You have not humbled yourself despite knowing all this that your father went through. Instead you have set yourself up against the Most High God. You had the goblets brought from His temple and used them to drink wine and to praise false gods. This is why He has sent the hand.
It has written Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin. This means that you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
Daniel received the awards despite his objections, and that very night the king was slain. ~Daniel 5:1-31
The Demons and the Pigs
When Jesus arrived in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. ~Matthew 8:28-33
The Ghost on the Water
The disciples had been waiting for their leader. He had left them to go up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, and Jesus had not yet joined them, his disciples went down to the lake. They got into a boat and set off across the water. By now it was dark, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. It was then that the disciples realized the ghost was actually Jesus, who had walked out to them upon the water. ~Mark 6: 45-51 and John 6: 16-21
Day of the Living Dead
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. ~Matthew 27:50-53
Can you think of any other scary Bible references? Let us know in the comments below.
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The Witch of Endor
Saul said to his servants, “Seek me out a ghostwife, that I may go to her and inquire through her.” And his servants said to him, “There is a ghostwife at Ein-Dor.” Saul disguised himself and put on different clothes, and he went—he together with two men—and they came to the woman by night, and he said, “Conjure me, pray, a ghost, and summon up the one I say to you.”
What version of the Bible is this please? Thank you
It’s from 1 Samuel 28:7-20, translated by Robert Alter in “Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings” (New York: Norton, 2013, 405-408). An award-winning translation of the Hebrew Bible told in a stirring narrative.