What can Jezebel, the Bible’s wickedest queen, reveal about God’s holiness and power and even about his sense of humor? What about the Woman at the Well—the one with five husbands and a live-in lover? And what of the prostitute whose tears bathe the feet of Jesus in front of people who despise her?
There are also “wicked good” women like Deborah, Ruth, Hannah, Abigail, Esther, Mary, and more. What do their lives tell us about God’s invincible love and his determined plan to save us?
In her new book Wicked Women of the Bible (Zondervan, 2015), Ann Spangler (@annspangler) tells the stories of 20 wicked and “wicked good” women in greater detail. At the end of each story, Ann provides a brief section including additional historical and cultural background as well as a brief Bible study in order to enhance the book’s appeal to both individuals and groups.
The stories of these women of the Bible reveal a God who is not above it all but who stoops down to meet us where we are in order to extend his love and mercy.
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[See our blogpost: Wicked Women of the Bible: An Interview with Ann Spangler]
The following article is an excerpt from Wicked Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler. Visit WickedWomenOfTheBible.com to learn more. Save 47%! Pre-order the new book today from the Bible Gateway Store.]
[Also see the book excerpt, A Wicked Birthday Party: The Story of Herodias and Salome]
A Wicked Sorceress: The Story of the Medium of Endor
When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God
giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations
of those nations. There shall not be found among you
any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through
the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or
an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with
familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
For all that do these things are an abomination unto
the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord
thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
Key Scriptures: 1 Samuel 28:3-25
How a Witch Conjures the Dead
Doom. He feels it moving toward him though he cannot see it, snarly and bristling with malice. No matter how quickly he moves, pivoting to check his back, he can’t seem to get out of its way. He can feel the hair standing up on his neck like hackles on a dog.
It’s been like that for some time. Though Saul has men to guard him, he is afraid to close his eyes at night lest he be overtaken.
Some days are worse than others. Today is the worst.
How he longs for a word from God to shatter the darkness. To tell him all is forgiven and that his kingdom will endure. But there is only silence. He should ask the high priest to consult the Urim and Thummim for him, casting lots to discover whether he will prevail against the Philistines who have gathered in great numbers to attack him. But then he remembers that he has already murdered the high priest and many other priests as well. He fears they are in league with David, who has himself gone over to the Philistines.
Perhaps he should summon an interpreter to read his dreams, butthese days he has no dreams because he sleeps so little.
If only he could ask Samuel for a word, but the old man has already been gathered to his fathers and buried in Ramah.
Now there is only silence. No word from God.
Even when God had spoken to him in the past, the words were rarely to his liking. Before Saul had completed the first year of his reign, Samuel had accused him of being a flat out failure. For just a small miscalculation God had rejected him as king. At least Saul thought it was small. He had merely acted when God had told him to wait. But waiting was for women, not for soldiers under the threat of death.
For one offense and then another and another, Samuel, on behalf of God, had declared him unfit, saying, “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”
Though Saul has had his victories, the thing he wants most, he cannot have—to be at peace. To rest secure. After more than forty years of sitting on the throne of Israel, he is still uneasy. Philistines plague him. David eludes him. God abandons him.
He is alone.
The woman is alone too. She is a widow, doing her best to survive. She lives in Endor, not far from where Saul and his men are encamped. Today she feels restless and unsettled, though she cannot say why. Perhaps it is merely a phase of the moon or the souls of dead men who have gathered to watch the looming battle. She only knows the air is electric. But as always she wants to know more, so she fills a small bowl with water. Then she recites an incantation, asking for wisdom from the world beyond to know which way the fight will go. Carefully she pours a small drop of oil on the water’s surface and watches as it splits in two, a sign that great men are about to fall.
Late in the day, when night has fallen, she is startled to find three strangers at her door. One of them is taller by a head than any man she has ever seen. Pushing through the door, he quickly states his business: “Consult a spirit for me, and bring up the one I name,” he says.
But she is no fool. She knows King Saul has strictly forbidden the practice of necromancy, citing the Scripture that says: “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.” Perhaps these are Saul’s men, seeking to entrap her.
“Surely you know,” she replies, “what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”
But the big man, the one who had to fold himself in half, stooping low to get through her door, invokes an oath, promising her, “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.”
He is such a mixture of earnestness and power that she believes him. “Whom shall I bring up?” she asks.
“Bring up Samuel,” he says.
She is good at the art of deception. Since she is the only one who can see the visions and hear the voices she summons from beyond, she need only play her part convincingly. So she speaks in guttural tones, rolls her eyes, and makes her body tremble.
What is so bad about reassuring a mother that her dead child is well, uniting lovers across impassible boundaries, or conveying positive omens to all who seek them? She merely wants to do good, to bring hope, and, yes, to find a way to support herself.
So now she makes a show of asking the reigning powers to raise Samuel up from the grave. But before she can engage in the usual pretense, something terrifying happens. She stares wide-eyed and then looks accusingly at Saul.
“Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!” she exclaims.
“Don’t be afraid. What do you see?” the king asks.
“I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.”
“What does he look like?”
“An old man wearing a robe is coming up.”
Trembling, Saul kneels with his face to the ground.
“Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” the old man accuses.
“I am in great distress,” Saul tells him. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”
Samuel’s reply is carried in the throat of the woman of Endor. “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors — to David. Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. The Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also hand over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”
The prophet’s words rush at Saul with nightmare force, and he collapses. He is too weak to rise, overcome by fear and hunger, for he has eaten nothing for a day and a night.
Seeing how shaken he is—and she is shaken too—the witch pleads with him, saying, “Look, your servant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.”
At first Saul refuses. But his men urge him to eat, and he relents.
Slaughtering a fattened calf, the woman quickly prepares it along with some bread.
After they have eaten, she watches the king and his men depart. Staring out, she notes a shadow that is darker than the moonlit night. Hungry and bristling with malice, it trails a little distance behind the king. She knows that it will not be long until it overtakes him. With a shudder and a prayer, she closes her door.
What three to five words would you use to describe the character of the woman of Endor? Consider any positive as well as negative attributes. The story showcases how far Saul had fallen. Though a courageous and naturally gifted man, he met a tragic and pathetic end. What does this story reveal about the consequences of trusting yourself more than God?
The above excerpt is from Wicked Women of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by Ann Spangler. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.Zondervan.com. All rights reserved. Taken from pp. 112-115.
Bio: Ann Spangler is an award-winning writer and the author of many bestselling books, including Praying the Names of God, Praying the Names of Jesus, and The One Year Devotions for Women. She’s also coauthor of Women of the Bible and Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, and the general editor of the Names of God Bible. Ann’s fascination with and love of Scripture have resulted in books that have opened the Bible to a wide range of readers. She and her two daughters live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.