What is a familiar spirit in 1st Chronicles 10:13?                                      By Jack Kettler


“So, Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it.” (1st Chronicles 10:13)


Why did Saul seek one with a “familiar spirit,” and what is a familiar spirit?


The following comes from the notes of the King James Bible online:


“Sorcerers or necormancers, who professed to call up the dead to” “answer questions, were said to have a “familiar spirit” (Deuteronomy 18:11; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; Isaiah 8:19; 29:4). Such a person was called by the Hebrews an ‘ob, which” properly means a leathern bottle; for sorcerers were regarded as vessels containing the inspiring demon. This Hebrew word was “equivalent to the pytho of the Greeks, and was used to denote” both the person and the spirit which possessed him (Leviticus 20:27; 1 Samuel 28:8; comp. Acts 16:16). The word “familiar” is from the Latin familiaris, meaning a “household servant,” and was” intended to express the idea that sorcerers had spirits as their servants ready to obey their commands.” (1)


The teachings of Scripture are clear that a familiar spirit is something evil. One sees that a “familiar spirit is condemned expressly in the following passages:


“Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:31)


“And 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.” (Leviticus 20:6)


“A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:27)


“Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” (Deuteronomy 18:11)


“Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city. And Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.” (1 Samuel 28:3)


“Then said Saul unto his servants, seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knoowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?” (1 Samuel 28:7-9)


“And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.” (2nd Kings 21:6)


“Moreover, the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.” (2nd Kings 23:24)


“So, Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it.” (1st Chronicles 10:13)


“And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also, he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.” (2nd Chronicles 33:6)


“And when they shall say unto you, seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?” (Isaiah 8:19)


“And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst there-of; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards.” (Isaiah 19:3)


“And thou shalt be brought down, and shalt speak out of the ground, and thy speech shall be low out of the dust, and thy voice shall be, as of one that hath a familiar spirit, out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.” (Isaiah 29:4)


To supplement an earlier citation:


“Familiar spirit is translated from the Hebrew word, “ob,” which means a necromancer.” (2)


In the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary on Leviticus 19:31, one reads:


“Regard not them that have familiar spirits - The Hebrew word, rendered “familiar spirit,” signifies the belly, and sometimes a leathern bottle, from its similarity to the belly. It was applied in the sense of this passage to ventriloquists, who pretended to have communication with the invisible world. The Hebrews were strictly forbidden to consult them as the vain but high pretensions of those impostors were derogatory to the honor of God and subversive of their covenant relations with Him as His people. Neither seek after wizards - fortunetellers, who pretended, as the Hebrew word indicates, to prognosticate by palmistry (or an inspection of the lines of the hand) the future fate of those who applied to them.” (3)


In addition, from the Harper’s Bible Dictionary, the reader learns:


“Familiar spirit, the spirit of a dead person, allegedly consulted by mediums who issued prophetic advice of a secular sort. Consultation of mediums was forbidden in the O.T. (Lev. 19:31, 20:6, 27; Deut. 18:11) as apostasy from Yahweh. Medi- ums were punishable by death. King Saul had put “those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land” (1 Sam. 28:3) ...Josiah put away familiar spirits, together with many other “abominations” (2 Kings 23:24). Isaiah (8:19, see also Isa. 19:3, 29:4) protested against consultation with those who had familiar spirits, and wizards that peep, and that mutter.” (4)


Moreover, commenting on Leviticus 19:31, the Keil-Delitzsch Commentary says:


“True fear of God, however, awakens confidence in the Lord and His guidance, and excludes all superstitious and idolatrous ways and methods of discovering the future. This thought prepares the way for the warning against turning to familiar spirits, or seeking after wizards. בוא denotes a departed spirit, who was called up to make disclosures with regard to the future, hence a familiar spirit, spiritum malum qui certis artibus eliciebatur ut evocaret mortuorum manes, qui praedicarent quae ab eis petebantur (Cler.). This is the meaning in Isaiah 29:4, as well as here and in Leviticus 20:6, as is evident from Leviticus 20:27, “a man or woman in whom is an ob,” and from 1 Samuel 28:7-8, baalath ob, “a woman with such a spirit.” The name was then applied to the necromantist himself, by whom the departed were called up (1 Samuel 28:3; 2 Kings 23:24). The word is connected with ob, a skin. ינעּדי, the knowing, so to speak, “clever man” (Symm. γνώστης, Aq. γνωριστής), is only found in connection with ob, and denotes unquestionably a person acquainted with necromancy, or a conjurer who devoted himself to the invocation of spirits. (For further remarks, see as 1 Samuel 28:7.).” (5)


In closing:


Why did Saul seek one with a “familiar spirit?” Because of the hardness of his heart, he rejected God.   


“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)




1.      Notes of the King James Bible on-line.

2.      Robert Young, Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible, (London, Lutterworth Press, 1965), p. 327.

3.      Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977), p. 101.

4.      Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (New York, Harper & Brothers, Publishers), 1988, pg. 185.

5.      Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, The Pentateuch, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1985), p. 425.


Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Jack-Kettler/s?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AJack+Kettler