1Sa 15:22  Then Samuel said,
“Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as he does in obedience?
Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice;
paying attention is better than the fat of rams.
1Sa 15:23  For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and presumption is like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”

Bevere writes:

“Samuel direct linked rebellion with witchcraft: ‘For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.’   Notice the words is as in this verse are in italic type.  This is common both the King James and the New King James Versions when words Versions when words are used that did not appear in the original text.  They were added later by the translators to lend clarity.  A more accurate translation would have used only the word is.  This text should read, ‘For rebellion is witchcraft.’  It is one thing to liken rebellion to witchcraft, but an entirely different issue to say it is actually witchcraft.

Witchcraft directly opens one up to the demonic realm.” (Bevere, 67)

By rebelling against the order and laws of God and His delegated authority, they knowingly grant legal access to the controlling demonic realm” (Bevere, 68)

Is Rebellion Witchcraft?

Not according to any major bible translations available.

(CEV)  “Rebelling against God or disobeying him because you are proud is just as bad as worshiping idols or asking them for advice. You refused to do what God told you, so God has decided that you can’t be king.”

(ESV)  “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”

(GNB)  “Rebellion against him is as bad as witchcraft, and arrogance is as sinful as idolatry. Because you rejected the LORD’s command, he has rejected you as king.”

(NET)  “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and presumption is like the evil of idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”

(NLT)  “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the LORD, He has rejected you as king.”

(NRSV)  “For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”

(RV)  “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

(NASB) “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from {being} king.”

(NIV) “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.”

(TNIV) “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.”

Some scriptures are difficult to translate because the original meaning is unclear.  In this passage the translators seemed go one of a couple of ways.

  • Rebellion is as bad as witchcraft/divination
  • Rebellion is like witchcraft/divination
  • Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft/divination
  • Rebellion is no less a sin as witchcraft/divination
  • Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft/divination

No translators render the passage in such a way that directly equates rebellion with witchcraft.   I understand the temptation for pastors and authors to cherry pick translations that best suit the point his they are trying to make.  What Bevere does here isn’t so innocent.  He is ignoring what the church plainly knows.  It is dishonest for someone with no training in interpreting Hebrew or Greek to claim that every single modern translation of a particular passage is wrong.

What is Samuel’s point?  Look at the context of the passage.

1Sa 15:18  The LORD sent you on a campaign saying, ‘Go and exterminate those sinful Amalekites! Fight against them until you have destroyed them.’
1Sa 15:19  Why haven’t you obeyed the LORD? Instead you have greedily rushed upon the plunder! You have done what is wrong in the LORD’s estimation.”
1Sa 15:20  Then Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the LORD! I went on the campaign the LORD sent me on. I brought back King Agag of the Amalekites after exterminating the Amalekites.

Saul did not realize, or at least he wasn’t acknowledging how serious his mistake was.  Samuel was pointing out how serious his sin by comparing it to other things Saul would consider very serious.  Today we might say to someone downloading movies on the Internet “You know downloading movies on the Internet is just as bad stealing a DVD from a store.”  This doesn’t mean the consequences may not be similar, but if they were the same the biblical author would have said so.

Saul’s situation is different from ours

Saul was given explicit instructions from an old testament prophet as the king of Israel.  He didn’t follow them and God rejected Saul as King.  Our personal situations are different because we don’t have old testament prophets telling us what to do in person.  Wilful rebellion against God is a very serious thing.  Wilful rebellion against a church leader is only carries the same weight if that church leader is following God’s authority and you there no doubt about what God’s will is.  There are times where one has to cast off the fear of people in order to serve God.  In these situations it is very possible to be in rebellion to a church leader but steadfastly in obedience to God.

Covering theology attempts to equate God’s direct command to Saul to the relatively minor decisions of a church leader.  The two don’t carry the same weight.


Bevere, John. Under Cover. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2001.

3 comments on “1Sam 15:22-23

  1. God Bless You !!! I just got the “rebellion is witchcraft” (therefore you are all guilty of witchcraft when you don’t submit to us…) sermon yesterday. It was weird. It was weird. I have been a Christian for forty years and worked through this passage when it was used against us in a 70’s cult.

    Last night I went to bed feeling guilty for all the concerns I have had about my church (enough that I had already decided I was leaving.) I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and thought, “Wait a minute, I’ve been had!!!” The sermon was all about manipulation. How when we try to manipulate, dominate, or intimidate others (especially by trying to get our way in church), we are using witchcraft. There was a book being used, it was called something like “Witchcraft in the Church.”

    Funny how no one ever says, “like” or “as” when they preach this. Funny how no one EVER seems to get around to the part where Samuel says, “because you have rejected the Word of the Lord, he has rejected you from being King over Israel.” (My paraphrase.) Doesn’t that mean that Samuel did not lose his anointing because he was unsubmissive, but because he flat-out disobeyed God (and many times)?

    Bottom line. If we water down the definition of witchcraft to manipulation, then what is this sermon? Twisting realities, skipping important words in the passage, to make a point that isn’t true? Isn’t that manipulation? Isn’t that intimidation? (I don’t want to be charged with witchcraft, guess I’ll just shut up.)

    On a purely personal level, it is very painful to see my pastors go to this place.

    Cindy

  2. “”…Look how these people wear their churches as a garment! For they take much pride in their own names, they are puffed up. See how they walk about, with their heads held high, speaking proudly, taking no time to stop and listen… THEY REFUSE TO HEAR!
    I tell you the truth, their faces are covered in shame! Their nakedness is uncovered, their rebellion is made plain! Their ears are full of their perverse doctrines, and their detestable traditions are always upon their lips! There is no light in them and darkness covers them… They are unable to see. …””

    http://trumpetcallofgodonline.com/index.php5?title=Come_Out_From_Among_Them%21_Says_The_Lord

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