King Saul is one of the most famous, and tragic, Biblical pretenders. Toward the end of his rule he was desperate to find wise counsel regarding an almost certain major battle against the Philistines (1Samuel 28:3 - 5). His trusted guide, Samuel the prophet, was dead. His several attempts to discover God's will failed miserably (verse 6).
Frightened of fighting the well-trained Philistines yet again, Saul rashly sought the counsel of a woman who "divines by spirits" (a medium or spiritualist, 1Samuel 28:7). In order to hide his identity, he wore a disguise and pretended to be a common man. His Biblical ruse, however, was quickly discovered (verse 12).
Since Saul indulged in impersonating someone, it seemed only fair that a demon be allowed to be a pretender as well. The king sought to contact the spirit of Samuel (1Samuel 28:11). The evil spirit contacted by the Endor witch wore a cloak and pretended to be an old man. Saul's fearful and faithless heart convinced him that he had access to the prophet's spirit (see our article on why NO ONE can contact dead humans).
The pretending spirit ended up telling Saul facts he already knew (1Samuel 28:16 - 18). The counsel he sought about the Philistines was also hardly revealing. Because the Philistines were a race of warriors who lived to fight, any victory over them required God's intervention. Since Saul knew God had rejected him, his defeat was a foregone conclusion (verse 5).
Part time impersonators
Other pretenders include Abraham and Sarah, who behaved like Sarah was Abraham's sister when they entered Egypt. They did this because Abraham feared for his life (Genesis 12:10 - 13). They later repeated this pretense through Gerar (Genesis 20).
Jacob played the role of a pretender in order to receive the birthright blessing from Isaac (Genesis 27), who was both old and blind. Jacob was able to trick his father that he was Esau (the firstborn) by making his favorite meal and having the hairy skins of goats (Esau was hairy) attached to his body. Although his pretense was successful, he soon had to flee his brother's justifiable wrath (verses 41 - 45).
David, in fear of King Saul, fled to the Philistine city of Gath. His identity was discovered, however, by servants of the city's king Achish (1Samuel 21:10 - 11). Fearful that Achish would also try to kill him, he feigned he was crazy (insane). David pretended to write things on the city's gate and intentionally let his spit run down his beard (verse 13)! His impersonation of an insane person was so convincing that Achish decided to leave him alone (verses 14 - 15).
Israel's evil King Ahab became a pretender when he disguised himself so that he could secretly battle the King of Syria (1Kings 22:30 - 35). More than two hundred years later, King Josiah of Judah dressed and acted to be a common fighter so that he could stealthily battle against Egypt (2Chronicles 35:20 - 24). Both men, however, ultimately lost their lives due to fatal battle injuries.
Jeroboam was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. When his son fell ill he had his wife disguise herself and pretend to a common person so that she could ask the prophet Ahijah concerning the boy's life (1Kings 14:1 - 4, 6). The impersonation, however, failed as the Lord informed the prophet about the woman's disguise and gave him a bitter prophecy to convey to her and Jeroboam (verses 5 - 16).
The greatest pretense
One of the most effective tactics the forces of evil use to carry out their agenda is to deceive humans to pretend to be "angels of light" (2Corinthians 11:13 - 15). Such pretenders, who seem like they are God's servants but are really serving only themselves, are one of the most dangerous threats TRUE Christians face in their walk with God.