Believe it or not, the Bible has a creepy side—it isn’t all miracles, healings, and “love thy neighbors.” In fact, there are enough spooky stories in the Good Book to keep Stephen King up all night. Why? If we scratch beneath the surface, we’ll find that each one actually teaches an important truth about God and His people. Just in time for fall weather and nights around the campfire, here are six spooky stories from scripture— and why they’re included in the Bible.
THAT’S A TERRIBLE BEDTIME STORY
The Bible opens with a creation story: God speaks, and everything, including people, came into being. God has expectations for those people. They’re meant to represent Him—His rule and reign—upon the earth (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:15) The only problem? People have generally sucked at doing that.
Things on earth start well but spiral out of control quickly. By page six of the Bible, God’s decided to hit the reset button in a dramatic fashion.
The Bible says God was grieved as he looked over his creation, seeing that “man’s wickedness was widespread… and every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5-6). Earth had become a Tarantino movie you couldn’t turn off. It was so bad that the Bible says God regretted having made humanity in the first place. Ouch.
One man found favor in God’s sight, righteous and blameless among his contemporaries: Noah. God directed him to build a boat, put his family on board, and then take two of every kind of animal with him. Why? It was going to rain. A lot. The Bible says the downpour lasted for 40 days and nights until the top of the highest peaks were covered in water.
This story is featured in every kid’s Bible I’ve ever seen— which is weird, considering the Michael Bay level of destruction we find in it. You know, the death of all living things through drowning; Noah’s friends and neighbors begging to get on board as the floodwaters rise around them; homes and entire cities swept away in the torrent. Can you imagine the smell as the floodwaters receded? Anyone who’s ever experienced a natural disaster knows— that’s not a bedtime story.
It wasn’t all rainbows and cupcakes for Noah, either. If COVID quarantines taught us anything, it’s that being locked up with your family for days (and days and days) isn’t the easiest pill to swallow. Now, multiply that feeling by a boat full of animals to feed, poop to shovel, mating seasons to navigate, and your annoying daughters-in-law. Woof.
Many Biblical scholars believe, at this point in history, no one had ever experienced a flood before—perhaps not even rain. Couple that with the widespread belief in the ancient world that the sky was a vast ocean, buckets of water falling on the earth probably felt like the end of the world. Which, in a way, was kind of the point.
No matter what you make of Noah’s flood, it stands as a stark counterpoint to the beautiful creation story that opens the Bible. In essence, it’s a de-creation story, one powered by humanity’s inability to love God, and each other, in ways that honor the Creator. We had one job, people.
For me, there’s a clear message behind this ancient disaster tale: God cares deeply about how humanity lives and represents His rule and reign in the world.
Read the story for yourself, including Noah’s rescue and God’s promise, in Genesis chapters 6-9.
THE PIT… I FELL IN IT, THE PIT…
Numbers chapter 16 is 100% bananas.
At this point in the story, Moses is leading God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and into the land he’d promised them. You’d think this would be an exciting time in the history of Israel—like the days leading up to Christmas. But no, God’s people become the equivalent of the most annoying toddler you can think of… on a road trip… without air conditioning.
The people of God are whiners. They grumble about not having the food they used to have in Egypt. They complain about how hot and dry the desert is. They get impatient with how long the trip is taking. Eventually, they turn on Moses, the man God “supposedly” appointed to lead them.
A man named Korah, and two of his cronies, incite the rebellion. It spreads so far that they entice 250 prominent Israelite men to join their side. Korah calls into question the worship rituals God has given his people and the position of leadership Moses holds. But Moses calls their bluff. He instructs Korah and all 250 of his followers to prepare themselves to appear before God the next morning. Moses’ plan? Let God show who the chosen leader was. Dun-dun-dun.
The morning comes. No sooner had Moses finished speaking the terms of the Who-Does-God-Choose Show-Down when the ground opened up beneath Korah and his two main co-conspirators—swallowing them, their tents, and their families, whole.
The ground closes back up around them. Then God strikes down the 250 co-conspirators with fire. Then a plague breaks out, killing 14,000 people before Moses’ brother, Aaron, steps in to stop it.
See? 100% bananas.
For all the mayhem, there’s a lesson in this story that riffs on the themes we found in Noah’s. Namely, that God’s call to represent him well doesn’t find loopholes with his own people—if anything, the stakes are raised. God cares deeply about how you represent him to the world, especially if you count yourself as one of the family.
Read the story for yourself in Numbers 16.
BEFORE THERE WAS SAW, THERE WAS THIS DUDE
Content warning: limbs will be lost. If you get queasy, maybe skip this one. Seriously.
Jump forward in the timeline of the Bible. God’s people finally make it to the Promised Land, but without solid leadership, things descend into Lord of the Flies. The Bible literally says that people did whatever they thought was right in their own eyes. That worldview reaches a terrifying conclusion in Judges chapter 19.
A Levite, a man belonging to the priestly tribe of Israel, married a woman. She wasn’t faithful to him, and went on the run. He chased her down, but the journey took him far from home. In ancient Israel, traveling outside your home territory was like living in The Walking Dead—— just replace zombies with thieves and marauders. Simply put, you traveled at your own risk. Because the Levite wasn’t able to make it home with his wife in a single day, they decided to stay overnight in a city called Gibeah.
Here’s the deal: ancient Israel was divided into twelve tribes, but each tribe was supposed to support the others. The Levite lived in the tribal land of Ephraim, but the town he stopped in, Gibeah, belonged to the trip of Benjamin. Think about it like spending the night at a distant cousin’s house—it might be awkward, ‘cause you haven’t talked since Grammy’s funeral, but you won’t fear for your life. God had made it clear that hospitality to strangers and travelers, no matter their tribal background, was an expectation.
That night, things take a very dark turn for the Levite. Men from Gibeah violently surround the home he’s staying in, with open intent on raping him. In what might be one of the most tragic turns in the Bible, the newly reclaimed wife is thrown to the crowd instead. The next morning, the Levite finds her dead on the threshold of the home.
All that would be awful enough— except that the Levite takes his deceased wife the rest of the way home, where he proceeds to cut her into 12 pieces and ship those pieces to each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Insert bug-eyed emoji. What the literal crazy is going on here?
In summation, this story paints a gruesome picture of a society that’s lost its moorings. The gory details are meant to reinforce to the reader that even God’s people aren’t above descending into barbarism when they lose sight of Him. There are layers of heinousness here. The crime in Gibeah, committed by God’s people against God’s people, is awful. But the reaction of the Levite? It isn’t much better. The bottom line: the people of God—both the common man and the priestly class—have completely lost the plot about what it means to represent God to the world.
If you actually want to read about it for yourself and the ensuing aftermath, the entire story is covered in Judges 19-21
I SEE DEAD PROPHETS
Here’s the ghost story you’ve been waiting for.
Languishing without centralized leadership, the people of God get a king. Saul, the man chosen to lead them, starts off with a bang, but things begin going downhill soon thereafter. He’s impatient, temperamental, and worst of all doesn’t provide a great example when it comes to honoring God. Facing mounting failures, Saul has an encounter near the end of his reign that makes his blood go cold, and signals the beginning of the end.
As the king, Saul is the commander-in-chief of Israel’s army. His archenemies, the Philistines, have gathered for battle. Saul’s gathered his troops too, but all is not well. The king is terribly afraid. The Spirit of God has long left him, and the one man he’s relied on for spiritual wisdom, the prophet Samuel, is also dead. Battle looming, Saul inquired of God and the remaining prophets, but got no answer. Even surrounded by his army, Saul felt completely alone, with the metaphorical walls closing in.
Important note: God gave his people a strict rule against fortune-telling, mediums, spiritists and the like. They were a big no-no. God was to be the source of His people’s wisdom. If they needed insight or spiritual guidance, they were to come to Him. Anything else was the domain of false gods and idols, and had no place among God’s people.
With that in mind, Saul makes one of the final mistakes of his kingship: he consults a medium, asking her to bring back the spirit of the prophet Samuel. Even more surprising: according to the scripture, it seems like she actually does just that.
The conjured spirit asks Saul why he’s being disturbed. Saul explains the problem of the Philistines and not hearing from God. Then Samuel’s spirit drops a chilling revelation: “Since the LORD has turned away from you and has become your enemy, why are you asking me? Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the LORD will hand Israel’s army over to the Philistines” (1 Samuel 28:16-19).
The experience literally drops Saul—he collapses on the floor of the medium’s home. He eventually regains strength to lead the army, and just like Ghosty McGhost Face Samuel predicted, he and his sons are killed in the battle.
All cards on the table, I don’t believe in ghosts— but whatever happens in this story is genuinely terrifying. What’s the lesson? Commitment to God matters, and unholy means will never lead to holy ends.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING ARMY
After Saul, David takes the throne. While far from perfect, he’s easily the best king Israel ever has. The guys who come after him, though? They’re a mixed bag, more bad than good. Year after year, prophet after prophet, God warns His people that if they don’t commit to Him—stop worshipping idols and mistreating each other—there will be grievous consequences. That eventually happens around 600BC, when Jerusalem is sacked, the temple is burned to the ground, and the best of Israel is deported as exiles to Babylon.
It’s hard to overstate what this moment meant to the people of God. The closest thing we might have is experiencing the attacks of September 11th. Never in their wildest dreams, despite the warnings of God, did they expect this. For those people, all hope was lost.
Yet even in the darkness of those years in exile, God was working. While in Babylon, He raised up multiple prophets to speak to and encourage the people not to give up hope. One of those prophets was a man named Ezekiel—and God’s good news came to him in the form of a zombie army.
The Bible explains it this way: in a vision, God transports Ezekiel to a dark valley full of human bones. Ezekiel walks around, noticing the bones are very dry, abandoned there for years. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy life over the bones. Ezekiel does, and while he’s speaking, he hears a rattling sound—the bones are coming together. As he watches, tendons grow on the bones and then skin. A vast army stands before Ezekiel, but as of yet, they aren’t alive. Finally, the breath of God comes and fills the undead army, and they live again. (Though there’s no record of lightning and the prophet shrieking, “They’re alive! ALIVE!”)
What’s the vision mean? We actually don’t have to work too hard to find an answer—God spells it out exactly. Speaking directly to Ezekiel, He says:
“These bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off… This is what the Lord God says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel… I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live.” - Ezekiel 37:11-14
In the midst of their greatest despair, God sends a Tim-Burton-style vision to communicate hope to His people. __While the nation felt dead, rejected, and utterly lost, God had not completely given up on them. He would breathe over their dead bones, lost in the grave of exile, and bring them back home—alive. __
About 70 years after the deportations began, Babylon was conquered by Persia, and the Jews were allowed to return home, reestablishing life in the Promised Land. But the full fruition of Ezekiel’s vision wouldn’t flower for another 500 years. Speaking of— that’s our next (and final) story.
Read the prophet’s vision in Ezekiel chapter 37.
Half a millennium after Ezekiel found hope for the future in a Skeletor army, the hinge point of history occurred: a baby was born in Bethlehem.
Jesus read and knew the stories in the Hebrew Bible, what we’d call the Old Testament today. But He didn’t merely see himself as another prophet or a continuation of the old patterns. Rather, He understood himself to be the fulfillment of those scriptures, the culmination of the story that God had been writing since page 1 (Matthew 5:17). Jesus made a claim no other prophet of Israel had ever made—that He was actually God, in the flesh (John 10:30). As such, Jesus didn’t just call out the powers of darkness afflicting God’s people, as the prophets of old did. He actually went on the offensive. This, as you might guess, made Jesus a lightning rod for paranormal activity—no motion-sensor cameras or seven unnecessary sequels needed.
Jesus’ first big run-in with the things that go bump in the night was with the Prince of Darkness himself. No, not Ozzy. After spending 40 days alone in the wilderness outside Jerusalem, Jesus comes face-to-face with Satan on three different occasions. Each time, Satan brought a temptation to derail Jesus, and each time, Jesus punched back by quoting scripture. Scholars rightly focus on how this passage highlights the importance of knowing the Bible—and I agree. But can we pause and sit in the fact that Jesus went knuckle-to-knuckle with evil, by himself in the desert and didn’t even flinch? I call dibs on Jesus as my haunted house buddy. He’s got nerves of steel.
And Jesus wasn’t even done bullying the baddies. Three of the four gospels (the written accounts of Jesus’ life) record a story of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man. This dude was so beyond help that he lived like a wild animal among the tombs outside town. He’d routinely cut himself, cry out loudly day and night, and terrorize passersby. He became such a menace that the townsfolk tried to restrain him with chains and shackles— which he’d routinely break. To say he was unmanageable was an understatement. When Jesus asked the man his name, he answered, “Legion.” Presumably, in a super-creepy-deep-and-digitized demon voice. Probably.
But this was no match for the Messiah, whose mere presence sent the demons inside the man begging for mercy. Jesus freed the man and cast the demons into a herd of pigs, who immediately rushed down a hill and off a cliff, drowning themselves. \Exchanges awkward glances with the pig farmers.\
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two points for Jesus, none for Satan.
There’s plenty of other material we don’t even have time to cover—like the time Jesus walks on a lake and His disciples assume they’re seeing a ghost, or the three-hour eclipse that accompanied Jesus’ crucifixion. But one of the creepiest things about Jesus’ death doesn’t even directly involve Him. Matthew 27 says that, when Jesus died, the bodies of many long-dead heroes of faith were raised back to life. After Jesus’ own resurrection, these once-dead-now-alive saints strutted around Jerusalem for a while, appearing to many. What the what?
One-one-ones with Satan; suicidal pigs; dead people coming back to life: what does it all mean? It signals Jesus as God’s answer to humanity’s biggest problem—death. The end of our days was a consequence of Satan’s tampering in the Garden of Eden, way back at the creation of the world. __Jesus charts a better course for us. While Adam fell to temptation, Jesus withstood it. While humanity lived in fear of the demonic, Jesus sent it packing. Fear of death? Jesus pushed through it and out the other side, His sacrifice literally opening the graves of others.
Remember Ezekiel’s prophecy about God bringing His people back to life? It was metaphorical, yes. But in the scary good life of Jesus, it found literal fulfillment. __
AND I WOULD HAVE GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT TOO…
You know the drill. Every Scooby-Doo episode ends the same: the kids foil a Wiley plot, unmask the monster, and find the guilty party underneath. We’re going to do the same thing. We’ve moved through some of the Bible’s weirdest and creepiest tales, and I believe there’s something worth unmasking beneath them. Ready for the big reveal?
When we string together these Biblical stories of the macabre, we find the story of scripture—like, the whole story, the big metanarrative driving the whole thing.
God cares about how humanity lives and represents His rule and reign in the world (Noah’s flood). He picks a people group to represent Him, and the stakes are raised (Korah’s rebellion). Those people ebb and flow in their commitment to Him, and when it ebbs, it really ebbs (the Levite). The nation demands a king to lead them, but what matters more is our personal commitment to God (Saul and the ghost). As a consequence of their poor choices, God’s people go into exile. He remains faithful even then, promising that life will come to their dry bones (Ezekiel’s army). That life did come, conquering darkness and death face-to-face, paving the way to resurrection—metaphorical and physical, His and our own (Jesus).
It might sound crazy, but I see myself in that ancient storyline too. I’ve known God and yet struggled to represent Him well. I’ve tried to climb my way to God on my own and found my best efforts way off base. I’ve made poor choices that have ostracized me from Him and people I love. But He’s always remained faithful. He still paves a way for me to come back to him, to rescue me from my own exiles, every single time. His breath has raised me from the dead—from bad choices, dead-end mistakes, and chasing-my-own-tail living. Through Jesus, He’s done something new in me, and I believe He’s not finished yet. Maybe scariest of all, I believe He’ll do the same for you.
Turns out, those weird stories in the Bible, might actually be in there for a reason. And the reason might be you.