The Bible says talking to the dead is a sin (Lev 19:31). Does that confirm that talking to the dead is possible? After all, Saul consulted with a necromancing medium in 1 Samuel 28 in order to talk to the deceased prophet Samuel right? Was that really Samuel or something else?
When people practice necromancy are they actually talking to the dead? Many theologians believe the reason why this is considered a sin is that the people are being deceived by a con artist. There is another idea is that if a spirit is really involved, then it is an unclean spirit (demon) rather than a loved one. In Ez 13:18-21 God makes it clear that necromancers are deceivers and he is judging them for deceiving people with lies.
Ezekiel 13:18 (NLT) This is what the Sovereign Lord says: What sorrow awaits you women who are ensnaring the souls of my people, young and old alike. You tie magic charms on their wrists and furnish them with magic veils. Do you think you can trap others without bringing destruction to yourselves? 19 You bring shame on me among my people for a few handfuls of barley or a piece of bread. By lying to my people who love to listen to lies, you kill those who should not die, and you promise life to those who should not live. 20 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against all your magic charms, which you use to ensnare my people like birds. I will tear them from your arms, setting my people free like birds set free from a cage. 21 I will tear off the magic veils and save my people from your grasp. They will no longer be your victims. Then you will know that I am the Lord. 22 You have discouraged the righteous with your lies, but I didn’t want them to be sad. And you have encouraged the wicked by promising them life, even though they continue in their sins.”
If the dead can’t even praise God from the grave (Psalms 6:5, Psalms 30:9), then how can we communicate with them? This would explain why you can’t get saved after death because no one can confess their sins. There are even some Christians that follow pagan traditions like praying for the souls of the dead. However, we must remember what Jesus said to the Sadducees, he said God is the God of the living, not the dead (Matt 22:32, Mark 12:27, Luke 20:38). Jesus used this to explain that the future resurrection of everyone was a literal event to the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a literal resurrection on a judgment day. Jesus reminds them of the story of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus ch. 3. He says, God introduced himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, however at the time of Moses all three of them were long dead. He says this seems like is conflict because God is God of the living and not the dead. Yet God said when was their God even though were dead at the time, which means God must have been looking forward to the future resurrection when they would no longer be dead. The idea also explains why people are raised from the dead for Judgement Day because God can’t even judge us while we are dead. That is why there are two resurrections (John 5:28-29), one for the righteous (Rev 20:4-6) and one for the wicked (Rev 20:11-15). Everyone must be raised back to life in order to interact with God again for judgment sentencing to either eternal life with God or the Lake of Fire (second death). More on the resurrection here.
Since demons are unclean spirits and compatible with human bodies some theories suggest that they may be the spirits of dead giants from Genesis 6. If that is true then they were once alive as humans. However, because of their unique parentage (fathered by heavenly beings), they can wander the earth and even possess bodies of living beings. Normal humans on the other hand descend into Sheol (Hades/Hell) to wait for the resurrection. More on this subject here.
Let’s take a closer look at the only act of necromancy recorded in the Bible:
After Samuel died and was buried in Ramah, King Saul put away those mediums, the wizards, those who had familiar spirits, etc. However, when the Philistines attacked Israel, Saul was afraid and inquired of God, but God was not responding to Saul through dreams, priests, or the prophets. This is because God had “fired” Saul and replaced him with David whom he had persecuted (1 Sam 28:3-6).
So Saul decides to seek out a medium out of fear of losing to the Philistines. He found out from his servants that there was a witch in Endor that could talk to “familiar spirits”. So he went in disguise to her at night with two of his men. When he does, the woman freaks out and says it is illegal and punishable by death. It seems she retired from the profession out of fear for her life. Saul promised her (in God’s name), that nothing bad would happen and she went along with it. However, while divining she then realized it was king Saul himself and was afraid that it was a trap. He reassured her and ask what she saw, and she said she saw “god”(or gods) come up from the earth. (1 Sam 28:7-13)
When asked what he looks like, she said he looked like an old man in a robe. Saul asked “Samuel” for advice on the Philistines. The man (“Samuel”) said that since God is not responding to Saul through living prophets, what makes him think talking to the dead will be any different? Besides God has chosen David so there is no point. He reminds Saul of his failure to follow God’s instructions in dealing with the Amalekites (1 Samuel ch. 15). So he “prophesied” that Saul would be killed by the Philistines tomorrow (1 Samuel 28:14-19).
Then Saul collapsed in fear and starved himself all day long, the woman brought him food and his men encouraged him to eat, and when he was refreshed he back to the battle (1 Samuel 28:20-25).
1 Sam 28:13 is the ONLY verse in the bible where the dead are referred to as Elohim (gods) and it is the witch of Endor who said this. Saul doesn’t see anything, only the witch “sees someone”, that is why he has to ask her what she sees. This here could be a clue that like many “mediums”, she may be using psychology to mess with him. Oftentimes so-called psychics will fish for information by asking specific questions. It’s also possible she was involved with a demon, like the medium in Acts 16:16-21. I lean towards demon because it was only when she started divining that she realized it was Saul, so I suspect a spirit revealed this. However, I don’t even think it matters if she was talking to a demon or making the whole thing up, we know it wasn’t Samuel because of the false prophecy that was given. This “prophecy” in verse 19 was false because Saul stayed there all day and night fasting in fear before leaving the next day and he isn’t killed by the Philistines. Saul does not die until chapter 31, and Chapters 29-30 deal with David living among the Philistines. Chapter 30, starts 3 days after the events of Chapter 29 and David defeats the Amalekites out of revenge for raiding his land in Ziglag given to him by Akhish the Philistine King. So while Samuel was at Endor with the witch, a few days passed before he died, which means he did not die the next day as “Samuel” said he would. Furthermore, Saul kills himself during the battle after being injured, so the Philistines don’t kill him (1 Samuel ch. 31).
It seems very unlikely that God would use a sinful method like divination, to talk to Saul when he was already ignoring him through regular channels. This is why we should never seek out visions, signs, or voices, because Satan may accommodate us, instead we should trust the holy spirit. Deuteronomy ch. 13 and 18 both show God’s people how to spot a false prophet. In Deut ch. 13 it says that even if they do signs and miracles, they are false if they lead the people to sin like worshipping idols, practicing sorcery, or sexual sin. Deut 18:15-21 says that if a person prophesies that something will happen and it doesn’t then that person never spoke for God and was lying. This scenario is kind of a combination of both since it was a lying spirit that declared a false prophecy. Similar manipulation of false prophets by lying spirits can be seen in 1 Kings 22:10-28, and 1 Chronicles 18:9-27, when King Ahab’s false prophets are told lies by a spirit in order to encourage him to go to war and get killed, which was a judgment from God for his sins.