Question: Help me to understand 1 Samuel chapter 28. This chapter disturbs me greatly, and I have found no one who can explain it. How can someone living communicate with someone dead? If this is possible, why aren't we doing it now? I am sure many others could benefit from your position on this. Thank you for your help.
Response: The Bible forbids communication with the dead (necromancy). Leviticus:19:31; Deuteronomy:18:9-12, 15; 1 Samuel 28; 1 Chronicles:10:13-14; Isaiah:8:19 are some of the scriptures that may be cited.
The passage in Isaiah is quite to the point regarding communication with the dead: "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? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Is 8:19-20).
First Samuel 28 is a special case. Saul was the king of Israel, and he had violated the Law by seeking out a spirit medium to conjure up Samuel. The woman complied, and, instead of a deceiving spirit (demon), she was startled to see Samuel actually appear (1 Sm 28:12). That it was Samuel is beyond question, for the inspired writer of Scripture specifically calls him "Samuel" five times. Furthermore, the prophecy given by Samuel is spoken as the word of the Lord (vv. 16-19).
Samuel also specifically tells of Saul's upcoming judgment and death (1 Sm 28:19), no doubt for his necromancy as well as his other acts of disobedience. There is no encouragement in this verse to engage in communication with the dead. Indeed, this passage stands as a severe warning against this practice.
If someone needs communication with someone wiser than himself, should he not consider the biblical promise of our Lord? James tells us that "if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not..." (Jas 1:5). The writer to the Hebrews urges us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb:4:16).