The account of Saul enquiring of a necromancer in 2 Samuel 28 has puzzled many a scholar. What is it saying? 2 Samuel 28:13, “What did you see!”
1 Samuel 28:6 The sin is not in seeking to know. If we seek the Lord to know His counsel He will make it known [Romans 9:23; Colossians 1:27]. This was done through enquiring of
- God’s prophet [2 Kings 21:10] or
- The High Priest through the Urim [Light] and Thumim [Truth]. These are 2 Elements of the Priest’s breastplate. The ‘U’ is actually the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is the ‘T’. He is the Alpha and Omega [Revelation 1:8]. He is the Light and Truth – John 1:9; 8:12; 14:6] or
- In dreams [Genesis 20:6].
But God was not speaking to Saul anymore, so he sought to know the future through forbidden means. The Philistines used divination to determine what to do with the Ark of God found in their possession [1 Samuel 6:2] but this was absolutely forbidden in Israel [Deuteronomy 18:10, 14].
“You must not allow a sorceress to live” [Exodus 22:18].
1 Samuel 28:7 [She was a] woman that hath a familiar spirit [a necromancer] at Endor. The incantations she practiced were known as divinations [the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means].
1 Samuel 28:8 [Saul] came to this woman at night and said, “Use your ritual pit [your divination] to conjure up for me the one I tell you.”
The bodies of the deceased are buried in the earth and, in the practice of necromancy, the spirits are said to ascend from there. “like a spirit speaking from the underworld; from the dust … as if muttering an incantation.” [Isaiah 29:4]. Interestingly, according to the Septuagint, Saul instructs the woman, “Practice divination by the divining spirit within you.”
We have 1 New Testament example Acts 16:16, 18, which Paul identified as a demoniac spirit: ” a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying.” Then Paul confronted the spirit of divination in her, commanding “in the name of Jesus Christ … come out of her.”
Prophecy vs Divination
Scholarship teaches that the word “prophecy” is used in the New Testament when speaking the counsel of God whereas divination is always false prophecy and not of God. The word, divining, itself, speaks to the temporary madness or emotional fury that is exhibited. The word “mantis” [viz. the praying mantis insect] comes from the same Greek word representing a form of prayer [but not to God!] It is never used of Christian prayer! Remember, 1 Samuel 28:6, God did not answer.
What Sawest Thou? Was it Samuel?
1 Samuel 28:13 The woman called the apparition she saw “god” or a spirit being. The woman, alone, saw the apparition [1 Samuel 28:12-13].
Considering the passage unadorned by imaginative explanations, we cannot affirm that this was, indeed, Samuel. But, for our Catholic friends, we read in The Book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) 46:23, “And after this he [Samuel] slept [died], and he made known to the king [Saul], and shewed him the end of his life, and he lifted up his voice from the earth in prophecy to blot out the wickedness of the nation.”
There was no return from Sheol [the grave: Job 7:9; 2 Samuel 12:23]. This passage appears to be the only exception [if indeed it was Samuel: 1 Chronicles 10:13]. But Tertullian called this apparition “a rivalry of truth by an unclean spirit.” Luther called it “the devil’s ghost” and Calvin, “it was not the real Samuel but a specter.”
When Samuel alleged to have visited the scene, Saul was at Gilboa. Samuel’s body was laid to rest in Ramah in the territory of Benjamin, about 20 some miles south. It was believed that the spirits of those who died were held awaiting a final judgment [Luke 16:22; Ephesians 4:8-9] and could not leave [Luke 16:26].
This chamber in Sheol for God’s saints is now vacant! [2 Corinthians 5:8].
Today such divination is even practiced with the Ouija board, but getting our counsel from anyone but God and in any other way than by and through God’s Word is forbidden because it is demoniacally deceptive, misleading those that practice it away from God! [Titus 1:14; 2:1].
Referring again to the Septuagint, in 1 Samuel 28:3 & 7, a “divining spirit” is interpreted with the word “ventriloquist.” So, Saul saw nothing and what he heard came from the woman? The woman was surprised to learn this was Saul whom she said was noticeably terrorized by the very thought of God. Saul was not at all at peace, but now seeks the God that so frightens him! He didn’t want God [that follows repentance]. He wanted to know the future.
But, if this were not Samuel, how could the prophecy given be so spot on accurate? [1 Samuel 28:17, 18]. The simple explanation would be that Saul related to her what Samuel told him while still alive [1 Samuel 20:19-24].
So there are three explanations:
- It was a mere deception on the part of the necromancer—a magic act.
- She was indeed clairvoyant and could predict the future.
- It was Samuel.
I lean toward #1. For when it comes to prophecy, would God allow a necromancer to speak for Him!?
“I the LORD will answer … myself!” [Ezekiel 14:7 ESV ].