Saul had asked the woman to bring back the spirit of Samuel, who was dead. The woman had often used witchcraft (magic) for such purposes before. However, on this occasion, her experience seemed to be extremely bad. Saul even had to urge her to be calm and not to be afraid. Otherwise, he might not have been able to ask for the advice that he wanted the spirit to give him.
Saul himself could see nothing. He asked the woman what she could see. She first replied that she could see something like a great and powerful god. The word for ‘god’ can mean God, a spirit, or a very important ruler, as in Psalm 82:6-7. So it was not clear to Saul what the woman saw.
Saul asked her to describe this ‘god’. The woman replied that he was an old man in a long coat. So, the spirit had taken a human form. Then Saul believed that it was Samuel.
However, we may ask whether that spirit really was Samuel. It is in the nature of an evil spirit to lie (John 8:44; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12) and to imitate (Luke 21:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:4).
Of course, the passage does call the spirit ‘Samuel’. However the author describes the incident as Saul and the woman saw it. They believed the spirit to be Samuel, so the author calls the spirit ‘Samuel’.
Many people believe that witchcraft can bring back the spirits of dead people. The Bible does not agree. It says that life comes from God alone (John 1:4; John 11:25-26). When people die, God separates them from everything in this world (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6). Then God is their judge.
So it is wrong and evil for anyone in this world to try to contact people who are dead (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).
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© 2014, Keith Simons.