Q: #135. Did Samuel really come back from the dead to speak to Saul?
By: Steve Shirley
A: The verses you are referring to are found in (1 Sam 28), and since I cannot post the whole chapter here, it might be helpful to read them before continuing.
In earlier verses, God had rejected Saul because of disobedience (1 Sam 15:23-29), and He removed His Holy Spirit from Saul, with an evil spirit taking His place (1 Sam 16:14-15,23). When Saul later sought direction, God refused to answer him by any of the common ways He often used: the Urim and Thummin or prophets (1 Sam 28:6), or by dreams (1 Sam 28:15). As a result, Saul went to a medium (the witch of Endor) and asked her to bring back Samuel, a prophet who had previously died (1 Sam 25:1), so he could ask him for guidance. The Bible then says that Samuel was brought up "out of the earth" and spoke to Saul foretelling Israel's defeat and Saul's death the next day.
Most scholars that I respect believe that this was a literal appearance of Samuel that occurred not because of anything the witch did, but rather, God supernaturally caused it to happen in spite of the witch. On this issue, I do not agree with the majority opinion. I do NOT believe it was Samuel, but instead it was thoroughly demonic, and God was not in it at all. I will explain why I hold this position.
First off, the Bible makes it quite clear that it is sin to try and contact the dead. It is called "necromancy," and God condemned it (Deut 18:11)(Isa 8:19). I just do not believe that God would being back Samuel from the dead in response to someone asking for this when He expressly forbids it. Jesus also tells us that the dead CANNOT come back to warn the living (Lk 16:27-31).
Secondly, we are told that God had TOTALLY rejected Saul and refused to answer him in any way. Why would God refuse to answer Saul, but then suddenly decide to answer him in THIS way? What is the point? In addition, Saul was later condemned for taking this action (1 Chr 10:13-14).
Third, if you carefully read the passages, you will find that it never says that Saul actually SAW Samuel. The witch simply said she saw "an old man" and he was "covered with a mantle (robe)" From this description, Saul "knew it was Samuel." A conversation then ensued between Saul and "Samuel." However, I do not believe this was Samuel speaking at all, but rather, it was a case of demon possession where a demon spoke through the witch. The Bible clearly tells us this is possible in a number of places (Mt 8:29-31)(Mk 1:23-24)(Lk 4:33-34)(Acts 16:16-18)(Mk 9:26). It also appears that some distance may have separated Saul and the witch to where he would not have been able to see her speaking as "Samuel" (1 Sam 28:21).
*** Note: Some believe that since (1 Sam 28:12) says the witch was startled by what appeared, it must have been God because it was something she was not accustomed to seeing. I do not doubt that she was startled by what she saw at first, but Satan is a deceiver and a counterfeiter (See: Q: #34.) and he can put thoughts in people's minds to make them see and hear what he wants. Just because something appears to be from God does not always mean it IS from God. It should always line up with God's Word, and this did not.
Fourth, another reason why so many believe this was actually Samuel is because the spirit foretold that the Israelites would be defeated by the Philistines and Saul would die, and it actually came to pass. It is reasoned that only God could have known this and made it happen. Indeed, God is the only one who knows the future, but this does not mean that Satan cannot make some future event happen. In this instance, for example, God had clearly taken His hand off of Saul, and he had been turned over to the demonic realm. While it is true that Satan can do nothing to those who belong to God without His permission, there is nothing that says Satan cannot work his evil schemes whenever he desires with those who belong to him. There is no reason why Satan, or his demons, couldn't tell a person who belonged to them they would die the next day and then carry that out.
Finally, the spirit that was speaking to Saul said "to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me." If this was indeed a demonic spirit, then it would certainly make sense that after Saul and his sons died, they would end up in the demonic realm. (It is possible that Jonathan did not end up in the demonic realm since he appeared to trust the Lord in his lifetime. If this was the case, then God would have previously given Satan permission to take his life that next day.)
Ultimately, no one knows for sure whether it was Samuel or not. I could be wrong, but I don't believe I am .