Hear His Voice Calling

…Should not a people seek unto their God?
On behalf of the living they seek unto the dead.

Isaiah 8.19

The practice of seeking guidance from the dead predates the giving of the Law as the Canaanite nations had been practicing this long before Israel became a nation (Leviticus 18.24; Deuteronomy 18.12). Israel had been forbidden from doing so. The punishment was death by stoning (Leviticus 20.27). Nevertheless, among their many sins was that of seeking spiritual guidance by means of those who consulted with the dead (Psalm 106.28). Israel was to seek not Jehovah and this was Isaiah’s message. It had also been the message of Moses (Deuteronomy 18.15). He also said that one day God would raise up a prophet who was to be heeded by all. This is still what God commands today. Listen to the words that his Son spoke.

Yet there were other appearances and encounters with the dead recorded in the Bible that pointed to the fulfillment of that promise made by God through Moses. We are speaking of course in reference to the transfiguration (Matthew 17.1-8; Mark 9.2-8; Luke 9.28-36). The contact with the dead that occurred here was not for freelance interpretation, book writing, personal testimony, etc., without any regard for God’s eternal purpose. This event happened for a specific reason. It was to show that Jesus was this prophet of which Moses spoke.

As to why people would seek guidance from the dead, we have a good indication from another story in the Bible. It is from the life of King Saul. Saul had twice disobeyed God and was told by the prophet Samuel that God had rejected him as king (1 Samuel 13.13; 15.23). After the second incident, Samuel would not honor Saul and saw Saul no more (1 Samuel 15.35). Rather than accept God’s will and seek pardon, Saul became very bitter. Saul sought a reversal to no avail. After Samuel’s death, Saul came under attack by the Philistines. He reached out to Jehovah for help. We read in 1 Samuel 28.6-7: “So Saul inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him, either in dreams, or by the Urim, or by the prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, ‘Find for me a woman who is a medium, so that I may go to her and inquire of her.’” The reason the Lord didn’t answer Saul was clear: God will not heed the prayer of one who is disobedient (Proverbs 28.9; John 9.31). Saul was separated from God due to his sin (Isaiah 59.2).

Being an Israelite, Saul could have received mercy and pardon from God through following the Law. He had access to a priest and sacrifice. Regardless of whether or not he would be king, he should have accepted God’s judgment and submitted to the rule of David. The decision of Saul was the same course of action that so many take in life. Rather than turn to God in submission and obedience, they become bitter when rejected by God. They seek God’s favor in ways that are not as God’s word instructs. Whatever the reasons Saul sought out Samuel, we find a valuable lesson from this encounter. The message from the grave through Samuel, who had served God in his life, was consistent with his message while alive (1 Samuel 28.15-19). God’s word does not change. Even if Samuel had been raised from the dead (as was Lazarus in John 11), he would have spoken the same words to Saul.

This is consistent with another story on a possible return from the dead by one who died in a saved condition. That story is found in Luke 16.19-31. The state of Lazarus was as that of Samuel. Both had died in faith. Both had messages from the grave that were consistent with what God had revealed while they were alive. Remember: God’s word does not change. Whatever message could come from the grave, if it was from God, it would be the same as spoken by God’s Son. If Lazarus could have risen from the dead, what would the have said to the rich man’s brothers? He would have warned them about a place of anguish and torment (vv. 24-25, 28). Jesus taught of this terrible place in Matthew 25.31-46.

But we also find from this story in Luke 16 that the scriptures are sufficient to cause people to repent (vv. 29-31). Post-death appearances and contacts with those who died in faith, as we saw from these two stories, bring messages that are consistent with those who preach the truth from the Bible. God begets us through the gospel (1 Corinthians 4.15). It is his power to save (Romans 10.17). Let us hear his calling and heed his loving voice. As the apostle John wrote, “Whoever follows his word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in him” (1 John 2.5).