One of our readers had an interesting question “Are there such things as ghosts?”. We will answer this, as we do everything, by using the word of G-d as an immovable guidepost.
1. Ghosts in Tanakh:
As we see in Ecclesiastes 12:7, Psalm 104:29 and 146:4 when people die G-d’s spirit returns to Him. In Hebrew this spirit is called the ruach*. Another Hebrew word often used when talking about spirits or ghosts is “gava”. Gava (gä·vah’) means breath out, which is literally “giving up the ghost” (death). In Tanakh the Patriarch’s and other forefathers are cited as giving up their ghosts; Abraham in Gen 25:8, Ishmael in Gen 25:17, Isaac in Gen 35:29, Jacob in Gen 49:33 and 5 times in the Book of Job. I suggest G-d’s ruach returning and people “giving up their ghost” are one in the same.
Another word in Hebrew for ghost is “rapha” (raw-faw’). In Tanakh it chiefly speak about going down to the grave (Job 26:5, Isaiah 14:9, 26:14 Psalm 88:11 Proverbs 2:18, 9:18, 21:16) at no time does it refer to a spirit walking the earth or a haunting. Even in Isaiah 26:19 the term rapha is used referring to the resurrection, not a ghostly visits.
2. Traditional ghosts as we know them:
Now about haunting people and houses. In Job 7:9-10 it tells us the dead will not return to their houses nor will they be recognized again. Also both Ecclesiastes 9: 5-6 and Psalm 146:4 explain that the dead have no thoughts about their past. Now lets think about this;
A. Not being able to return to your earthly home
B. Not being noticed by passed loved ones
C. and not having any memories of past events
…these factors would certainly impede any ghost’s ability to do his job.
Two additional words commonly used for ghost in Hebrew are ovoth and dybbuk (1). Surprisingly G-d’s word are void of these two terms.
3. Seeking ghosts is wrong:
In comparison to other ancient religions, in which demons play a central role, the Bible is nearly silent about the existence of supernatural beings such as ghosts (2). Much of this reason could be because the Tanakh warns against using mediums (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:11; 2 Kings 21:6; Isaiah 8:19). We are to seek the word of the Lord in counsel not that of mediums and/or the dead (1 Chronicles 10:13-14, 2 Kings 23:24, Isaiah 8:19). Anyway you look at it Divination and sorcery are forbidden (3).
4. The Ghost of Samuel:
In 1 Samuel 28 there is a story where King Saul goes to a medium to summons the deceased Prophet Samuel. He wants Samuel’s advice before going into battle with the Philistines.
Many people debate (4) about this event actually happening as a real séance. Since it is in the Tanakh we will respectfully give it the gravity it deserves. Let us remember that King Saul is seeking Samuel because G-d refuses to communicating with him (1 Sam. 28:6). Also Saul knows that it is against the Torah to speak with a medium. He, himself, is the one that had all the mediums removed from the region. In this interaction between man and ghost, Saul certainly is not blessed by seeking the advice of a medium. He is in fact cursed (1 Chronicles 10:13-14) . Some important notes to reflect on are these:
A. Samuel is summonsed, he is not a ghost roaming the earth.
B. Saul does not get the advice sought.
C. Samuel, instead, predicts Saul’s death.
The Tanakh does not support our traditional notions of ghosts and hauntings. The only true event that casts a faint shadow that compared to our modern day understanding of the underworld is 1 Samuel 28. But, absent here is the haunting, the ghost with unfinished business or even a spirit trying to connect to loved ones. Actually, the dead Samuel appears disturbed when he answers King Saul with “Why have you disturbed me and brought me up?” (1 Sam. 28:15). Maybe we should take that one piece of advice from the one ghost that seems to speak up in the Tanakh.