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Isaiah 19:3

The Egyptians will lose heart, and I will bring their plans to nothing; they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, the mediums and the spiritists.

Are the spirits of the dead ghosts (spirits) of humans who were once living on earth? Do some believers become earthly ghosts?

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    – agarza
    Aug 3 at 2:53
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This verse is comparatively talking about the people of Egypt, and that they will (via necromancy/divination/that is - a medium) attempt to make contact with the spirits of the dead.

Specifically their dead ancestors. Veneration (honouring their ancestors) was a very common practice of the surrounding nations, a practice which, at times, found its way into the Israelite practice.

Arguably the ‘spirits’ contacted where not actually the dead spirits, but rather [demons] familiar with the ancestors. In this verse this is reflected in the Hebrew word ‘ôḇ’ - which is one of the subjects of the verse, and has a complex meaning, but essentially means ‘one that has a familiar spirit’.

I’m not sure which translation you quoted? So am unable to identify the word it uses for ‘ôḇ’.

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  • When in 1 Samuel 28:15 Samuel spoke, is there any evidence that what appeared was not Samuel but "demons familiar with the ancestors"?
    – C. Stroud
    Aug 4 at 14:51
  • @C. Stroud I’ve read convincing arguments for both ‘sides’ (that it was/was not Samual). That account is a very interesting encounter. Both sides were somewhat apologetically convincing, so either view has support. But ‘reasoning’ is not evidence. IIRC? the rabbinical interpretation is that it was a familiar spirit.
    – Dave
    Aug 4 at 19:31
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First, let us be clear that divination, sorcery, necromancy, etc, were strictly forbidden in Israel:

Deut 18:9-12 - When you enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire,a practices divination or conjury, interprets omens, practices sorcery, casts spells, consults a medium or spiritist, or inquires of the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD. And because of these detestable things, the LORD your God is driving out the nations before you.

In fact, the northern kingdom of Israel was condemned for these practices and the prophets cited this as a significant contributor to their downfall and capture.

2 Kings 17:17 - They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire and practiced divination and soothsaying. They devoted themselves to doing evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger.

Isaiah also preached a warning against divination and necromancy:

Isa 8:19, 20 - When men tell you to consult the spirits of the dead and the spiritists who whisper and mutter, shouldn’t a people consult their God instead? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.

See Isa 44:25 for more of Isaiah's warnings against divination and necromancy.

Ezekiel issued a warning against false prophets who have practice divination and necromancy, see Eze 12:24, 13:6, 9, 23, 21:21, 29, 22:28. Jeremiah did the same thing, Jer 14:14, 27:9, 29:8; so did Zechariah, Zech 10:2; so did Micah in Mic 3:6

King Saul was condemned for consulting a necromancer in 1 Sam 28 & 31.

Therefore, the warning in Isa 19:3 is a warning to Egypt that such practices (consulting the dead) are no help and it will facilitate Egypt's downfall.

Actually, the Hebrew does not have the phrase "spirits of the dead"; the verse reads (my literal translation):

And will fail the spirit of Egypt in its midst; I will destroy their counsel and they will consult unto idols, and unto charmers, and unto mediums/necromancers and unto sorcerers.

Can the spirits of the dead be consulted? - definitely not! There are at least two reasons for this (apart from the fact this verse does not discuss that) -

  1. It is forbidden by the laws of the Bible and the prophets as documented above.
  2. The dead are dead and do not become ghosts as per:
  • Man is unconscious in death. Eccl 9:5, 6, 10, Ps 6:5, Isa 38:18, Ps 88:10. Thus, the Bible very often calls death a “sleep”; Matt 9:24, Mark 5:39, Luke 8:52, John 11:11, 12, Acts 7:60, 13:36, 1 Cor 7:39, 11:30, 15:6, 18, 20, 51, 1 Thess 4:13-15, 5:10, 2 Peter 3:4, etc.
  • The soul can be destroyed. Matt 10:28, Eze 18:4, 20, 24, Mal 4:1, 3.
  • The soul cannot think after death. Ps 115:17, Job 14:2, 21, Ps 146:3, 4 “their thoughts perish, KJV).
  • Man waits in the grave until the resurrection. Acts 2:29, 31, 32, John 11:11 – 14

Therefore, when mediums, spiritists and necromancers consult them, they are presumably communicating with demonic spirits (Rev 16:14, Matt 12:28, 1 Tim 4:1, etc.)

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  • Divination itself was not forbidden, indeed the high priest had the Urim and Thummin. The apostles cast lots to see who would replace Judas. Every time the old testament says "inquire of the Lord", this is a reference to divination via U&T. The issue is that people were to go to the high priest or use lots rather than go to pagan diviners.
    – Robert
    Aug 3 at 17:08
  • @Robert - agreed - the divination referenced in these places is usually necromancy of some kind.
    – Dottard
    Aug 3 at 21:03
  • Like Dave's this answer says that any contact with the dead is actually with demons posing as the dead. Both are good answers, yet Dave's got an up-vote while this got a down-vote. It would be nice if the down-voter added a comment indicating what was so wrong about this answer that wasn't wrong about the other. Aug 4 at 1:17
  • @RayButterworth - do not hold your breath for explanations about downvotes!! I get the impression that there is someone who has taken a dislike to me and makes a point of downvoting at least three of my posts each day regardless of content.
    – Dottard
    Aug 4 at 1:47
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Dottard and Dave have given their excellent answers already. Here, I will try to give a simplified summary of their answers.

NIV Isaiah 19:3

The Egyptians will lose heart, and I will bring their plans to nothing; they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, the mediums and the spiritists.

The Egyptians call them "the spirits of the dead" or ghosts of the Egyptian ancestors. This was ancestral worship practised by them. The Israelites were not allowed to practice or believe that. There were no such things. These were in fact demons disguising themselves to be their dead ancestors.

Are the spirits of the dead ghosts (spirits) of humans who were once living on earth?

No, at least not according to the Jews.

Do some believers become earthly ghosts?

No, not according to mainstream Christian doctrines.

Welcome to the site. Hope this helps.

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Are the spirits of the dead ghosts (spirits) of humans who were once living on earth? Do some believers become earthly ghosts?

I mostly agree with the answers given by Dottard, Dave and Tony Chan.

I only want to add that those answers (should) put paid to the abusive resort to the "appearance" of the 'elohyim of Samuel (1 Sam 28:13 - NET) or to the τις ἀπὸ νεκρῶν that the Rich Man asks Abraham to "send" to his brothers (Luke 16:30 - NET) as alleged evidence of the "survival ov the soul".

As for the Hebrew key words of Isaiah 19:3, in context, they are:

  • אֱלִיל (elil - H457): idol
  • אוֹב (ob - H178): necromancer, medium (certainly not skin-bottle)

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