In Parshat Shoftim, Dvarim 18:9-13 we are clearly commanded: “When you come to the land which the Lord your God gives you, do not learn to perpetrate the abominations of those nations. There must not be found among you anyone who passes his son or daughter through fire, or that uses divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter or a witch or a snake charmer or one who inquires of Ov or Yidoni or a necromancer (one who consults the dead). For all that do these things are an abomination to God…”
After Shmuel the prophet died, in Shmuel I 28:3, King Saul banished the necromancers and Yidoni-diviners from the land.
King Saul banished them as he was worried that since Shmuel did not yet have a clear cut successor, some may want to make contact with him through forbidden means to inquire about the future. King Saul himself was worried, as the Philistines mobilized for war and he no longer had Shmuel the prophet to consult with.
In Shmuel I 28:6-7 we read: “Saul inquired (vayishal) of God, but God did not answer him; neither in a dream, nor through the Urim v’Tumim nor through the prophets. So Saul said to his servants, ‘Seek out a woman who practices necromancy and I will go to her and inquire through her.’ His servants said to him, ‘Behold, there is a woman who practices necromancy in En-Dor.’”
King Saul was desperate and therefore disguised himself so that nobody, including the necromancer would know who he was. At first she didn’t want to help him (as she was afraid that she would get in trouble with the king) but he swore that she would not get into trouble.
The woman raised up Shmuel the prophet from the dead and Shmuel told King Saul: God is giving his support to David who will be the new king, you are being punished for not killing off all of the nation of Amalek, tomorrow you and your sons will be killed and the Philistines will win the war.
Why would King Saul think that it was ok to consult a necromancer when he himself banished them?
According to Or HaChayim, King Saul mistakenly thought that going to a necromancer would be permitted since he was not answered by God directly. This shows that kings also make mistakes and pay for them.
Abravanel explains that Saul inquired (sha’al) of God, but in Divrei HaYamim I 10:14 he is condemned for not seeking out God (velo darsh b’Hashem). Although he inquired, when God did not answer, he should have tried to seek Him out rather than rush to a necromancer.
As we begin the month of Elul which leads us into the High Holidays, we must remember that it is not enough to inquire of God, we must persevere and seek Him out as it says in Yishayahu 55:6 “Dirshu HaShem b’himatzo”, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near”.