195. Various Kinds of Divination

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The word divination (kosem kesamim, “divining divinations”) may here be taken as a generic term, of which the seven terms following represent the species. This might be more clearly shown by a slight change in the punctuation, and an omission of the word or, which was supplied by the translators; for example, “that useth divination; an observer of times, or an enchanter.”
By divination, as the term is used in the text, we understand an attempt to penetrate the mysteries of the future by using magical arts, or superstitious incantations, or by the arbitrary interpretation of natural signs. Its practice was very prevalent in the time of Moses among all idolatrous nations, as indeed it is to this day. We have occasional illustrations of it in Christian lands. It became necessary, therefore, to warn the Hebrews against the fascinating influence of this ungodly habit. God provided certain lawful means by which his will was revealed, such as by urim and thummim, by dreams, by prophecies, and by several other modes, so that there was no excuse for resorting to the practices of the heathen. These are spoken of under the following heads.
1. An observer of times, “meonen:” one that distinguishes lucky from unlucky days, recommending certain days for the commencement of enterprises, and forbidding other days; deciding also on the good or bad luck of certain months, and even of years. This sort of diviners often made their predictions by noticing the clouds. Some would refer this to divination by means of words, of which we have illustration in more modern times in bibliomancy, that is, opening a book at random and taking, for the will of God, the first words seen. Still others suppose that meonen has reference to fascination by means of “the evil eye.”
2. An enchanter, “menachesh.” This may refer to divination by the cup, as already explained in the note on Genesis 44:55Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing. (Genesis 44:5) (#90), in which passage the word nachesh is used. The Septuagint translators supposed it to mean divination by watching the flight of birds; while some later interpreters refer it to the divination by means of serpents, which were charmed by music.
3. A witch, “mekashsheph.” This word is used in the plural in Exodus 7:1111Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. (Exodus 7:11), to denote the “magicians” of Pharaoh, who were well versed in the arts of wonder-working. In Exodus 22:1818Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Exodus 22:18) the word is used in the feminine, and is translated witch, as in the text. Maimonides informs us that the greater number of works of divination were practiced by women.
4. A charmer, “chober:” (from the root chabar, to bind.) This was one who used “a species of magic which was practiced by binding magic knots.”Gesenius. Some think it may have been one who practiced a kind of divination which drew or bound together noxious creatures for purposes of sorcery; others, that it was one who used a magic ring for divination.
5. A consulter with familar spirits, “shoel ob.” This may have reference to a species of divination in which ventriloquism was used. The primary meaning of the word ob is a leathern bottle, which has led some authorities to think that this divination was one which called up departed spirits, and that the use of the word ob “probably arose from regarding the conjuror, while possessed by the demon, as a bottle, that is, vessel, case, in which the demon was contained” (Gesenius). Or, the word may have been used because these necromancers inflated themselves in the act of divination, like a skin bottle stretched to its utmost capacity (see Job 32:1919Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles. (Job 32:19)) as if they were filled with inspiration from supernatural powers. See Wordsworth on Leviticus 19:3131Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:31). The woman of Eudor who was consulted by Saul when the Philistines were about to attack him belonged to this class. Saul asked her to divine to him by the ob: (“the familiar spirit.”) (1 Sam. 28:7-87Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. 8And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. (1 Samuel 28:7‑8)).
6. A wizard, “yiddeoni: “ (the knowing one.) This may have indicated any one who was unusually expert in the various magical tricks of divination.
7. A necromancer, “doresh el hammethim:” (one who seeks unto the dead.) The necromancers had various modes of divination by the dead. They sometimes made use of a bone or a vein of a dead body; and sometimes poured warm blood into a corpse, as if to renew life. They pretended to raise ghosts by various incantations and other magical ceremonies.