Divination

Genesis 41:8; Daniel 4:7,9; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:7; Deuteronomy 18:10‑11; Ezekiel 21:21‑22; Zechariah 10:2; Genesis 44:5,15; Hosea 4:12; Acts 16:16‑19; 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Nahum 3:4; Psalm 58:5; Isaiah 19:3; Isaiah 29:4; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 20:14; Isaiah 8:19; Deuteronomy 18:11; Psalm 106:28; Isaiah 47:13; Isaiah 47:9,12; Acts 8:9‑11; Acts 13:6,8; Acts 19:19; Revelation 9:21; Revelation 18:23; Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15; Galatians 5:20; Colossians 2:18  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The numerous references in scripture to the various forms of occult science, as it is now called, and the strong denunciations against the Israelites having anything to do with it, show that it was a dangerous reality, however much deception might at times have been associated with it. We read of it first in Genesis 41:88And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all the wise men thereof: and Pharaoh told them his dream; but there was none that could interpret them unto Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:8), when Pharaoh called for all the magicians, chartummim, of Egypt and the wise men, to interpret his dream. All their resources failing, God’s man in the prison was called forth to show the dream, and this proved the occasion of working out God’s purposes respecting Joseph. Doubtless the above class of men were eminent for their learning, as those were at the court of Babylon, over whom Daniel was made chief (Dan. 4:7,97Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof. (Daniel 4:7)
9O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof. (Daniel 4:9)
).
Among those in Egypt there were some at least who were able to exercise powers beyond what they obtained by human learning. When Moses was endeavoring by means of signs to convince Pharaoh of the power of God, the magicians of Egypt were able to turn their rods into serpents, and to simulate the first two plagues with their enchantments (Ex. 7:2222And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the Lord had said. (Exodus 7:22); Ex. 8:77And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt. (Exodus 8:7)). These plagues were “turning the water into blood,” and “bringing up frogs upon the land.” This was beyond mere human power, and certainly the magicians did not work by the power of God; it must therefore have been by the power of Satan. We know not the nature of the enchantments used, the word is lat, and signifies “secret, magic arts.” Satan can suggest what incantations to employ, if man is willing, and can exercise his powers as far as permitted by God. After the first two plagues the power was stopped, and the magicians had to own, when lice were produced, “This is the finger of God.”
1. DIVINATION, qesem, “prediction.” A remarkable passage in Ezekiel 21:21-2221For the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver. 22At his right hand was the divination for Jerusalem, to appoint captains, to open the mouth in the slaughter, to lift up the voice with shouting, to appoint battering rams against the gates, to cast a mount, and to build a fort. (Ezekiel 21:21‑22) gives some instances of how the heathen divined. The king of Babylon had come to two roads, and wanting to know whether he should take the road to Rabbath or to Jerusalem, resorted to divination. First “he shook his arrows” (as it should be translated). Doubtless two or more arrows were marked each with the name of one of the cities, and shaken in the quiver, whichever arrow was taken by the right hand decided which road was to be taken. Jerusalem fell to the right hand. Perhaps the king was doubtful, so he consulted with images, teraphim; it is not known how these were used for divination (compare Zech. 10:22For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd. (Zechariah 10:2)). The king still sought another guide: “he looked in the liver.” By certain set rules the intestines of a sacrifice were said to be propitious or the reverse. The king using three sets of prognostications shows that he had no great confidence in his divinations: he may have been often deceived by them previously. How different from an answer from God vouchsafed to Israel!
Other means of divination are named, as, “divining by the cup” (Gen. 44:5, 155Is not this it in which my lord drinketh, and whereby indeed he divineth? ye have done evil in so doing. (Genesis 44:5)
15And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine? (Genesis 44:15)
). This was practiced by the Egyptians and Persians and is thus described: small pieces of metal and stones, marked with signs, were thrown into the cup, and answers gathered from the marks as they fell. Sometimes the cup was filled with water, and, as the sun fell upon the water, images were seen or fancied on its surface. Another reference is “My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them” (Hos. 4:1212My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them: for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a whoring from under their God. (Hosea 4:12)). The Arabs used two rods, on one of which was written God bids, and on the other God forbids, these were shaken together, and the first that fell, or was drawn, was taken for the answer; or one rod was thrown up and the direction in which it pointed when it fell was the answer. It will be seen here that a “stock” or god was invoked that what the staff declared should be controlled by him. So in all divination, incantations were used, and the gods invoked to let the replies given be the most favorable. Behind all this we know there were demons who controlled the results given, so as to work out the purposes of Satan.
In the Acts we find a damsel possessed with a spirit of divination, or of Python. This was the prophetic oracle at Delphi, held to be the center and focus of Gentile divination. An evil spirit connected with that oracle possessed this young woman. The testimony of the evil spirit to the servants of the most high God is remarkable: it may have been compelled to speak thus when brought face to face with the power of God (as the demons owned Christ): but the apostle could not tolerate commendation from such a source—the spirit was cast out by a superior power. Her soothsaying or divination was stopped, and her master lost the source of his evil gains (Acts 16:16-1916And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: 17The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation. 18And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. 19And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, (Acts 16:16‑19)).
2. OBSERVER OF TIMES, or, as others translate it, “a practicer of augury:” it may have included both. The Hebrew word is anan, which is also translated “enchanter, soothsayer, and sorcerer.” An observer of times had his lucky and unlucky days, and nothing must be set on foot without the gods being consulted. We have an instance of this in Esther, when Haman wanted to find a lucky day on which his plans against the Jews should be carried out. They resorted to the lot, but doubtless invoked their god to give it success. Others practiced augury for the like purpose of ascertaining the will of their god. Thunder, lightning, observing the clouds, the flight of birds, or the appearance of certain birds, answered their questions.
3. ENCHANTER, nachash, “a whisperer.” This seems to refer to the songs sung or charms muttered as a preliminary to obtaining a response from the spirits they wished to consult. It was one of the things that Manasseh resorted to (2 Kings 21:66And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. (2 Kings 21:6)).
4. WITCH or SORCERER. The Hebrew word is kashaph, and refers to the practice of magical arts, with the intent to injure man or beast, or to pervert the mind; to bewitch. It may be that they had no power to injure another unless that person, out of curiosity or friendship, was a willing listener to the incantations used. Manasseh practiced also this wickedness (2 Chron. 33:66And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. (2 Chronicles 33:6)). Nineveh is compared to a well-favored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts (Nah. 3:44Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavored harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts. (Nahum 3:4)). The woman at Endor is usually called a witch.
5. CHARMER, from chabar, “to join together, to fascinate.” It is associated with another word, lachash, “to speak in a soft gentle manner,” and then is applied to the charming of serpents (Psa. 58:55Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely. (Psalm 58:5)). In like manner man is deceived and disarmed of his aversion to intercourse with evil spirits until he finds himself under their sway. In Isaiah 19:33And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards. (Isaiah 19:3) another word, ittim, is translated “charmer” with a similar meaning, as giving a gentle sound in the incantations of the sorcerers.
6. CONSULTER WITH FAMILIAR SPIRITS. The Hebrew word is ob, which signifies “a leathern bottle or skin,” and is supposed to imply that the persons alluded to were professedly inflated with a spirit. It occurs sixteen times and is translated in all the places as above. As an example of the meaning of this word we have the woman at Endor whom Saul consulted: she is said to have had a familiar spirit. Saul at once said to the woman, “Bring me him up whom I shall name unto thee.” The woman, as soon as her life was secured by an oath, replied, “Whom shall I bring up unto thee?” Apparently it was her profession to call up departed spirits, but on this occasion she recognized the work of a superior power, for when she saw Samuel she cried with a loud voice. Samuel told Saul that he and his sons on the morrow would be with him. Whether having the power to call up departed spirits is always implied in the above word is not known. A remarkable thing, in connection with those who have a familiar spirit, is that apparently there is a voice heard “out of the ground” (Isa. 29:4).1
7. WIZARD, from yiddeoni, “a knowing, wise one.” The only thing said in scripture concerning such is that they “chirp and mutter” (Isa. 8:1919And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? (Isaiah 8:19)). This was doubtless a part of their incantations, used to bewilder those who came for advice, and needful perhaps to arouse to action the spirit they wished to consult. The counsel may have been good at times in order the more effectually to draw the deluded ones under the influence of the evil spirits.
9. ASTROLOGERS, habar shamaym, “dividers of the heavens” for astrological purposes (Isa. 47:1313Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. (Isaiah 47:13)). The word for “astrologers” throughout Daniel is a different word, ashshaph, and does not imply any connection with the heavens, but is rather “sorcerers” or “enchanters,” as we read with reference to Babylon in Isaiah 47:9,129But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thine enchantments. (Isaiah 47:9)
12Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast labored from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail. (Isaiah 47:12)
, where a multitude of sorceries and great abundance of enchantments are spoken of. Along with the Babylonish astrologers in Isaiah 47:1313Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee. (Isaiah 47:13) are associated STAR-GAZERS, who may have prognosticated events from the altered positions of the planets in respect to the stars. To this is added MONTHLY PROGNOSTICATORS, who probably drew their deductions from the moon. Connected with Babylon is also the word SOOTHSAYER, gezar, “to divide, determine fate or destiny” by any pretended means of predicting events.
In the New Testament, besides the case referred to of the damsel possessed by a spirit of Python, we read of others, such as Simon who used sorcery and bewitched the people of Samaria for a long time (Acts 8:9-119But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: 10To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. 11And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. (Acts 8:9‑11)); and Elymas the sorcerer, a Jew who was met with in Cyprus, who perverted the right ways of the Lord (Acts 13:6,86And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus: (Acts 13:6)
8But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. (Acts 13:8)
). These used magical arts (called “curious arts” in Acts 19:1919Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. (Acts 19:19)) and bewitched the people. Another Greek word is used for sorceries in the Revelation, θαρμακεία, which refers to drugs, “to stupefy with drugs,” and then for any system of sorcery by incantations (Rev. 9:2121Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. (Revelation 9:21); Rev. 18:2323And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived. (Revelation 18:23); compare Rev. 21:88But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8); Rev. 22:1515For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. (Revelation 22:15)). Sorcery is classed with the grossest of sins, and is also applied to the professing church in mystical Babylon. The same word is translated “witchcraft” in Galatians 5:2020Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, (Galatians 5:20).
The above is a brief glance at the subtle power of Satan in the unseen world, by which he deludes mankind, at least where man is the willing victim. Is it not clear that divination should not be confounded with mere jugglery? However much that may be associated with it, the real power of Satan is behind it. Some sorcerers converted in modern times in various parts of the earth have confessed that they were controlled by a power beyond their own; but that it ceased entirely on their believing and confessing Christ. It is important to see that this power is of Satan, because of the great increase in the present day of attempting to have intercourse with the spirits of the dead, to which even Christians may be, and indeed have been, drawn out of mere curiosity. “Let no man beguile you of your reward....intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:1818Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, (Colossians 2:18)).