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Morrish Bible Dictionary

Divination

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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 41:8 , 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. Daniel 4:7,9 .

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 endeavouring 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. Exodus 7:22 ; 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, whenlice were produced, "This is the finger of God."

In Deuteronomy 18:10,11 there is a list of things bearing on our subject which were denounced by the Lord:

1. DIVINATION, qesem, 'prediction.' A remarkable passage in 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: cf. 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.' Genesis 44:5,15 . This was practised 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." 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 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 favourable. 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 centre 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 16:16-19 .

2. OBSERVER OF TIMES, or, as others translate it, 'a practiser of augury:' it may have included both. The 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 practised 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 21:6 .

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 practised also this wickedness. 2 Chronicles 33:6 . Nineveh is compared to a well-favoured harlot, the mistress of 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. 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 19:3 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 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 recognised 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.' Isaiah 29:4 .*

* It has been doubted by many whether it was really Samuel that arose, because of his being God's prophet. The woman had reckoned that her familiar demon would personate as usual: hence her fear when God allowed Samuel's spirit in this special instance to appear. Of course Satan can do nothing without God's permission, but it must be remembered that it is Satan that had the power of death, Hebrews 2:14 ; and both Hades and Death, as powers of Satan, will eventually be cast into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:14 .

7. WIZARD, from yiddeoni, 'a knowing, wise one.' The only thing said in scripture concerning such is that they 'chirp and mutter.' 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.

8. NECROMANCER, from darash methim, 'to consult the dead.' This occurs only in Deuteronomy 18:11 , though the same is implied in Isaiah 8:19 ; Should the living go to the dead? should they not seek unto their God? And in Psalm 106:28 we read of some who 'ate the sacrifices of the dead,' which may have been a preliminary to consulting them. The above is the list given in Deuteronomy 18:10,11 ; a few still demand attention.

9. ASTROLOGERS, habar shamaym, 'dividers of the heavens' for astrological purposes. 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 47:9,12 , where a multitude of sorceries and great abundance of enchantments are spoken of. Along with the Babylonish astrologers in 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 N.T., 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 8:9-11 ; and Elymas the sorcerer, a Jew who was met with in Cyprus, who perverted the right ways of the Lord. Acts 13:6,8 . These used magical arts (called 'curious arts' in Acts 19:19 ) and bewitched the people. Another word is used for sorceries in the Revelation, φαρμακεία, which refers to drugs, 'to stupefy with drugs,' and then for any system of sorcery by incantations. Revelation 9:21 ; Revelation 18:23 ; cf. Revelation 21:8 ; 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 5:20 .

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 thegreat 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." Colossians 2:18 .


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Bibliography Information
Morrish, George. Entry for 'Divination '. Morrish Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/mbd/d/divination.html. 1897.

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