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Reference: Divination


The Eastern people were fond of divination, magic, and the pretended art of interpreting dreams and acquiring a knowledge of futurity. When Moses published the law, this disposition had long been common in Egypt and the neighboring countries; and to correct the Israelites inclination to consult diviners, wizards, fortune-tellers, and interpreters of dreams, it was forbidden them under very severe penalties, and the true spirit of prophecy was promised to them as infinitely superior, Ex 22:18; Le 19:26,31; 20:27. Those were to be stoned who pretended to have a familiar spirit, or the spirit of divination, De 18:9-12; and the prophecies are full of invectives against the Israelite who consulted such, as well as against false prophets, who seduced the people, Isa 8:19; 47:11-14; Eze 13:6-9. A fresh impulse to these superstitions was gained from intercourse with the Chaldeans, during the reign of the later kings of Judah and the captivities in Babylon, 2Ki 21:6; 2Ch 33:6. See MAGIC, SORCERERS.

Divination was of several kinds: by water, fire, earth, air; by the fight of birds, and their singing; by lots, dreams, arrows, clouds, entrails of sacrifices, pretended communication with spirits, etc., Eze 21:21.

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of false prophets (De 18:10,14; Mic 3:6-7,11), of necromancers (1Sa 28:8), of the Philistine priests and diviners (1Sa 6:2), of Balaam (Jos 13:22). Three kinds of divination are mentioned in Eze 21:21, by arrows, consulting with images (the teraphim), and by examining the entrails of animals sacrificed. The practice of this art seems to have been encouraged in ancient Egypt. Diviners also abounded among the aborigines of Canaan and the Philistines (Isa 2:6; 1Sa 28). At a later period multitudes of magicians poured from Chaldea and Arabia into the land of Israel, and pursued their occupations (Isa 8:19; 2Ki 21:6; 2Ch 33:6). This superstition widely spread, and in the time of the apostles there were "vagabond Jews, exorcists" (Ac 19:13), and men like Simon Magus (Ac 8:9), Bar-jesus (Ac 13:6,8), and other jugglers and impostors (Ac 19:19; 2Ti 3:13). Every species and degree of this superstition was strictly forbidden by the law of Moses (Ex 22:18; Le 19:26,31; 20:27; De 18:10-11).

But beyond these various forms of superstition, there are instances of divination on record in the Scriptures by which God was pleased to make known his will.

(1.) There was divination by lot, by which, when resorted to in matters of moment, and with solemnity, God intimated his will (Jos 7:13). The land of Canaan was divided by lot (Nu 26:55-56); Achan's guilt was detected (Jos 7:16-19), Saul was elected king (1Sa 10:20-21), and Matthias chosen to the apostleship, by the solem lot (Ac 1:26). It was thus also that the scape-goat was determined (Le 16:8-10).

(2.) There was divination by dreams (Ge 20:6; De 13:1,3; Jg 7:13,15; Mt 1:20; 2:12-13,19,22). This is illustrated in the history of Joseph (Ge 41:25-32) and of Daniel (Da 2:27; 4:19-28).

(3.) By divine appointment there was also divination by the Urim and Thummim (Nu 27:21), and by the ephod.

(4.) God was pleased sometimes to vouch-safe direct vocal communications to men (De 34:10; Ex 3:4; 4:3; De 4:14-15; 1Ki 19:12). He also communed with men from above the mercy-seat (Ex 25:22), and at the door of the tabernacle (Ex 29:42-43).

(5.) Through his prophets God revealed himself, and gave intimations of his will (2Ki 13:17; Jer 51:63-64).

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Eze 13:7. Used in Scripture of false systems of ascertaining the divine will, such as are allied to idolatry: as necromancy, which evoked the dead (1Sa 28:8); prognostication by arrows (Eze 21:21). The arrows marked with names of places to be attacked were shaken (for "He made His arrows bright," translated, "He shook") together in a quiver; whichever came out first intimated the place selected; or else threw them in the air to see in alighting which way they inclined, toward Jerusalem or Ammon. Inspecting entrails. The healthy or unhealthy state of the sacrificial entrails intimated success or failure. In the Nineveh sculptures the king is represented with a cup in his right hand, his left hand resting on a bow, also two arrows in the right hand, possibly for divination. The "magicians" of Egypt in Ge 41:8, (chartumim, from cheret "a style" or pen,) were sacred "scribes" of the hieroglyphics, devoted to astrology, magic, etc.; else from Egyptian chertom, "wonder workers," or cher-tum, "bearers of sacred spells."

Daniel was made "master of the magicians" (Da 5:11); chokmim, wise men, our wizards (Ex 7:11);" sorcerers" (mekaskphim), "mutterers of magic formulae" (Isa 47:9-12). Jannes or Anna in Egyptian means "scribe," a frequent name in papyri of the time of Rameses II. Jambres, the other name of an Egyptian magician preserved by Paul (2Ti 3:8), means "scribe of the south." The earliest prohibition of witchcraft is Ex 22:18, "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Witchcraft was an appeal to a power alien from God. So it was accounted rebellion against Jehovah. Saul's disobedience and rebellion against God's will led him, though zealous to extirpate witches so long as God's law did not interfere with his impatient self-will, at last to consult the witch of Endor; Samuel's words as to his disobedience in the case of Amalek proving prophetic, "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (1Sa 15:23; compare 1Sa 28:3-20).

So Saul died for his transgression (Hebrew shuffling evasion of obedience) ... and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it (1Ch 10:13). "Wizards," yid'oniym, from yaada "to know" (Le 19:31). Consulters of "the dead," 'oboth (Le 20:6), "those having familiar spirits" which they consulted to evoke the dead; literally, "bottles" (leather) inflated by the spirit; compare Job 32:19, "my belly is as wine which hath no vent ... ready to burst like new bottles." The pythonesses (margin of Ac 16:16) spoke with a deep voice as from the belly; by ventriloquism (Septuagint so translated "them that have familiar spirits," ventriloquists) they made a low voice sound ("peep and mutter") as from the grave or departed person's spirit (Isa 19:3; 29:4).

Scripture has written for all ages (Isa 8:19-20):"when they shall say, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits; and unto wizards that peep and that mutter, should not a people seek unto their God? (should they seek) for the (good of) the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony ... if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." This tests and condemns modern spiritualism, the sign of "the latter times and the last days" (1Ti 4:1), "seducing spirits and doctrines suggested by demons" (2Ti 3:1-8). The phenomena seem supernatural and Satanic, and the communications often lying, as was to be expected from "the father of lying" (Joh 8:44). The Angekoks, Esquimaux sorcerers, when converted, have declared that their sorceries, when they were heathen, were not mere impostures, that they were acted on by a power they could not control; but when they believed in Jesus they had neither the will nor the power to do what they used in their pagan state.

Brainerd states the same as to the Indian diviners, namely, that all their former powers of divination departed the moment the word of God entered their souls. Satan's design in spiritualism is, judging from the alleged spirit communications, to supersede Scripture with another authority (namely, spirit communications) in matters of faith. Satan and his demons are the real speakers in these pretended communications from the spirits of the dead. The "associate spirit" of spiritualism answers to the Scripture "familiar spirit" of the wizards. The pythoness and the witch of Endor were each a "medium" between the consulters and the powers of darkness. The consulters are put en rapport with the latter, not really with the departed dead. Scripture (Ec 9:5-6, "the dead know not anything ... neither have they any more a portion forever in anything done under the sun"; 2Ki 2:9; Lu 16:19-31) implies that it is not the spirits of the dead that make the alleged communications, though these communications assert that it is; this assertion is from a lying spirit, such as was in Ahab's prophets (1Ki 22:22).

The dead do not return, they are personated by evil spirits. Spiritualism is virtually condemned in De 18:10; 2Ki 17:17; 21:6. "Sorcerers" are especially mentioned as about to abound with "lying wonders," and to be adjudged to damnation, at the Lord's coming again (2Th 2:9-11; Mal 3:5; Re 21:8; 22:15). The three frog-like demons out of the mouths of the anti-trinity, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, shall "work miracles" to tempt the ten kings under Antichrist to the last battle for the kingship of the world, against Christ, in "the great day of God Almighty" (Re 16:13-14; compare Zec 13:2; Mt 24:24; Re 13:14-15). Paul was "grieved," so far was he from seeking and welcoming like spiritualists the pythoness' testimony to him (Ac 16:17-18); for the Spirit of Christ and the spirit of divination cannot dwell together in the same soul.

God condemns those who "remain among the graves and lodge in the monuments" (Isa 65:4) for necromancy, to consult the dead. The warning in Isa 8:19-20; Mr 5:3, applies to all times. The witch of Endor was "mistress of a spirit by which the dead are conjured up" (1Sa 28:7, ba'alath 'owb). Saul's request, "bring me him up whom I shall name," explains the previous "divine (qacomi) unto me by the familiar spirit." The witch's recognizing Saul as soon as Samuel appeared proves that her art was not mere jugglery: "Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul"; she was in a state of clairvoyance. On the other hand, her "crying with a loud voice," startled at the sight of Samuel, shows that his appearance differed essentially from anything she had ever by demon art effected before. She tells Saul, "I saw gods (a supernatural being) ascending out of the earth ... an old man covered with a (prophet's) mantle" (me'il).

Saul apparently did not see Samuel's person, but recognized the "mantle." Saul's inconsistency is convicted by Samuel: "wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?" If God was departed from him he should have been the more afraid to increase Jehovah's displeasure by breaking the laws in consulting the dead, as if they were less under God's control than the living. Abject superstition never reasons. Samuel's prophecy of his and his sons' death on the morrow, and Israel's defeat by the Philistines, proves Samuel's appearance to have been of God, and not by demoniac agency nor an illusion (Sir 46:20). God for special reasons awakened His servant out of his repose ("why hast thou disquieted me," etc.) to appear, not at a conjuring call which He forbids, but to show the witch and the king the terrible penalty of disobedience and witchcraft, as he (Samuel) had long ago declared in more general terms when alive (1Sa 15:23; 28:17-19).

Jehovah's principle is (Eze 14:4,7-8), "every man that setteth up his idols in his heart and putteth the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him that cometh, according to the multitude of his idols, that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart ... I will answer him by Myself" (by My own special interposition), answering the fool according to his folly, making the sinner's sin his own punishment. In Egypt books containing magic formulae belonged exclusively to the king,

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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 Ge 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. Da 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. Ex 7:22; 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."

In De 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 Eze 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. Zec 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.' Ge 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." Ho 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

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is a "foretelling future events, or discovering things secret by the aid of superior beings, or other than human means." It is used in Scripture of false systems of ascertaining the divine will. It has been universal in all ages, and all nations alike civilized and savage. Numerous forms of divination are mentioned, such as divination by rods,

Ho 4:12

divination by arrows,

Eze 21:21

divination by cups,

Ge 44:5

consultation of teraphim,

1Sa 15:23; Eze 21:21; Zec 10:2

[TERAPHIM]; divination by the liver,

See Teraphim

Eze 21:21

divination by dreams,

De 13:2-3; Jg 7:13; Jer 23:32

consultation of oracles.

Isa 41:21-24; 44:7

Moses forbade every species of divination, because a prying into the future clouds the mind with superstition, and because it would have been an incentive to idolatry. But God supplied his people with substitutes for divination which would have rended it superfluous, and left them in no doubt as to his will in circumstances of danger, had they continued faithful. It was only when they were unfaithful that the revelation was withdrawn.

1Sa 28:6; 2Sa 2:1; 5:23

etc. Superstition not unfrequently goes hand in hand with skepticism, and hence, amid the general infidelity prevalent throughout the Roman empire at our Lord's coming, imposture was rampant. Hence the lucrative trade of such men as Simon Magus,

Ac 8:9


Ac 13:6

the slave with the spirit of Python,

Ac 16:16

the vagabond jews, exorcists,

Lu 11:19; Ac 19:13

and others,

2Ti 3:13; Re 19:20

etc., as well as the notorious dealers in magical books at Ephesus.

Ac 19:19

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DIVINATION, a conjecture or surmise, formed concerning future events, from things which are supposed to presage them. The eastern people were always fond of divination, magic, the curious arts of interpreting dreams, and of obtaining a knowledge of future events. When Moses published the law, this disposition had long been common in Egypt and the neighbouring countries. To prevent the Israelites from consulting diviners, fortune tellers, interpreters of dreams, &c, he forbade them, under very severe penalties, to consult persons of this description, and promised to them the true spirit of prophecy as infinitely superior. He commanded those to be stoned who pretended to have a familiar spirit, or the spirit of divination, De 18:9-10,15. The writings of the prophets are full of invectives against the Israelites who consulted diviners, and against false prophets who by such means seduced the people.

2. Different kinds of divination have passed for sciences, as

1. Aeromancy, divining by the air. 2. Astrology, by the heavens. 3. Augury, by the flight and singing of birds, &c. 4. Cheiromancy, by inspecting the lines of the hand.

5. Geomancy, by observing cracks or clefts in the earth. 6. Haruspicy, by inspecting the bowels of animals. 7. Horoscopy, a branch of astrology, marking the position of the heavens when a person is born. 8. Hydromancy, by water. 9. Physiognomy, by the countenance. 10. Pyromancy, a divination made by fire.

3. The kinds of divination, to which superstition in modern times has given belief, are not less numerous, or less ridiculous, than those which were practised in the days of profound ignorance. The divining rod, which is mentioned in Scripture, is still in some repute in the north of England, though its application is now confined principally to the discovery of veins of lead ore, seams of coal, or springs. In order that it may possess the full virtue for this purpose, it should be made of hazel. Divination by Virgilian, Horatian, or Bible lots, was formerly very common; and the last kind is still practised. The works are opened by chance, and the words noticed which are covered by the thumb: if they can be interpreted in any respect relating to the person, they are reckoned prophetic. Charles I. is said to have used this kind of divination to ascertain his fate. The ancient Christians were so much addicted to the sortes sanctorum, or divining by the Bible, that it was expressly forbidden by a council. Divination by the speal, or blade bone of a sheep, is used in Scotland. In the Highlands it is called sleina-reached, or reading the speal bone. It was very common in England in the time of Drayton, particularly among the colony of Flemings settled in Pembroke- shire. Camden relates of the Irish, that they looked through the bare blade bone of a sheep; and if they saw any spot in it darker than ordinary, they believed that somebody would be buried out of the house. The Persians used this mode of divination.

4. Of all attempts to look into futurity by such means, as well as resorting to charms and other methods of curing diseases, and discovering secrets, we may say, that they are relics of Paganism, and argue an ignorance, folly, or superstition, dishonourable to the Christian name; and are therefore to be reproved and discouraged.

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