Divination in America

By Mike Willis

An article in the April 20, 1998 issue of one of America’s most popular newspapers, the USA Today, charted the change in Americans’ belief be- tween 1976 and 1998 about the following items:

Things Be- lieved






Faith healing












Fortune Telling










Though these figures mildly surprised me, I began to think of several news accounts that confirmed these findings. Nancy Reagan consulted her astrologist on a regular basis. Hillary Clinton had seances with Eleanor Roosevelt. Psychics advertise on TV with costly phone numbers. Astrology charts are sold at many grocery check-out counters. Some police departments occasionally turn to psychics to help solve crime.

These figures show a rise in pagan beliefs in our society as do the changes in moral standards accepted in such areas as the following: abortion, euthanasia, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, and gambling. The sociologists tell us that we live in a post-Christian America and these trends confirm their assessments.

The rise in superstition is directly tied to the rejection of the revealed faith. Paul wrote,

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things (Rom. 1:21-23).

As Americans become so impressed with their own wisdom and learning, too sophisticated to believe in an Almighty, Eternal God who sacrificed his Son on the cross of Calvary for the remission of man’s sins, and who revealed his perfect will to mankind through the Holy Spirit in an inspired Bible, they become more gullible to such things as extra sensory perception, seances, astrologists, spiritists, yoga, etc. Christians may wonder what the Bible says about such phenomena.

The Teachings of the Bible About Spiritualism

Divination and magic are attempts to contact supernatural powers to determine answers to questions hidden to humans and usually involving the future. Karen Joines explained,

The ancient Babylonians and Assyrians employed several methods. The Babylonians commonly used hepatoscopy, divination by the liver. The liver of a sacrificial animal by virtue of being considered the seat of life could be observed carefully by specially trained priests to deter- mine the future activities of the gods. For this purpose the priests underwent ceremonial cleansings in preparing to interpret the livers which had carefully been divided into zones, each containing its own secrets. This was done before action was taken on any matter of real gravity. Clay models of animal livers apparently used as instructional tools in teaching the science of hepatoscopy appear in archaeological sites in Babylonia and in Palestine (Karen Joines, Holman Dictionary of the Bible).

Resorting to these pagan means of learning the future was condemned in Scripture. Consider the following texts:

1. Leviticus 20:27. “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.” The things condemned in this text are:

a. One that hath a familiar spirit (NIV or NRSV: me- dium). The word  bw) means “a spirit of divination, or necromancy. . . a necromancer, one who calls up spirits to learn of them the future” (Davidson, Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon 50-51). In Brown, Driver, and Briggs’ A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (hereafter BDB) the word is defined as “necromancer.” The English word “necromancer” is derived from necros, the Greek word for “dead” and manteia, the Greek word for “divination.” The word means “one who claims to foretell the future through alleged communication with the dead.”

b. Wizard (NIV or NRSV: spiritist). The word yn(dy is from the root of the verb that means “to know” and is defined as “wizard, soothsayer, . . . spirit of divination” (298). BDB defines the term as “prop. either as knowing, wise [acquainted with secrets of unseen world]” (396).

2. Leviticus 20:6. “And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.”  One who turns aside to these is guilty of spiritual adultery. He has gone “a whoring”   (from hnz, “to commit fornication”) after other gods.

3. Leviticus 19:31. “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them:

I am the Lord your God.” One who turns aside to these things “defiles” himself.

4. Exodus 22:18. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” The one who is a “witch” (a female sorcerer) was to be punished with death. The word P#k means “to practice magic, use witchcraft” (Davidson 396; BDB 506).

5. Deuteronomy 18:10-12. “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.” This passage forbids the following practices:

a. Using divination. The verb Msq means “to divine, spoken esp. of false prophets” (Davidson 663); “practice divination” (BDB 890). The cognate noun means “divination.” The word “divination” means “the act or practice of trying to foretell future events or the unknown by occult means” (Webster).

b. An observer of times (NIV: sorcery; NRSV: is a sooth- sayer). The verb Nn( means “to cloud, bring a cloud . . . Poel. . . to divine, by the clouds or perh. the sky generally” (Davidson 607). BDB suggest several possible etymologies, but defines the word as “practice soothsaying” (778). A “soothsayer” is “one who predicts or pretends to foretell the future” (Webster).

c. Enchanter (NIV: interprets omens; NRSV: augur). The root meaning of #xn is “serpent.” The word evolved in meaning to mean “divination by serpents. . . to use enchantment, divination; . . . to perceive, observe” (Davidson 545). BDB define the word to mean “practice divination, divine, observe signs” (639).

d. Witch (NIV: engages in witchcraft; NRSV: sorcerer). For definition see “no. 4” above.

e. Charmer (NIV and NRSV: casts spells). The verb rbx means “to be bound, joined together, to consociate; to charm, bind with a spell” (Davidson 246). BDB defines the word to mean “unite, be joined, tie a magic knot or spell, charm” (287). The noun is used in this context for “incantation” or “spell.” When a witch joins together something such as sticking a pin in a doll to creating pain in someone, he is doing the thing here described. Some charms used are magic charms sewn as wristbands (Ezek. 13:18 NIV) to ward off evil spirits and diseases (cf. Isa. 3:20) or other items designed to protect a person from some supposed evil (cf. the modern use of crosses, good luck charms [rabbit’s foot, horseshoe, etc.]). Snake charmers exercised power in the community because they knew “magic words” or “magic acts” to prevent poisonous snakes from harming people. The psalmist compared the wicked to deaf snakes who were immune to such charmers (Ps. 58:4-5). The “enchanters” (NASB, NIV, NRSV) are listed among com- munity leaders the prophet condemned (Isa. 3:3).

f. Consulter with familiar spirits (NIV: a medium; NRSV: consults ghosts). See on “1.a.” above.

g. Wizard (NIV: spiritist; NRSV: one who consults spirits). See “1.b.” above.

h. Necromancer (NIV: one who consults with the dead; NRSV: who seeks oracles from the dead). The words in He- brew are Mytmh-l) #rd. The verb #rd is used in this context to mean “to ask, inquire, especially to inquire of or consult an oracle” (154). The most familiar example of a necromancer is the “witch of Endor (see 1 Sam. 28:7-9). The “witch of Endor” was one who called up the dead (see “1.a.” above) to learn the future.

Wicked kings not only tolerated these practices but also consulted such mediums (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chron. 33:6). Righteous kings expelled those practicing these things from the land. Saul initially destroyed such people and eventually went to the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:3, 8-19). Josiah destroyed them as a part of his reforms (2 Kings 23:24). Isaiah showed that one departed from God to the degree that he sought those practicing these arts (Isa. 8:19). He directed men to the law and testimonies rather than for the living to seek direction from those who are dead!

Why Men Resort To These Practices

Men who believe God’s revelation will listen to these divine warnings to stay away from these practices of the occult. Men turn to these things when they have (a) Lost confidence in divine revelation (otherwise they would be- lieve what it says about the impotency of such things) and (b) Rejected divine revelation (cf. why Saul turned aside to the witch of En-dor. Saul had rejected God’s revelation to walk in his own ways. When he sought divine help, God did not answer, so in his desperation, he turned aside to the witch of Endor [1 Sam. 28:3-6]).

The Scriptures describe how those who profess to be wise become “fools” as they follow their own reasoning (Rom. 1:21-23). The more human wisdom men profess to have as shown by their rejecting the revealed word, the more foolish they become in following such things as ESP, parapsychology, UFOs, the psychic network, spiritists, and astrologists. There is a direct correlation between infidelity and superstition.

The growing phenomena of Americans turning to seances, spiritists, astrologists, psychics, those claiming to have ESP, and such like things is an indication of the rejection of the biblical message. These phenomena are condemned by God as false religion used by the Devil to deceive the hearts of men.