God’s Warning About Witchcraft

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©1999
In these verses from Deuteronomy God warns His people against imitating the customs of the people they would encounter when they entered the promised land. Obviously, God did not consider any of these practices “harmless.”

 

God’s Warning About Witchcraft – Deuteronomy 18

Deuteronomy 18:9-14: When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 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. Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

In these verses from Deuteronomy God warns His people against imitating the customs of the people they would encounter when they entered the promised land. Obviously, God did not consider any of these practices “harmless.”

But do we have a clear understanding of what told His people to avoid? Let’s take these one at a time to find out what they mean.

There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire

Pass through the fire: This section contains some stern admonitions against any indulgence in sorcery. The exact nature of this practice seems to have been a kind of trial by ordeal. The context indicates that the offering of a child is for the particular purpose of determining or discerning the course of events. This probably was the motivation behind the Moabite king’s sacrifice of his son in 2 Kings 3:26, 27. (KJV Study Bible) [1]

Passing a Son or Daughter Through the Fire. This phrase refers to the practice of child sacrifice. This seems incredible to us today, but the very fact that it was outlawed by God indicates it must have been done in Bible times. Second Kings 16:3 records that King Ahaz sacrificed his son in this way “indeed he made his son pass through the fire.” No doubt he thought that such a sacrifice would appease some pagan god. His grandson, King Manasseh, sacrificed his sons two generations later (2 Kin. 21:6; 2 Chron. 33:6). Second Kings 23:10 reveals that it was mainly the pagan god Molech who required this awful sacrifice. But other false gods apparently also demanded it (2 Kin. 17:31; Jer. 19:5). (Nelson’s NIBD) [2]

Or that useth divination

he “that useth divination,” (kosaim, kesamim)seems a general term for the various species after specified; (The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (TSK))[3]

Divination (qesem) was used of Balaam in Numbers 22:7 and Joshua 13:22. Saul asked the witch of Endor to “divine unto me” in 1 Samuel 28:8. The same word in Ezekiel 21:21 refers to the practice of whirling arrows in a quiver and deciding the answer to the question by the first arrow thrown out. (KJV Study Bible) [4]

Witchcraft. The practice of witchcraft, or divination, was a means for extracting information or guidance from a pagan god. The word describes the activity of Balaam the soothsayer, or professional prophet, who was hired to curse Israel (Num. 22:7; 23:23; Josh. 13:22). It also describes the woman at En Dor who brought up the spirit of Samuel. All the major prophets condemned divination (Is. 44:25; Jer. 27:9; 29:8; Ezek. 13:9). (Nelson’s NIBD) [5]

The only places where information is given on the actual means people used in divination is in Genesis 44:5 and Ezekiel 21:21–23. In the case of Joseph’s divining cup, the diviner apparently interpreted the shape of a puddle of oil floating on the water in the cup (Gen. 44:5). Ezekiel 21 describes the king of Babylon as he tried to decide which way to approach Jerusalem. It portrays him as throwing down a handful of arrows, hoping that a certain one will point to a route that he believes is the will of his god. It also records that “he consults the images, he looks at the liver” (Ezek. 21:21). Reading and interpreting the livers of sacrificial animals was another form of determining the will of the gods. (Nelson’s NIBD) [6]

Or an observer of times,

“observer of times,” (meonain) one who pretends to foretell by the clouds, planets, etc.; (TSK) [7]

Observer of times (me ‘onen) may be a reference to divination by reading clouds. (KJV Study Bible)[8]

Soothsaying. Soothsaying is a relatively rare word in the Bible that describes some form of divination, the practitioner of which is also described by the KJV as “observer of times” (Deut. 18:10). Because it sounds like a Hebrew word for “cloud,” some scholars believe it refers to cloud reading. This may have been similar to tea-leaf reading or astrology, which is a reading of the stars. God forbids the practice (Deut. 18:10, 14; Lev. 19:26). Wicked King Manasseh was also guilty of this sin (2 Kin. 21:6; 2 Chr. 33:6). The prophets of the Old Testament also condemned this occult practice (Is. 2:6; 57:3; Jer. 27:9; Mic. 5:12). (Nelson’s NIBD) [9]

Or an enchanter,

“enchanter,” (menachesh) a diviner, either by means of serpents, or by inspecting the entrails of beasts, the flight of birds, etc.; (TSK) 3

Enchanter (menachesh): In Genesis 44:5, 15 it refers to Joseph’s divination by means of a cup, and may point to a kind of hydromancy, in which reflections on the water in a cup are observed. (KJV Study Bible) [10]

Interpreting Omens. Behind this phrase, also rendered as “enchantments” (KJV), lie four different Hebrew words. The most common of the four occurs in Genesis 30:27, in reference to Laban’s “experience”; in Genesis 44:5 and 15, referring to Joseph’s cup; and in Numbers 23:23 and 24:1, describing Balaam’s activity. Leviticus 19:26 and Deuteronomy 18:10 specifically outlawed this practice as well. Another of the words used for the practice seems to mean “whisper,” and it may indicate the way the enchanter lowered his voice. In Ecclesiastes 10:11 interpreting omens is connected with snake charming. (Nelson’s NIBD) [11]

Or a witch,

“a witch,” (mecashsheph) one who used magical fumigations, etc.; (TSK) 3

Witch (mekashep) denotes a form of magic. The root means “to cut up,” and thus may refer to one who cuts up herbs and brews them for magical purposes (Gr.Pharmaka, drug). The term is used in Micah 5:12 for some such material as drugs or herbs used superstitiously to produce magical effects. The noun therefore means enchanter or sorcerer (Ex. 7:11; 22:18; 2 Chr. 33:6; Dan. 2:2; Mal. 3:5). (KJV Study Bible) [12]

Sorcery. Sorcery is forbidden in the Law of Moses (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:10). Sorcery was apparently practiced by the worst of the kings of Israel and Judah (2 Kin. 9:22; 2 Chr. 33:6), but it was denounced by the prophets (Nah. 3:4). (Nelson’s NIBD) [13]

Or a charmer,

“a charmer,” (chover chaver) one who uses spells, or a peculiar conjunction of words, or tying knots, etc.; lit. one that charms a charming (TSK) [14]

Conjuring Spells. This phrase, also translated as “charm,” appears in Deuteronomy 18:11, once in the Psalms “Which will not heed the voice of charmers,” (58:5), and twice in Isaiah (47:9, 12). Sometimes it is rendered as “enchantments.” A different Hebrew word lies behind this translation in Isaiah 19:3. Because it is related to a word for “bind,” it may mean “casting a spell” (“spell-binding”). (Nelson’s NIBD) [15]

Or a consulter with familiar spirits,

“a consulter with familiar spirits,” (shoel ov) a pythoness; (TSK) [16]

Consulting Mediums. This phrase may refer to the same thing as practicing wizardry. The word describes the witch at En Dor whom Saul engaged to conduct a séance and bring up the spirit of Samuel (1 Sam. 28:3, 9; familiar spirits, KJV). The woman succeeded either by the power of God or the power of the Devil. As with other practices in this list, it was forbidden by the law of God, practiced by bad kings, and condemned by the prophets. In two places the prophet Isaiah hinted that consulting mediums may be a kind of ventriloquism (8:19; 29:4). (Nelson’s NIBD) [17]

Or a wizard,

a “wizard,” (yidoni) a cunning man; (TSK) [18]

Wizard (yide oni): This term is related to the verb “to know,” or “to consult” a familiar spirit. (KJV Study Bible) [19]

Spiritism. The word for “spiritist” always appears with “witch.” The root of the word in Hebrew is the verb “to know.” In modern English “wizard” means someone very wise or inventive, a very clever or skillful person. But in the Bible it is always a forbidden thing, a kind of black magic. This is why most modern versions translate the word as “spiritist,” “fortune-teller,” or “sorcerer.” (Nelson’s NIBD) [20]

Or a necromancer.

“necromancer,” (doresh el hammaithim) one who seeks enquiries of the dead. (TSK) [21]

Necromancer: The Hebrew for this term means “one who asks of the dead.” (KJV Study Bible) [22]

Calling Up the Dead. Necromancy is another word used for this practice. The phrase occurs only in Deuteronomy 18:11 “or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead,” although this is exactly what an Old Testament witch did. The Bible gives us no indication that we can expect to talk with people who have died.

The Hebrew word translated as “magic” appears only in connection with Egyptian and Babylonian magicians. The first cluster of verses relates to Joseph in Egypt (Gen. 41:8, 24); the second appears in connection with the plagues (Ex. 7:11–9:11); and the third deals with Daniel and the various government-supported magicians of Babylon (Dan. 1:20; 2:2, 10, 27; 4:7, 9; 5:11). This term is never used in connection with the nation of Israel, so apparently it was not a threat or a temptation. In all the Old Testament contexts the ineffectiveness of magicians is underscored.

“Magic” actually comes from a Greek word that appears several times in the New Testament. Simon the sorcerer is one example (Acts 8:9–25). And Elymas the sorcerer is another (Acts 13:6–8). They may have been something like the “itinerant Jewish exorcists” (Acts 19:13) who attempted to drive evil spirits out of people in the name of Jesus.

Still another New Testament word translated “sorcery” comes from the same Greek word as our English word “pharmacy.” Quite obviously this has to do with drugs; a more relevant and contemporary application could hardly be found. The denunciations contained in Revelation 9:21; 18:23; 21:8; and 22:15 apply to those who use drugs to bring on trances during which they claim to have supernatural knowledge or power. (Nelson’s NIBD) [23]

Once again, regardless of how popular some of these practices are today; regardless of how many of your friends are doing them, or see nothing wrong with them, if you are a child of God you would do well to heed what God tells you:

Anyone who doesthese things is an object of horror and disgust to the Lord. It is because the other nations have done these things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The people you are about to displace consult with sorcerers and fortune-tellers, butthe Lord your God forbids you to do such things. (Deut. 18:12-14, NLT)

Notes:

  1. Thomas Nelson, Inc.,King James Version Study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1988 by Liberty University.
  2. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  3. Jerome H. Smith, editor,The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1992 by Jerome H. Smith.
  4. Thomas Nelson, Inc.,King James Version Study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1988 by Liberty University.
  5. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  6. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  7. Jerome H. Smith, editor,The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1992 by Jerome H. Smith.
  8. Thomas Nelson, Inc.,King James Version Study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1988 by Liberty University.
  9. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  10. Thomas Nelson, Inc.,King James Version Study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1988 by Liberty University.
  11. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  12. Thomas Nelson, Inc.,King James Version Study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1988 by Liberty University.
  13. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  14. Jerome H. Smith, editor,The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1992 by Jerome H. Smith.
  15. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  16. Jerome H. Smith, editor,The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1992 by Jerome H. Smith.
  17. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  18. Jerome H. Smith, editor,The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1992 by Jerome H. Smith.
  19. Thomas Nelson, Inc.,King James Version Study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1988 by Liberty University.
  20. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
  21. Jerome H. Smith, editor,The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1992 by Jerome H. Smith.
  22. Thomas Nelson, Inc.,King James Version Study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1988 by Liberty University.
  23. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors,Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.

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