C Critical Issues Commentar y I C
A BIBLICALLY BASED COMMENTARY ON ISSUES THAT IMPACT YOU MAY /J UNE 2004 ISSUE NUMBER 82
THE DANGERS OF DIVINATION
B Y B O B D E W A AY "When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead." (Deuteronomy 18:9-11)
THE NATURE AND HISTORY OF DIVINATION Old Testament scholar Eugene H. Merrill gives a general definition of divination: “The phrase ‘practicers of divination’ refers generally to the whole complex of means of gaining insight from the gods regardless of any particular technique.”2 Here is another definition: “[The] practice of making decisions or foretelling the future by means of reading signs and omens.”3 All pagan societies, ancient and modern, practiced divination. They knew they lived in a world of spirit beings and “gods,” and needed ways to gain information about the spirits that they believed created good or bad fate. Various techniques were developed to gain this knowledge. There is no logical limit to the varieties of techniques that might work. These techniques persist because they do work to some extent and the spirits are all too willing to provide their deceptive information. There are general categories of divination that were popular in the ancient world. One of the most prevalent ones was reading anomalies in nature. The ancients believed that the gods were behind the events of nature. When extraordinary events occurred, the ancients saw the possibility of learning from the gods. “These anomalies were understood as allowances by the gods in order to communicate a message to humans (as more direct forms of communication were not normally possible).”4 The practice of astrology arose because planets were anomalies in that they took a different course of movement than the stars. People used to examine the liver or entrails of animals to gain information from the gods. This is mentioned in the Bible: “For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he shakes the arrows, he consults the household idols, he looks at the liver.”
ecently I was asked to speak at a seminary. Before the meeting I had lunch with a couple of the professors, one of whom had spent many years as a missionary in Taiwan. The former missionary recounted a story that illustrates the reality of the spirit world. Here is the story in his words: A twelve-year-old boy in Taiwan was having strange experiences. He felt as though someone was often following him but when he turned around, he saw no one. Often in the morning after a fitful sleep he would have bruises and tell his parents that someone had been hitting him in the night as he slept. His parents took him to medical doctors who could find nothing wrong with the boy. Finally, they took him to a blind fortune-teller – one who had a reputation for his effectiveness in perceiving the spirit world. This fortune-teller told the boy and his parents that the boy was born as a twin and that the other twin had died at birth. This was of course known to the parents, but few other people knew about this as they had kept it a secret. The fortuneteller went on to say that the
boy’s problems were caused by the spirit of the deceased twin who was angry about being neglected. His parents had not been faithfully worshiping him and providing for him in the spirit world. Therefore, this spirit was punishing them by harassing their son (his twin). The solution was to set up an altar for the spirit of the deceased twin, worship him with food and incense, and burn spirit money on his behalf. When the family did as they had been instructed, the...
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