Divination

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Where in the Bible are certain divination and fortune-telling techniques sanctioned, and why?

First, let’s define what divination is. It is the practice of trying to discern the will of the gods. By this definition, it is a pagan practice done in the nations surrounding Israel. So For Israel to use these practices is a violation of God’s laws.

There are different types of divination. The pagans around Israel used different methods to try to discern the will of their gods. One not seen in Scripture is cutting open and animal and discerning the will of the gods by the arrangement of organs inside the body.

One practice we see in Scripture often is casting lots. This is usually used with some kind of dice. The Bible doesn’t explicitly explain how this practice works. Generally, a person will roll at least two dice, calling the desired effect. Based on the roll of the dice, the person discerns what the gods want.

Another practice we see is prophets cutting themselves to get the attention of the gods. On Mount Carmel when Elijah faces off with the prophets of Baal they cut themselves to get Baal’s attention (1 Kings 18:28).

These nations also consulted sorceresses to speak to the dead. Although King Saul makes it the law of the land of Israel not to consort with sorceresses, he does so personally (1 Samuel 28). These are some of the ways pagans in the nations attempted to ascertain the will of their gods.

The only practice we see used in Israel among these is casting lots. Some scholars believe the priest’s Urim and Thumim may have been a form of dice to cast lots. We see casting lots of other places in the Scriptures as well.

Surprising to some, when the apostles are choosing a twelfth apostle to replace Judas Iscariot, they cast lots and pray, asking God to give them direction between two candidates for the apostleship. But let’s be clear about when the Israelites cast lots.

First, they expect that when they cast lots, as they pray to Yahweh, the answer they get will not be the will of idols or false gods, but of the God of Israel. Casting lots by an Israelite seeking Yahweh’s direction is not considered evil in Israel.

Look at the process the apostles followed. They prayed asking God’s will. They chose two candidates who were equally acceptable to God. Both were qualified to do the work of the apostle and fulfilled the definition of apostle. After prayer, they cast lots. They accepted the result as God’s will.

An important distinction to make is that we no longer see casting lots by Christians in the New Testament. On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the apostles and disciples in the Upper Room are filled with the Holy Spirit and simply rely on asking him personally instead of casting lots.

We also see foreign nations consulting prophets, doing whatever they ask to receive the result they want. Balak enlists the services of the prophet Balaam to curse Israel for him (Numbers 22-24). But Balaam finds himself required to obey Yahweh and do as Yahweh wants him to do. No matter how many times the king demands he curse Israel, he must bless them instead.

The Israelites eventually turn to idols and worship them freely in Israel during the time of the prophets. They probably do all types of divination during this time. But this is not permitted by God. The prophets preach against this activity.

The clear teaching of Scripture is that Christians must not use the practices of divination. We have no need to discern the will of the gods. And as far as God’s will is concerned, Scripture gives us direction on part of his will.

For instance, God wills that none should perish but all be saved (2 Peter 3:9). He also wills that Christians become sanctified and holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Christians need only ask God what his will in a certain situation is. Through prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit and Scripture, we receive God’s will.

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