What do we make of situations where God speaks through people involved in occult practices, such as Balaam and the Witch of Endor?
Occult practices go directly against the laws of the Old Testament and scriptural commands. Christians must not turn to sorcerers and necromancers (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8). There were stiff penalties for participating in occult practices (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14).
But there are a few places in Scripture where people who engage in occult practices are involved with the people of God. I want to give three examples and then the principles I see the Bible teaching us about these occult practices.
Examples of the Occult
Balaam (Numbers 22-24). Balaam is portrayed as a prophet who has the spiritual power to bless and to curse. Balak, the king of Moab, is greatly afraid of the Israelites because of all of the land they have been winning in battle.
He sends elders to ask Balaam to curse Israel and gives him a fee for divination. Divination was often practiced by the prophets of ungodly nations to discern the will of the gods. But it gets interesting when Balaam says that he will speak to the Lord, the same God of Israel (Numbers 22:9).
How can he speak to Yahweh? It appears throughout the narrative that Balaam is a prophet of the Lord. The king sends princes to bring Balaam to him twice. God tells him he may go with the men (Numbers 22:20) and then his anger is kindled when Balaam goes with them the next morning.
Wise got angry after telling him to go with the men? This may be one of those times when God allows something to happen so that his anger and wrath will be poured out on the enemies of Israel.
The famous part of the story where the donkey sees the angel of the Lord in the road as he goes with the man and speaks to him comes next. Even though Balaam has the ability to speak with the Lord, he does not see the Angel of the Lord. It appears he has limited connection with the Lord.
The Israelites The Lord allows him to go with the men but for the second time tells them only to speak what the Lord gives him to speak (Numbers 22:20, 25). We can see that God has power over Balaam whether he is a prophet of the Lord or not.
Even Balaam admits that he can only speak with the Lord gives them to speak (Numbers 22:37). Four times Balak tries to get Balaam to curse the Israelites and four times he blesses them. It proves that he can only speak with the Lord gives him. The Lord is in control even over those who have spiritual power and are not necessarily his prophets.
Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28). King Saul was afraid of the armies he was about the face. He inquired of the Lord but the Lord didn’t reply to him. His spirit had long since been removed from King Saul. So Saul decided to take matters into his own hand and look for a medium or sorceress.
He was the one who got rid of almost all of the mediums in the land of Israel. But his servants found one and he went incognito to her. She told him it was too dangerous to do what he was asking. But he knew she wouldn’t be harmed because he was the king. He told her to bring up Samuel from the dead.
This woman was the kind of medium that was a necromancer, someone who could bring up a person from the dead. So she does what Saul asks to do and brings up Samuel. She doesn’t know that it’s Samuel but Saul does. Saul recognizes him.
The moment this woman sees Samuel coming up she knows that she is speaking with Saul. Samuel is not too happy about being brought up from the dead. He is being disturbed from what he was doing. When Saul explains that the Lord won’t speak to him, Samuel asks why he thinks Samuel can speak to the Lord in his place. Samuel is loyal to the Lord and speaks for no one else.
So Samuel tells Saul exactly what he doesn’t want to hear. Saul will utterly fail in the battle the next day and he and his sons will join Samuel in the afterlife by the next day. Saul doesn’t get the answer he wanted but he didn’t do anything right.
We must follow the commands of the Lord concerning sorceresses, mediums, and the like. But Saul was not listening to the Lord for quite some time. He adds this sin on top of all of the others. And he pays with his life.
But notice that it is possible for this sorceress to bring Samuel up out of the dead. She has real power to do what Saul asks her to do. There are real evil spiritual forces that can do whatever the Lord allows them to do.
Paul and the Slave Girl (Acts 16:16-23). While Paul, Silas, and others from his missionary group were in Lydia, they were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and could tell people’s fortunes.
After several days out of annoyance with the demon, Paul cast it out of her. This led to the imprisonment of Paul and Silas but they were freed from the prison during their own personal worship service.
The spirit of divination was a demonic presence that used the girl to tell fortunes. But this demon fixated on Paul and Silas because they were men of God. It couldn’t help but be drawn to the power of God exhibited in them.
In the spiritual realm, there is a hierarchy, a pecking order, if you will. You can rest assured that God is at the very top of that hierarchy. Every other spiritual being looks to him as the source of all power and authority.
Principles for Christians and the Occult
- Occult practices are against God’s law. He has given these commands because these forces are dangerous, his enemies, and against his servants. Saul is a good example. He does his own thing and it costs him his life. We must listen to the Lord and trust in him alone for all spiritual matters.
- People who practice in the occult have real spiritual power. These people have power given to them by the devil or his demons. There are evil spiritual forces that have the power to do certain things that God has allowed. We should not be surprised at their power. We don’t need to be afraid of them but we must take them seriously.
- God controls everything on the spiritual plane. Most importantly, God is in control of everything. This includes all spiritual powers, from the devil to his demons to other spiritual forces. Everything bows to the name of Jesus. He is ruler over all and all things have been placed under his feet.