Do Not Turn to Divination!
EVERYONE wants to know what will happen in the future. It may only concern the weather. “Can I plant my corn tomorrow?” “Will I be able to cut the hay next week?” “What will the weather be like a month from now during our festival?”
Nor is curiosity about the future limited to mere weather forecasts. People everywhere are concerned about coming events in national and international affairs, in commerce and trade, and especially about matters that personally affect them and their loved ones. It is this strong natural desire that urges so many people to turn to divination for answers to their questions about the future.
The word “divination” comes from the Latin divus (“pertaining to god”), and information received by divination is believed to be from the gods. The subject of divination embraces the whole scope of gaining secret knowledge, especially about the future, through the aid of spiritistic occult powers. It differs from magic-working sorcery in that divination generally involves seeking only to know future events rather than attempting to alter and control them as is the case with magic.
Practitioners of divination claim that superhuman gods are capable of revealing the future to those trained to read and interpret certain signs and omens that they say are communicated in various ways: By celestial phenomena (the position and movement of stars and planets, eclipses, meteors); by terrestrial physical forces (wind, storms, fire); by behavior of creatures (howling of dogs, flight of birds, movement of snakes); by patterns of tea leaves in cups or oil configurations on water or the direction falling arrows take; by the appearance of the liver, lungs and entrails of sacrificed animals; by the lines in the palm of the hand and by the “spirits” of the dead.
So broad is the field of divination that it has been broken down, and the individual aspects of the subject have been given specific names. For example, augury, popular among the Romans, is a study of birds in flight; palmistry predicts the future from lines on the inside of a person’s hand; hepatoscopy inspects the liver; haruspication inspects entrails; axinomancy divines with ax heads; belomancy with arrows; rhabdomancy uses the divining rod; oneiromancy is divination by dreams; necromancy is a claimed inquiring of the dead. Crystal gazing and oracular divination are still other forms, and perhaps the most common today is astrology.
HISTORY OF DIVINATION SHOWS IT IS NOT GOOD
The birthplace of divination was Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans, and from there these occult practices spread around the earth with the migration of mankind. (Gen. 11:8, 9) Of that portion of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal’s library unearthed, one-fourth, it is said, contained omen tablets that purport to interpret all the peculiarities observed in the heavens and on earth, as well as all the incidental and accidental occurrences of everyday life. King Nebuchadnezzar’s decision to attack Jerusalem was made only after resorting to divination, concerning which it is written: “He has shaken the arrows. He has asked by means of the teraphim; he has looked into the liver. In his right hand the divination proved to be for Jerusalem.”—Ezek. 21:21, 22.
Looking into the liver in quest of omens was based on the belief that all vitality, emotion and affection were centered in this organ. One-sixth of man’s blood is in the liver. The variations in its lobes, ducts, appendages, veins, ridges and markings were interpreted as signs or omens from the gods. A large number of clay models of livers have been found, the oldest being from Babylon, containing omens and texts in cuneiform used by diviners. Ancient Assyrian priests were called baru, meaning “inspector” or “he who sees” because of the prominence that liver inspecting had in their fortune-telling religion.
All the various forms of divination, regardless of their specialized nature, stand in sharp contrast with the Holy Bible. Jehovah through Moses sternly and repeatedly warned Israel not to take up these divination practices of the other nations, saying:
“There should not be found in you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, anyone who employs divination, a practicer of magic or anyone who looks for omens or a sorcerer, or one who binds others with a spell or anyone who consults a spirit medium or a professional foreteller of events or anyone who inquires of the dead. For everybody doing these things is something detestable to Jehovah, and on account of these detestable things Jehovah your God is driving them away from before you.”—Deut. 18:9-13; Lev. 19:26, 31.
Dreamers of divination, even if their prophetic signs and portents came true, were not exempted from condemnation. (Deut. 13:1-5; Jer. 23:32; Zech. 10:2) The Bible’s extreme hostility toward diviners is shown in its decree that all such were to be put to death without fail.—Lev. 20:27.
But despite these repeated commandments, apostates arose to flout Jehovah, not just commoners like the woman of En-dor, but mighty kings like Saul and Manasseh, and Queen Jezebel. (1 Sam. 28:7, 8; 2 Ki. 9:22; 21:1-6; 2 Chron. 33:1-6) Though good King Josiah cleaned out the divination practitioners in his day, it was not enough to save Judah from destruction the same as her sister kingdom Israel had been destroyed. (2 Ki. 17:12-18; 23:24-27) Jehovah, however, in his loving-kindness, first sent his prophets to warn them of their abominations, the same as his prophets warned the mother of all divination, Babylon.—Isa. 3:1-3; 8:19, 20; 47:9-15; Jer. 27:9; 29:8; Ezek. 13:6-9; Mic. 3:6-11.
Divination was also very prevalent during the earthly ministry of Jesus and the apostles. When on the island of Cyprus the apostle Paul was confronted by a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus, whom the apostle struck with blindness. And in Macedonia Paul cast a demon of divination out of a bothersome girl, much to the consternation of her masters who made much gain by her occult power of prediction. (Acts 13:6-11; 16:16-19) However, others, like Simon of Samaria, voluntarily gave up their practice of magical arts, and at Ephesus there were so many who burned their books of divination that their value was said to be fifty thousand pieces of silver (perhaps $8,000).—Acts 8:9-13; 19:19.
DIVINATION VERSUS DIVINE REVELATION
A sharp distinction exists between revealed truth from God and information obtained by divination. Those who as practitioners turn to the latter source of prediction are often seized in violent convulsions by invisible demonic powers. They sometimes work themselves into a frenzy by weird music and certain drugs. The Greek word for “soothsaying” comes from the verb maiʹne·sthai, meaning “to rave,” and is used to describe one who foams at the mouth and whose hair is wild and snarled.
Origen (third century C.E.), in answering the attack of the pagan philosopher Celsus that “[Christians] set no value on the oracles of the Pythian priestess,” declared:
“It is said of the Pythian priestess, whose oracle seems to have been the most celebrated, that when she sat down at the mouth of the Castalian cave, the prophetic spirit of Apollo entered her private parts. . . . Moreover, it is not the part of a divine spirit to drive the prophetess into such a state of ecstasy and madness that she loses control of herself. . . . If, then, the Pythian priestess is beside herself when she prophesies, what spirit must that be which fills her mind and clouds her judgment with darkness, unless it be of the same order with those demons which many Christians cast out?”—Origen Against Celsus, Book VIII, chaps. iii, iv.
No such physical or mental distortions were experienced by true servants of Jehovah when moved by holy spirit to speak. (Acts 6:15; 2 Pet. 1:21) God’s prophets in a sense of duty spoke freely without payment. In contrast, the pagan diviners plied their trade for selfish personal gain.
Nowhere in the Bible is any form of divination given a good connotation. Many times in the same condemnatory texts spiritistic practices of divination are spoken of together with adultery and fornication. (2 Ki. 9:22; Nah. 3:4; Mal. 3:5; Gal. 5:19, 20; Rev. 9:21; 21:8; 22:15) In God’s eyes divination is comparable to the sin of rebellion. (1 Sam. 15:23) It is therefore unscriptural to speak of Jehovah’s communication with his servants as a manifestation of “good” divination.
Dreams of divination were solicited by the dreamer. Not so when dreams originated with Jehovah. Either these were so plain and explicit that there was no doubt they were from Jehovah (Gen. 20:3-7; Judg. 7:13-15; 1 Ki. 3:5; Matt. 1:20; 2:12, 13, 19, 22), or, when they were cryptic and hidden, no practicer of divination could understand them, and only dedicated servants of Jehovah could interpret them.—Gen. 40:5-19; 41:1-32, 39; Dan. 2:1-47; 4:1-28.
Casting lots was authorized when Jehovah’s will in a matter had to be determined. “Into the lap the lot is cast down, but every decision by it is from Jehovah.” (Prov. 16:33; 18:18; Lev. 16:7-10; Num. 26:55, 56; Josh. 14:2; Acts 1:26) The exposing of criminal Achan, and the choice of Saul as king were perhaps indicated by lot. (Josh. 7:13-19; 1 Sam. 10:20, 21) The Urim and Thummim worn by the High Priest and used in judgment cases (Ex. 28:30; Num. 27:21), the presence of the ephod (1 Sam. 23:9; 30:7), and Gideon’s water test with the fleece of wool (Judg. 6:36-40), are other examples of how Jehovah revealed his purposes to man free of demon divination.
DIVINERS REBUFFED BY JEHOVAH
Jehovah’s unlimited power compared to the very restricted power of the magic-working priests is dramatized in the case of Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh. When Aaron’s rod became a snake, the Egyptian magicians duplicated the feat by means of their secret arts. But what a rebuff the latter suffered when Aaron’s rod swallowed up those of the sorcerers! Seemingly Egypt’s priests turned water to blood and caused frogs to come up over the land. But when Jehovah caused the dust to become gnats, the sorcerers had to admit it was by “the finger of God.”—Ex. 7:8-12, 19-22; 8:5-11, 16-19; 9:11.
Wicked Haman had “someone [evidently an astrologer] cast Pur, that is, the Lot . . . from day to day and from month to month,” in order to determine the most favorable time to have Jehovah’s people exterminated. (Esther 3:7-9) Concerning this method of divination we read:
“In resorting to this method of ascertaining the most auspicious day for putting his atrocious scheme into execution, Haman acted as the kings and nobles of Persia have always done, never engaging in any enterprise without consulting the astrologers, and being satisfied as to the lucky hour.”—Jamieson’s Commentary, Vol. II, p. 639.
Following his demonic advisers, Haman immediately set in motion his wicked scheme. However, Jehovah’s power to deliver his people was again demonstrated, and Haman, who trusted in divination, was hanged on the very stake he had prepared for Mordecai.—Esther 9:24, 25.
Another example of Jehovah’s superior power over the occult forces is the instance when the Moabites came “with the payments for divination in their hands” to hire Balaam the Mesopotamian diviner to curse Israel. (Num. 22:7) Even though Balaam sought “to come upon any unlucky omens,” yet Jehovah caused him to utter only blessings. In one of his proverbial utterances Balaam, under the compelling power of Jehovah, admitted: “There is no unlucky spell against Jacob, nor any divination against Israel.”—Numbers, chapters 23, 24.
In view of divination’s bad history, how foolish it is in this “time of the end” to turn to it for advice on the future. Man naturally desires to know the future, and his desire can best be satisfied when he worships and serves his Grand Creator. After all, Jehovah is the only source of dependable information on the future. He alone knows the end from the beginning. (Isa. 46:9, 10) More than that, through his channel of communication and his Word the Bible he lovingly reveals ahead of time what is good for man to know.—Amos 3:7.
However, when men turn away from Jehovah and become alienated from the only One who knows the future, they easily fall victim to spiritistic demon influence. Saul is such a striking example, one who at first looked to Jehovah for knowledge of coming events, but who, after being cut off from communication because of unfaithfulness, turned to the demons as a substitute for Divine guidance. (1 Sam. 28:6, 7; 1 Chron. 10:13, 14) Make sure you never make the same mistake!