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  What is Divination?

Last week we began looking at the world of mediums, psychics, and the like, specifically, dealing with communicating with the dead through others. This week, we’re going to look at divination.

Divination means “The art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge usually by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers” (Webster’s Collegiate)—what’s often called fortune-telling.

When we look to the scriptures, it seems that the issue is cut-and-dried. In Deuteronomy we read, “Let no one be found among you …who practices divination or sorcery, or interprets omens....Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12a). It almost seems that this column is finished before it’s much begun, but once again, there’s more to the issue than immediately meets the eye. Indeed, while from cover to cover the Bible rules out our attempts to see into the future (in Acts 1.7 Jesus said it’s not for us to know the times or dates of God’s works—in other words, worry about today not tomorrow (cf., Matthew 6.34)), the fact is, we have unjustly lumped together many signs and wonders that do not qualify as divination.

So, again, to the Bible! In Exodus 28, we read of the “priestly vestments,” that is, the uniform of the high priest. In a breast pocket, the priest carried the “Urim and the Thummim” (30). These were two stones that the priest used to make decisions in the name of the Lord. When a decision had to be made, the priest would “inquire of the Lord” and then reach his hand into his pocket. If the Urim came out, the decision was “yes,” if the Thummim came out, the answer was “no.” Clearly, this form of inquiry of God was not considered divination.

Then there’s “Gideon’s fleece” (Judges 6.36-40). While Israel was under siege, an angel came to Gideon and announced that Gideon was God’s agent to deliver the nation. Gideon wanted to be sure that he’d heard right, so he asked for a sign (as opposed to an omen). Gideon left a fleece outside overnight and he asked God to make the fleece damp with the dew while the rest of the ground was dry. And in the morning it was so. But that wasn’t quite good enough for him, so he asked God to reverse the sign—dry fleece, wet ground. And on the next morning it was so. But obviously, this doesn’t qualify as an omen.

Then there are those astrologers, the magi. In Matthew 2 we read that the magi who visited Jesus at his birth, or shortly thereafter, had consulted the stars to determine the time and general place of the birth of the Messiah. Not only were these visitors rewarded by God with a visit to the Son, they were warned in a dream to return to their country by a different route to protect the newborn child as well as themselves from the jealous King Herod.

And then, finally, again in the New Testament, we read that in an attempt to know God’s will, the eleven apostles chose the successor of Judas by drawing lots (Acts 1.26).

Four biblical instances of what I have always heard the Church call “divination.” Four instances that were in no way condemned, and indeed, were apparently blessed, if not sanctioned, by God. So, what’s really legitimate and what isn’t when it comes to divination?

It seems very clear that it all comes down to intent. The divination that the scriptures are set against is to try and foretell the future. The reason for this is that the future is ultimately in God’s hands alone and our task is to live in this day, not to try and second-guess God.

But there’s another side to what we have wrongly called divination—seeking God’s direction. In all four instances above, and in many, many other stories, the intent of those drawing the Urim, setting out fleeces, reading the stars, and casting lots was to find God’s will, to hear God’s “Yes” or “No” for their lives. Indeed, the scriptures promise that those who seek will find God (Proverbs 8.17).

Now, this opens a can of worms the Church has long sought to keep closed. When the average person is enabled to actually seek an answer from God—and when they get one—they may discover they’re getting a different message than the one the Church is circulating; something that happened all the way through the scriptures. And it is true, that there are times when God doesn’t answer—even by a flip of the proverbial coin, as seen in 1st Samuel 28.6 where God refused to answer King Saul in any way, shape, or form. Thus, in every case, when we ask of God, we must remember that the “answer” we get will never be contrary to God’s Great Commandments of loving God, loving others, following Jesus, and making disciples. But the fact remains, the scriptures clearly invite us to “inquire of God” in making our decisions—which is not the same as fortune-telling or divination.

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