Monday, April 12, 2010

Perspectives on Sorcery and Other Occult Practices

OCCULT PRACTICES REFERENCED IN THE BIBLE: Sorcery, magic, witchcraft, divination, omens, spells, mediums, spiritualists, astrology, dream interpretation, enchanters, and false prophecy


Exodus 7:8-12—After Moses and Aaron performed “a miracle” or “a miraculous sign” before Pharaoh by turning a staff into a snake (cf. Exod. 7:9 with Deut. 6:22; Ps 78:43; 105:27), Pharaoh summoned wise men, sorcerers, and magicians who practiced “secret arts,” who were able to duplicate the act.

Exodus 22:18—God commanded Moses, “Do not allow a sorceress to live.”

Deuteronomy 18:10—Moses told Israel that when they entered the Promised Land, they would encounter a number of detestable practices. Among these were child sacrifice, the practice of divination or sorcery, interpreting omens, witchcraft, and casting spells. Mediums, spiritualists, and those who consult the dead also were mentioned. These practices were to be banished from Israel, and Israel was to be blameless before the Lord.

2 Kings 9:22—Jezebel was accused of idolatry and practicing witchcraft.

2 Chronicles 33:1-6—Manasseh, the king of Judah, followed “the detestable practices of the nations” and “did much evil in the eyes of God.” Among these practices were child sacrifice, sorcery, divination, witchcraft, and consulting mediums and spiritualists.

Isaiah 47:8-13—Isaiah mentioned sorceries, potent or magic spells, astrologers, and stargazers as powerless to prevent God’s judgment.

Isaiah 57:3—Isaiah called the wicked “sons of a sorceress.”

Jeremiah 27:9—Jeremiah stated the neither prophets, diviners, interpreters of dreams, mediums, or sorcerers could turn aside God’s judgment that would put Judah in subjection to Babylon.

Daniel 2:2—Nebuchadnezzar summoned magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers to interpret his troubling dreams.

Micah 5:12—Micah prophesied that God would destroy witchcraft and casting of spells among his people.

Nahum 3:4—Nahum viewed the sorceries and witchcraft in Nineveh as evidence of their evil influence over nations under their sway.

Malachi 3:1—Malachi says that God will testify against sorcerers and will judge them.

Acts 8:9-24—A boastful sorcerer named Simon, who amazed all the people in Samaria with his magic, became a believer after hearing Philip preach. He was astonished by the great signs and miracles Philip performed. When Peter and John came to Samaria and laid their hands on some of these new believers, the believers received the Holy Spirit. Simon offered Peter and John money to bestow this power on him so that he could dispense the Holy Spirit to others. Peter rebuked him for this “wickedness,” seeing that he was “full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Peter called on him to repent.

Acts 13:6-12—When Paul and Barnabas visited Paphos on Cyprus, they encountered a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet who was an attendant of the Roman proconsul. When the sorcerer opposed them, Paul announced that the Lord was going to blind him for a time. Paul called him “a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right.” He was “full of deceit and trickery” and was “perverting the right ways of the Lord.” As a result of his attendant’s being blinded, the proconsul became a believer.

Galatians 5:20-21—Paul listed witchcraft as one of the acts of a sinful nature and said those who live with such practices will not inherit the kingdom of God.

MY OBSERVATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS: I am amazed that occult practices have continued into our modern, scientific world. Almost all of this ancient “wickedness” can be found in our communities. Some of these practices (like a president’s wife who regularly consulted with astrologers) actually reach into high levels of our society, and many of our most prominent newspapers and publications perpetuate such practices. The power in them has to be more than ignorance and superstition.

At the bottom line, these practices contend against faith in God. They promise guidance for the present and insight into the future. They promise a power that will astonish us, an insight into our unalterable fate, and an explanation of realities that are beyond our physical senses. They promise good luck, a charmed life, and hope for success; but if you are on the wrong side of their powers, you can be cursed with bad luck, misfortune, and even the threat of death.

Many people look at these practices with amusement and don’t take them seriously. Practitioners are viewed generally as hucksters who are basically harmless; and if they take advantage of some people’s gullibility, so what? Have a little fun! On the other hand, if evil is an active reality in our world, maybe the occult deserves a second look. In spite of the fact that much of the evil in our world is perpetuated under the guise of religion, maybe we ought to acknowledge that the occult is an alternate religion that contends for faith, power, influence, and allegiance. Just as Malachi confronted Israel with its syncretism that allowed the occult to get in the door, maybe we too should be focusing on “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father” (James 1:27). James argues for a faith that will keep us “from being polluted by the world” while expressing itself in ministry to the “orphans and widows in their distress.” That’s a pretty good balance for all of us to seek.

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