The Gift of Prophecy - Divination in the Bible by Paul O'Brien
Most people whose faith depends on biblical scripture believe that divination is a sin condemned by God. Fundamentalists claim that astrologers and diviners are agents of the devil leading the weak to eternal damnation. They selectively quote the Bible to back up their condemnation of divination systems and intuitive powers—many of which were accorded high respect within the same Bible. Fundamentalists ignore the fact that the Bible, even after extensive early editing, still contains numerous verses that show God approving the use of divination as a way to decipher His will and make enlightened decisions. In fact, there are more verses for divination than against it.
Divination systems, and other intuitive arts, are being condemned based on an entirely selective citation of scriptures. In the interests of objectivity, we ought to examine the entire spectrum of what the Old and New Testaments have to say about divination and psychic arts—including the divination technique known as “Urim and Thummim” that was prescribed by God, as well as omen reading, channeling, psychics and prophets. (All scriptural passages referenced herein are from the New King James version.)
All three of the largest western religions selected their scriptures with political goals in mind, even as they anointed them as “the word of God.” Passages that support various arguments—including the condemnation of divination—are routinely taken out of the context of the cultural reality of the time in which they were written. Fundamentalists rely on narrow interpretations of an ancient text that has been translated many times, that includes words and concepts no longer spoken or understood. Rational people will have a healthy skepticism and, in the final analysis, trust their own intuition about how to interpret ancient scriptures and what beliefs to base on them.
Prophets and Diviners Organized religion’s condemnation of intuitive powers is especially ironic considering that the Bible itself is considered a channeled work, transcribed by its human authors through what St. Paul later defined as “the gift of prophecy,” which was available to all who believed in orthodox doctrine. It is an article of faith in scripture’s authority that God spoke through prophets, who received His message using what we now call channeling, a freeform psychic version of divination. The Bible describes this process in several places, including the following:
I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. (Deuteronomy 18:18)
I have also spoken by the prophets, And have multiplied visions; I have given symbols through the witness of the prophets. (Hosea 12:10)
The prophets are psychic mediums who received wisdom in the form of voices and visions from a higher power, which they then conveyed to others, sometimes to make a decision or offer advice. The God of the Old Testament gave prophets knowledge of the future to warn people and persuade them to abide by God’s will. As it is recorded, the prophets who predict the future generally do so when a warning is necessary, but it is reasonable to assume that they do it at other times too.
The prophets were watchmen, guardians of the people, who looked out for the nation because they could foresee dangers coming. Prophets were also known to interpret events that were happening in the present, providing insights into God’s reasons for creating the conditions in question. Diviners and prophets were classed as similar functionaries. In Isaiah 3:2-3 diviners are ranked with judges, warriors and prophets as pillars of the state.
The mighty man and the man of war, The judge and the prophet, And the diviner and the elder; The captain of fifty and the honorable man, The counselor and the skillful artisan, And the expert enchanter. (Isaiah 3:2-3)
The book of Numbers (22-24) contains the story of Balaam, a diviner who was known for the effectiveness of his blessings—and his curses. This story is the furthest thing from an illustration of an abomination, or even a parable illustrating the dangers of the mantic arts. Balaam was, in fact, in the good graces of God and was chosen by God to speak for Him. He was obedient, dutiful, and fair. The Bible does not condemn his actions as a diviner. God freely spoke to him, in a friendly way, and considered him as His messenger.
The story of the Moses is a classic example of a mystical experience in the Bible. Moses repeatedly ascended Mt. Sinai to communicate directly with God. Not only did he listen to God’s instructions, he also was able to ask questions in order to confirm the divine commands. Moses also used the Israelite’s Urim method of divination described below. It only makes sense that he would, because communicating with divinity is what the word “divination” means, and what all divination systems are created to facilitate.
The High Priest’s Divination System Divination and the reading of omens are commonly used in the Bible when it comes to deciding all sorts of issues. Most that were recorded had to do with the safety of king or state. The prophet Elisha directed King Joash to throw two arrows through the window in order to find out whether the king would be victorious or not (2 Kings 13:14-19). God used omens to signal Gideon’s victory over the Midianites. If the fleece of the sheep was wet and the ground was dry it was a sign of ensuing success (Judges 6:36-40). In 1 Samuel 14:9, Jonathan decides whether or not he should attack the Philistines by the words the Lord has them speak. There is nothing in the Bible disapproving of the reading of signs sent from God.
But the Israelites did not have to rely on external signs alone. They had a sacred divination system, known as Urim and Thummim, given to them by Jahweh (Esther 3: 21-28). Several verses of the Old Testament that were not edited out mention the use of this sacred tool. The exact composition of the Urim and Thummim is not certain, but most scholars believe there were two sacred stone dice, perhaps made of precious gems. They were stored in a pouch inside the high priest’s “breastplate of judgment,” which he wore whenever seeking divine guidance with regard to important issues or strategic decisions of state. However it worked (and we do not know exactly), the Bible makes it clear that God himself granted the people this divination system, and that He controlled the answers it produced.
Abraham used Urim and Thummim, as did Aaron and the priests of Israel. He shall stand before Eleazer the priest, who shall inquire before the Lord for him by the judgment of the Urim. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, he and all the children of Israel with him—all the congregation. (Numbers 27:21)
As noted, Moses used the Urim and Thummim. Joshua was named as his successor using this divination system (Numbers 27:21). After Joshua died, the Israelites used it to determine who would continue to lead them into victory over the Canaanites. (Judges 1:1) When David was considering whether or not to pursue the marauding Amalekites, the divination tool confirmed for him that it was advisable to do so (1 Samuel 30: 7-8). There are many more examples of the divinatory use of the Urim and Thummim, which can be easily looked up in any Bible concordance. In most cases, God explicitly tells them to use it to divine His will.
Since there are so many instances in the Bible in which God provides answers to his followers through divination—either Urim and Thummim or the casting of lots (used in the New Testament to pick Matthias as the replacement for Judas)—we ask ourselves how it can be that divination has come to be portrayed as evil by fundamentalist religions and sects.
The biblical case against divination Considering that the God sanctioned and recommended divination in more passages than otherwise, it is a travesty that the organized western religions have since condemned divination systems. In spite of all the passages noted herein (and listed on Tarot.com), it is incredible that Christian fundamentalists continue to cite the Bible as proof that God condemns diviners.
The most commonly quoted verse in the Bible that is used to assert that divination is a transgression against God’s will is Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
Before taking this at face value out of context, it’s important to note that the book of Deuteronomy contains countless laws that were themselves abominable and are no longer respected or practiced by anyone, let alone used as grounds for persecution. For instance, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts.” (Deuteronomy 15:1) There would be countless people in a much better financial position if this law were enforced! Women might be interested to know that they are “an abomination to the Lord” if they wear men’s clothes (Deuteronomy 22:5). Also according to this law, any bride who is not a virgin on her wedding night shall be stoned to death on her father’s porch (Deuteronomy 22:21).
Over the centuries, churches, temples and mosques have narrowly selected which parts of their scriptures to heed, and which to ignore. But in this modern age we are free to look at ancient scriptures with fresh eyes. In so doing, we need to remember that the true value of scriptures does not lie in lists of ancient laws and “shalt-nots,” but in parables of virtue and timeless principles that are relevant to the cultivation of wisdom. If religious organizations have been hostile to divination, it is because they are not interested in cultivating the types of mystical experiences that inspired them in the first place.
Based on a fair and balanced look at the biblical record, it is safe to conclude that our western God intended us to use divination systems to better interpret the divine plan. In ancient times, only the high priest had the power of direct access. Luckily, all spiritually inclined people alive today have access to better divination systems—like the I Ching and Tarot. We are now able to go direct on our own, bypassing religious and political hierarchies altogether.
In the first century of the common era, as he was defining orthodox Christian beliefs, St. Paul labeled the ability to decipher the mind of God as “the Gift of Prophecy”—one of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to true believers. It was a form of channeling. Nowadays, thanks to universal access to authentic divination tools, everyone—Christian and non-Christian alike—who approaches the process with sincerity can go direct, without being expected to channel (or speak in tongues, for that matter). When it comes to communicating with the divine, we are truly the chosen people.
Paul O’Brien is known as “the father of interactive divination.” He is the publisher of Tarot.com and I-Ching.com, co-author of The Visionary I Ching (first published as Synchronicity Software in 1989), and author of a new book Divination, Destiny and Desire. Along with divination system design, his experiences as a New Thought minister and Buddhist meditation teacher support his passion for helping people pinpoint and fulfill their Heart’s Desires. This article excerpted from the book Divination, Destiny, and Desire.