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Divination and Diviners in the Bible

Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Judge Samuel, King Saul, King David, Joseph, many high priests, and the eleven apostles after the death of Jesus are presented as diviners [cf Numbers 12:5-8; Acts 1:24-6; John 15:3-4].

Bible Divination and diviners in the Bible Divination is from Latin divinare "to foresee, to be inspired by a god". It often involves a traditional process or ritual. Divination methods vary by culture and religion. Diviners seek to ascertain how to proceed by interpreting signs, events, or omens or through alleged contact with a supernatural source. Dream interpretations were also used. Both the ancient Hebrews and the Romans believed in prophetic dreams. Divination is also resorted to as a religious practice. Fortune-telling is a more everyday use of it.

Divination may be sorted somewhat:

  1. Omens and omen texts. Strange births are included among omens in the Chinese tradition.
  2. Cleromancy, the casting of lots, whether with sticks, stones, bones, beans, coins, or some other item. This form of divination was used by the remaining eleven disciples of Jesus in Acts 1:23-26 to select a replacement for Judas Iscariot. So divination was an accepted and welcome practice in the early church and also later on.
  3. Augury. It considers such as shapes and proximities. The Romans, in classical times, used Etruscan methods of augury such as examining the livers of sacrificed animals and interpreting their findings. Augury otherwise refers to divination by studying the flights of birds.
  4. Spontaneous. An unconstrained form of divination. The answer comes from whatever object the diviner happens to see or hear. Some religions use a form of bibliomancy: they ask a question, riffle the pages of their holy book, and take as their answer the first passage their eyes light upon. Frans of Assisi, for example, used bibliomancy. In San Nicolò he and Brother Bernard opened the Bible at random three times in order to find out how God wanted them to live. So they did not think much! The Bible opened at a text that related to the missions of the evangelists. Their use of bibliomancy was the basis of the new Franciscan form of life. Other forms of spontaneous divination include reading auras and New Age methods of feng shui such as "intuitive".

Deuteronomy 18:10-12 or Leviticus 19:26 can be taken to mean the Bible forbids divination. However, other verses of the Hebrew Bible include many respected examples of the use of divination by the ancient Israelites. For example, Exodus 28 gives members of the priestly class the use of the Urim and Thummim to discover the will of Yahweh before times of sacrifice and Gideon uses a piece of fleece or wool in Judges 6:36-40 to predict the outcome of an important battle. Especially valued by the ancient Hebrews was the divination method of "casting lots" (cleromancy) which was even used in Joshua 14:1-5 and Joshua 18:1-10 to divide the conquered lands of Canaan between the twelve tribes.

[WP, "Divination"]

Examples of Bible Divination

This is what the Bible tells about, Bible criticism of it laid aside for a while. Evidence is here:

Joseph in Pharaoh's service once said to his steward and instructed him to go and find the cup Joseph used to drink from and use for divination. The cup was found in his visiting brother Benjamin's sack. Joseph said to his shamed brothers, "What is this you have done? Don't you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?" [Genesis 44:1-15, excerpts]. This divinator became a Pharaoh's helper.

The Israelites got their various areas to live in assigned by lot - as commanded from above through Moses. [Joshua 14;1-2] Casting of lots is one form of divination. Moses instigated it among the Israelites, and Joshua carried it on.

A garment-like "tool" called ephod was designed to serve as a divining object. It served divination and was specified for Israelite priests and leaders in Exodus 28. "This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants. [Ex. 28:1-43; 39:2-5 and elsewhere]. [Exodus 28:1-43]

High priests might divine by using the ephod. Judge Samuel wore the ephod when he served before the tabernacle at Shiloh (1 Sam 2:18). The ephod proper (Ex. 28:6-8; 39:2-5) was worn outside the robe. It seems to have been "kept in place by a girdle and by shoulder pieces, from which hung the breast piece (or pouch) containing the sacred lots (divinatory objects), Urim and Thummim, whose precise function is now unknown," writes Encyclopedia Britannica. Thus, the ephod was part of the ceremonial dress of the high priest of ancient Israel. The ephod was also used for oracular purposes, together with the two stones Urim and Thummim. The books of Samuel imply that whenever Saul or David wished to question Yahweh via oracular methods, they asked a priest for the ephod. [◦More] Joshua, before the Lord, learnt to ask of a stone called Urim, on God's command [Numbers 27:18,20,21].

Samuel wore a linen ephod he used. [1 Samuel 2]

One day King Saul inquired of Yahweh, but Yahweh did not answer him by dreams or [the stone] Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, "Find me a woman who is a medium." - "Bring up Samuel," he said to her. Samuel, who was dead, rose out of the ground said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up? . . . Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me [that is: dead]." [See 1 Samuel 28:4-19. Extracts]

David took over. "I have become like a portent to many," said he [Psalms 71:6-8]. Once and once again David inquired of the Lord, saying, "Shall I go and attack these Philistines?" Yahweh answered him.

When David soon after learned that Saul was plotting against him, he sent for the ephod (divination tool) and got answers to queries from Yahweh thereby [1 Samuel 23] The Lord was asked by divining routines, and sometimes he answered.

At another time David's two wives had been captured. David called on a priest, saying, "Bring me the ephod," and David inquired of the Lord, "Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?" - "Pursue them," was the answer. [1 Samuel 30:1-19]. David repeatedly took to divination as a way of asking the Lord.

Later, when David brought up the ark of God to Jerusalem, he was wearing a linen ephod and danced with all his might, leaping and dancing before the Lord, as it says. 2 Samuel 6-14]

To be left without divination appeared to be a serious punishment by God, for according to Micah he said: "Night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination [Micah 3:5-6]

Elisha was suffering from an illness when King Jehoash of Israel visited him. Elisha said to him, "Get a bow and some arrows. Open the east window, and shoot!" It was done. "The Lord's arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!" Elisha declared. "You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek." Then he said, "Take the arrows. Strike the ground." The king then struck it three times and stopped. The man of God was angry with him and said, "You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times." [2 Kings 13]

In 1 Samuel 8 and many other places, the diviner is greater than a mere king, unless the king is a diviner too.

Simple tables help one to discern a little better. Searches had better be done with proficiency. Awkward divination may not bring good results. And, finally, do not forget to apply rational inquiry to results to see to that things go well. Neat practice also depends on cultivating inner clarity, and being able to enjoy somehow. [More]

Moses is called OK in the Bible; he had been raised by Egyptians in a good land back then. Good company is something to thank for [cf. Acts 7:20-2].

Clowning or . . .

There is danger in divining while out of balance. Another danger lies in divining where you are not totally free from bonds, strong desires and obligations. There are inner and outer bonds. Deep integrity may perhaps assist some old forms of divination, and perhaps not. It would depend on how well such practices are carried out if they are understood, and if they work as intended, which can be quite another matter.

It should not be ignored and disregarded how the church - founded by diviners - came to restrict and taboo this side of seeking answers from Yahweh, and that some prelates and church people honour many "big guys" of the Bible with their lips, and forbid others to try to emulate them well - that may well be a lot of a common Christian today. Such things change a lot too - gay people are getting more and more welcome, also in the Vatican.

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Goleman, David. The Varieties of the Meditative Experience. London: Rider, 1975.

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