Humanity has always hated feeling powerless. We wish that we could have control, or at least some certainty about what future events may hold. Mediums and astrology fall into a large category of mystical practices that attempt to give us that certainty or control we crave. However, to use them is to violate the basic principles of the relationship that God has created us to have with him.
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What Are Mediums and Where Does the Bible Talk about Them?
Although there are a number of words used in the Bible to describe those who practice certain mystical arts, the word usually translated as “medium” is the Hebrew word ‘owb. In essence it is a necromancer or someone that communicates with dead people in an effort to gain knowledge or influence in the world of the living. They show up in several Old Testament passages that cross multiple categories.
In the Mosaic Law (Lev. 19:31, Lev. 20:6, Lev. 20:27, and Deut. 18:9-14) the practice of consulting with the dead and the mediums themselves are described as abominations, spiritual prostitutes, and defiled/unclean. Among the Prophets, Isaiah has some discussion about how the use of mediums brings about destruction to those who seek guidance from the dead (Isaiah 8:16-22, Isaiah 19:1-4). There are no positive references in the Law and the Prophets in regard to mediums.
On a more practical side, in the history parts of the Old Testament, mediums show up in the dialog (1 Sam. 28:1-25, 2 Kings 21:1-16, 2 Kings 23:21-27, 1 Chron. 10:13-14, 2 Chron. 33:1-9) mainly when the Kings of Judah/Israel are leading God’s people into great evil. Especially informative is when King Saul consults with a medium (1 Sam. 28) and it is evil. This is contrasted a few chapters later with the future King David using an acceptable method (the Ephod) to determine how to proceed with God’s favor (1 Sam. 30:1-31) and this is seen as good.
The pattern here shows us that God has a definite way for humanity to determine a way forward in uncertain times and to seek alternative methods is to betray the relationship we have with him. Essentially, the use of mediums values gaining and keeping power over the true relationship of dependence and trust that we have with God.
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What Does the Bible Say about Psychics and Fortune Tellers?
A psychic is someone that attempts to explain things without obvious answers via metaphysical methods. You may have heard of telekinesis, ESP, or clairvoyance in different places and they are categorized as psychic practices. Related to this, a fortune teller is someone that practices divination, or the ability to see spiritual significance in mundane things such as reading tea leaves, reading the lines in a person’s palm, reading the cracks in bones, and seeing patterns in the surface ripples of certain liquids. A spiritual guide or connection is often related to the ability to do this.
In the Biblical languages, aw-nan (Hebrew), keh-sem (Hebrew), python (Greek), and manteuomai (Greek) would be related to our terms of psychic, witchcraft, and/or fortune-teller. In the Bible, these practices are always condemned without exception. One thing that is interesting in studying the languages, there is always an understanding that an exchange of money or a payment is happening for the services of the practitioner.
People make money off of these practices and often, as in the case of the young woman in Acts 16:16-19, the diviner is being exploited in some manner. Perhaps this is an indicator of the internal, spiritual reality of the people who practice fortune-telling or psychic readings. Leviticus 20:6 refers to this state of affairs as spiritual prostitution.
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What is Astrology and What Does the Bible Say about It?
Astrology started out in the ancient world as a study of the stars. Over time, it became a spiritual endeavor and – much like fortune-telling – it became a form of divination. Astrology uses the times and locations of specific events and births in conjunction with the locations of celestial bodies as a method of determining the significant moments of the future.
There have been different forms of astrology in existence for thousands of years and it has been practiced by a variety of cultures. China, India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean region have highly developed practices of astrology that inform their cultures. The current popular form of astrology currently used in Western culture developed originally in ancient Babylon, and over time has morphed and grown into what we can see in practice today in the New Age movement.
As astrology falls under the category of divination, the Biblical prohibitions on its practice still hold. The practitioner of astrology prioritizes knowing and possibly influencing future events over learning to trust in the power and love of God.
Daniel 2:1-49 is a practical exposition of the Biblical view of astrology. By this point in the book of Daniel, it has been shown that the young exiles from Judah are very wise and have a reputation for possessing great knowledge. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and the wise men of Babylon (astrologers included) cannot interpret it. The dream must have been both compelling and disturbing because the king is in no mood to hear that his wise men cannot interpret the dream. He goes so far as to order the wise men of Babylon to be executed for their inability to see the meaning.
Maybe the king was tired of empty promises made by charlatan magicians. Whatever the reason, the wise men had to guess the dream and its meaning on their own. When Daniel is able to interpret the dream, he is placed as a ruler over the other wise men in Babylon. This story points out that even the richest and most powerful people have a need for something more powerful than astrology’s limitations. Astrology cannot deal with the complexities of human life. Only God can serve the role astrology tries to assume.
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What Does the Bible Say about Horoscopes and Zodiac Signs?
Horoscopes and zodiac signs are related to the practice of astrology and divination as mentioned in the Bible. Practicing them is prohibited by God. A horoscope is generated when an astrologer examines specific dates in the life of a person and compares them to the locations of the stars at those times. Zodiac signs are constellations of stars that lie within a specific latitude band in the sky. As celestial bodies move in that band related to the earth, an astrologer will apply the rules of their craft to develop a horoscope for a person or other entity.
What about dream-tellers in the Bible and the Prophets?
Dreams are an important way that God communicates to people (Numbers 12:6, Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17). Often, dreams arrive and the dreamer knows that they are significant, but they do not know what they mean. What then? God sends in a dream-teller or interpreter so that it can be understood. Joseph (Gen. 40:1-23. Gen. 41:1-38) is an interpreter and Daniel (Daniel 2:31-49) is a dream teller (he has to recite the king’s dream before interpreting it).
Prophets have a unique role in the life of faith. Throughout the Bible, their purpose is to reveal the word that God shares with them at the right time and right place to the right people. They are often called to speak to people in positions of power, or to entire nations. Their messages call people back to the path of God and the people often react violently. Many prophets were killed for speaking the truth.
In either vocation, God speaks in order that people would prepare either to face a difficulty, or to correct their path before they are destroyed.
How should Christians address these topics today?
This cannot be stressed enough – God has made plain statements not only in the Law, but he has related to us throughout the Bible how these practices are detestable in the eyes of God. They are an affront because they show a willingness to disregard the loving teachings of God for our own convenience or power.
People look at their horoscopes every single day. As Christians, we should not be practicing any activity that supplants the trust relationship that God has created for us to enjoy with him. Why would we throw away something so valuable as a loving relationship with the Creator of the Universe? Because we want the power to control our destiny, and these activities give us a sense of control, that’s why. In essence, we are at the foot of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil waiting for Eve to pass us a bite of forbidden fruit. We want the wisdom for ourselves so that we can be God. The only way out is to recognize the absolute dependence that we have on God.
What about the Magi?
Every year at Christmas, or shortly after, we encounter the story of the wise men following a star to locate the newly born King of the Jews (Matt. 2:1-12). They are called “magi” and that indicates that they are from the area of Persia/Babylon and are experts in looking to the stars for answers. They are astrologers. How did they know to look for a star that would specifically reveal the birth location of the King of the Jews?
In all likelihood, when Daniel and his friends were in charge of the wise men of Babylon/Medo-Persia, they would have taught some of them about the coming Messiah. The magi were looking for this Messiah the only way that they knew how, via the stars. They did this faithfully for generations until God spoke in a way that their astrological hearts and minds could grasp. A star rose in the east.
Something within themselves compelled them to make a long and dangerous journey. Astrology just wasn’t enough. They were looking for Jesus. God honors our desires to find the Messiah just as he honored theirs. In their journey, they moved from simply following a light in the sky to listening to messages from God in their dreams on what to do next in life. The magi show us the path that all of us take. We are far from God, we have a need that only he can fill, and if we commit to it, he will change us to be what we were designed to be.
Never, ever look down on someone that practices any of the practices mentioned in this article. They are precious in the sight of God and he wants them to believe in Jesus and receive salvation by grace through faith. We cannot tell what part of their journey they are on, but we can love them, share the truth with them, and ask God for their deliverance. Remember, the magi met Jesus face to face. How many of us can say the same this side of heaven? God shows himself to those who honestly seek him.
Mediums, astrologers, diviners, psychics, and other mystical magi are practicing things that Christians should very much avoid. We cannot avoid the desire of God for us to depend completely upon his grace in all things, including trying to comprehend what the future may hold. Do not give up God’s love for something that will have no bearing on your eternity. Keep it in perspective and share the message of our almighty and ever-loving God with those who worry so much about what they cannot control.
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Larry White is the Pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Marathon, FL and is also an Adjunct Professor at Florida Keys Community College teaching courses in World Religions and New Testament.