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What the Bible says about Soothsayers
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Leviticus 19:31

The Bible is not in the least ambiguous about what God thinks on the subject of the occult. It plainly condemns the practice of witchcraft and similar sorceries. Notice Leviticus 19:31, for instance, which condemns consulting mediums: “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.” A few verses later, God adds, “And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people” (Leviticus 20:6). This is as good as a prophecy of Saul's demise. See also Deuteronomy 18:9-14, which names practitioners of witchcraft, soothsayers, interpreters of omens, sorcerers, conjurors, mediums, spiritists, necromancers, and diviners as abominations to the Lord.

The New Testament is just as condemnatory as the Old. However, instead of legislating against sorcery and the like—except where Paul lists sorcery as a work of the flesh, mentioned between “idolatry” and “hatred” (Galatians 5:20; see I Samuel 15:23)—the writers recount experiences of Jesus and the apostles battling against it. For instance, on the island of Paphos, the apostle Paul stood against Elymas the sorcerer, really a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus, saying, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). The episode in Acts 16:16-18 reveals that a slave girl diviner, who greatly annoyed Paul by following him around for many days, was in fact possessed by a demon, “a spirit of divination.” The second-to-last chapter of Revelation states plainly that sorcerers will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 21:8; see also 22:15).

This is sufficient proof that God considers the practice of all forms of occultism to be a moral outrage. He is not by any means involved in them and wants His people to avoid them, forbidding them to consult them or dabble in them in any way. This most important point indicates that God had nothing to do with the events at En Dor, except to allow them to move His purpose along, removing Saul to place David on Israel's throne.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What Happened at En Dor?

Numbers 22:5-6

The Moabites did not have much of an army to field against Israel, which is why they did not try to block its way by force of arms. Until recently, they had themselves been subject to the Amorites and had suddenly been freed by Israel's conquering of Sihon and Og of Bashan. However, they were not at all grateful and decided that they would have to stop Israel themselves.

However, Israel was under a command from God to leave Moab alone. The Moabites ended up acting upon what was essentially a figment of their imaginations. They really cannot be blamed; they were merely acting according to human nature. Nevertheless, the whole story of Balak and Balaam was all very unnecessary.

Balaam means "devourer," and some linguists add "of the people." The longer definition is probably correct. It is also interesting that it is a very negative, destructive name (like Balak's, "devastator"). Devastator and Devourer were joining forces to block Israel's passage into Canaan. Balaam's father's name, Beor, which means "burning," also fits into this. This story contains several names that are negative and destructive.

Balaam lived at Pethor. "Pethor" has made some historians wonder, but they think they know where it is. It is located 400 miles north of Moab on the banks of the Euphrates River, twelve miles south of Carchemish. Carchemish was the location of the early seventh-century BC battle Pharaoh Necho was hastening toward to aid the Assyrians against the Babylonians, when he was confronted by King Josiah of Judah. Josiah was, at the time, allied to Babylon. He took his army and met Necho at Megiddo—the famous place of battles, Armageddon. Judah was defeated there, as Necho had a much stronger army. A stray arrow happened to hit Josiah, and he was taken from the battlefield, mortally wounded.

However, the engagement at Megiddo stalled Necho long enough for the Babylonians to defeat the Assyrians, probably near Haran where Abraham had lived for a while—where Terah, Abraham's father, died. The defeat forced the Assyrians to retreat. A couple of years later, Nebuchadnezzar faced the Assyrians and Egyptians again at Carchemish. This colossal battle changed the direction of the Middle East at that time, because, by defeating Assyria again, Nebuchadnezzar gained control of the entire region.

Balaam lived just a stone's throw away from this place of future fame. This is important to know because of the connection between Abraham and Balaam. They were from the same general area near Haran, which was less than fifty miles away. It was generally known that where Balaam lived, Pethor, was famous for its baru, "priest-diviners" (which some have tried to connect them with the Magi, but the evidence is scanty). They were sorcerers, magicians, diviners, soothsayers, and such.

It is believed that Balaam was from a long line of celebrated diviners, and that he and his family had made their living for several generations cursing or blessing people. It was their family trade. They passed it down, giving their sons names that went along with it, names like "Burning" and "Devourer." Their family reputation had traveled throughout the entire region. If anyone wanted someone cursed, they would send for a baru from Balaam's family, since they were the best in the world at cursing people. These baru—regardless of the requester's religion or political stripe—would, for a price, perform their auguries, say their incantations, make their sacrifices to some particular god, and then curse the other party in the name of that god.

This is what King Balak of Moab was doing, sending for the most renowned curser in the known world—Balaam—to come and curse Israel. Balak had heard about all the things that God had done for Israel, so he needed the very best to go up against the God who could part the Red Sea and rain manna from heaven every day for 38 years. This God could bring ten plagues upon the people of Egypt and could find water in the desert for 2.5 or 3 million people. King Balak, needing the very best, was willing to give up just about all his wealth to Balaam, who he felt could do the job of cursing Israel.

What have we learned about Balaam?

  • He was internationally renowned and may have been considered the best soothsayer in the known world. This sets him up on a pedestal. He was accustomed to doing things like this. He was also likely a pricey individual to contract with.

  • He was probably from a family of soothsayers who specialized in blessings and cursings. He was very well read and knowledgeable in all the methods of cursing and blessing, as well as all the world's gods and goddesses. He probably kept an ear to the ground for any unusual things happening and had reports of such sent to him. He probably knew all about what was going on with Israel: it was one of those "international news stories" that made the rounds.

  • He was probably a baru, a priest-diviner of Mesopotamia who worked enchantments, auguries, sorceries, and any kind of divining necessary. The baru did not consider themselves devotees of any one god but of every god. They would work for or against any god for a price.

  • He probably knew of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or at least had heard things about them from local stories or legend, as they were important people in their own right. Abraham, a direct descendant of Shem, had given up a great deal to follow God's calling, and had come through the area where Balaam and his family lived. Abraham was not a person who could pass through a place without leaving an impression, for he was an important and wealthy person, a man of conviction. Also, once Abraham arrived in Canaan, he and his descendants had sent back to the area of Haran for wives: Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah were all from the environs of Haran. Thus, the Israelites had ties with the area, even genetic ties.

It would not be out of the realm of possibility, therefore, that Balaam had a fair amount of information about Israel's beginnings, and perhaps even known of some of their beliefs. He may have had an interest in them from a local history standpoint. He certainly knew about Israel, about Israel's God, and what He had done miraculously for Israel for forty years.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)

Numbers 24:13-14

Balak, of course, is furious with Balaam for thrice predicting such a rosy future for Israel. The soothsayer reminds him that he warned him from the start that he "could not go beyond the word of the LORD, to do either good or bad of [his] own will; but what the LORD says, that [he] must speak" (Numbers 24:13). It is difficult to decide which of these two characters is more ludicrous: Balaam, for thinking that God would give in and let him curse Israel—or at least put in a good word for Moab; or Balak, for listening to and putting up with Balaam!

As if trying to mollify his employer, Balaam adds, "Come, I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the latter days" (verse 14), but his words are hardly comforting to the Moabite king.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Prophecies of Balaam (Part Two)

Acts 16:16-18

A woman possessed by a demon begins to follow Paul and his party, calling them "servants of the Most High God" (verses 16-17). Though this is true, it greatly distresses Paul because the Jews might conclude that he consorted with soothsayers, unlawful according to Leviticus 19:31; 20:6; and Deuteronomy 18:9-14. From their point of view, the Gentiles might consider the religion Paul preached to be as pagan as all the other religions of the time. Thus, Paul commands the demon to leave the woman in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 16:18).

Her employers, who made quite a profit by her fortune telling, are not pleased because her supernatural abilities disappeared with the demon. So they haul Paul and Silas before the city courts (verse 18).

Mark Schindler
Ingratitude


 




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