The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Prov 16:33).1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuaries. Prophesy against the land of Israel 3 and say to the land of Israel, Thus says the Lord: Behold, I am against you and will draw my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked. 4 Because I will cut off from you both righteous and wicked, therefore my sword shall be drawn from its sheath against all flesh from south to north. 5 And all flesh shall know that I am the Lord. I have drawn my sword from its sheath; it shall not be sheathed again.18 The word of the Lord came to me again: 19 “As for you, son of man, mark two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to come. Both of them shall come from the same land. And make a signpost; make it at the head of the way to a city. 20 Mark a way for the sword to come to Rabbah of the Ammonites and to Judah, into Jerusalem the fortified. 21 For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination. He shakes the arrows; he consults the teraphim; he looks at the liver. 22 Into his right hand comes the divination for Jerusalem, to set battering rams, to open the mouth with murder, to lift up the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to cast up mounds, to build siege towers. 23 But to them it will seem like a false divination. They have sworn solemn oaths, but he brings their guilt to remembrance, that they may be taken.28 “And you, son of man, prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God concerning the Ammonites and concerning their reproach; say, A sword, a sword is drawn for the slaughter. It is polished to consume and to flash like lightning— 29 while they see for you false visions, while they divine lies for you—to place you on the necks of the profane wicked, whose day has come, the time of their final punishment (Ezk 21:1-5,18-23,28-29).
Divination has always been popular. It’s just as popular in the scientific age as it was in the prescientific age–much to the consternation of Carl Sagan et al.
As a rule, the Bible condemns divination. An exception is the mysterious Urim and Thummim.
Another possible exception is casting lots. That is not inherently divinatory. It can simply be used as a randomizing device, like flipping a coin. However, it was undoubtedly used for divinatory purposes by some people sometimes.
On the face of it, most divination appears to be pure bunk. Take astrology. How could the apparent position of the stars in relation to earth have any predictive value? That simply reflects the parochial viewpoint of an earthbound observer. It’s not a privileged frame of reference. How the stars appear to us on earth is a relative frame of reference. If we could see them from the moon or Mars or Venus, they would have a different apparent position. For that matter, the apparent position of the stars is different in the southern hemisphere than the northern hemisphere–as ancient explorers noted.
And yet there’s prima facie evidence that astrology is sometimes accurate. Cf. S. Braude, The Gold Leaf Lady, chap. 8; D. Berlinski, The Secrets of the Vaulted Sky, chap. 10.
There is a theological explanation. What we might call judicial providence. God sometimes curses divination with success to wreak judgment on the godless. Poetic justice.
Ezekiel 22 is a case in point. As commentators explain:
The Babylonians are merely a tool to do his will (Ezk 21). God’s control over the entire situation is such that he can even determine the outcome of the Babylonian king’s efforts to consult his gods through examining the liver of an animal (Ezk 21:21).Ezekiel pictures the king utilizing all the pagans means of decision-making…The irony is that this use of pagan means of discerning the will of the gods is here an accurate discernment of the will of the true God. The “lying divinations” that found such favor with God’s people (Ezk 13:7) now become the very means through which judgment comes on them (21:23).
I. Duguid, Ezekiel (Zondervan 1999), 36, 276-277.
Of course, Jerusalem’s citizens, like Ezekiel’s hearers, would not be disposed to take seriously Nebuchadnezzar’s divinatory games. Yet ironically this non-Yahwist was taking a path marked out for him by Yahweh.
L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word 1990), 27.
This sign-act has been precipitated by a critical juncture in Nebuchadrezzar’s campaigns. Poised to advance southward into the Levant, he must decide whether to direct his attack against the Judeans or the Ammonites…According to Ezekiel’s interpretation, Nebuchadrezzar hesitated at Damascus, uncertain whether to attack Rabbah or Jerusalem first. In customary ancient Near Eastern style, he resolves the issue by divination, a series of procedures designed to determine the mind of the gods.The manner in which this oracle is presented is filled with irony. A pagan king employs strictly forbidden techniques of divination and discovers the will of Yahweh, a fact confirmed by the precise correspondence of the results to earlier oracles. The “people of Yahweh” adopt an orthodox stance in rejecting the omens as false, but in so doing seal their own fate. In the pagan oracle Ezekiel hears the judgment of God.
D. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 (Eerdmans 1997), 685,688.
Dabbling in the occult is sometimes effective, but it comes at a terrible cost.