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the weird law that bans sorcery

Some weird laws in the Bible just say, “You shall not,” without any explanation. So we need to do a little research. For example, “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Exodus 22:18). The law of sorcery has nothing to do with magic shows that are presented as entertainment. This law is placed with other laws related to social responsibilities (Ex 22:16-31).

What is sorcery? Scholars strongly contend that the Hebrew word translated “sorcery” describes something along the lines of “muttering” while “cutting” up hallucinogenic herbs. Ingesting plants to induce altered states of consciousness have been going on for millennia. The ancient Sumerians cultivated opium by the end of the third millennium BC. In the ancient world, people were constantly in fear of all kinds of danger. In such an insecure world, people sought those who claimed to foresee the future, avert trouble, or reverse misfortune. Apparently, women were engaged in the practice of sorcery more than men (cf. M.T. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor).

Religious shamans have been known for consuming hallucinogenic herbs as a means of contacting spiritual entities to produce certain results. Moses had to contend with sorcerers in Egypt (Ex 7:11). Canaan, the land that Joshua entered, was deeply entrenched in occult practices (Deut 18:10-12). Assyria was an active participant in the black arts. Nineveh, Assyria’s capitol city, was known for innumerable atrocities and torture, was called “the mistress of sorceries” (Nahum 3:4). Even Daniel’s colleagues were engaged in Babylon’s version of sorcery (Dan 2:2).

Whether we call “sorcery” demonic or not, the fact that God’s law prohibits such behavior indicates a problem. So even though sorcerers might claim that their concoction-induced incantations have benefits, the Torah doesn’t care. Whatever one’s motivation, engaging in sorcery is prohibited. Why? By muttering predictions, sorcerers seek to manipulate the future and exert control over people or events. What the law of sorcery opposes are those who present themselves as able to control other people’s destiny.

On every mission, Paul confronted some form of sorcery. On his first journey, Paul rebuked a Jewish sorcerer who tried to prevent the governor of Cyprus from turning to the Lord (Acts 13:6-12). On his second journey, Paul freed a young woman enslaved by sorcery in the name of Jesus (Acts 16:16-19). On his third journey, many former sorcerers brought forth their magic books and burned them (Acts 19:19).

The law prohibiting sorcery keeps humans safe. The spiritual realm is not a space we can fully process or understand. We are vulnerable to deceptive forces in that unseen realm whose identity we cannot confirm or trust. Willfully contacting the other side suggests that select individuals can control life through the aid of mysterious supernatural forces. “When they say to you, ‘Inquire of the mediums … who chirp and mutter,’ should not a people inquire of their God?” (Isaiah 8:19; cf. Gal 5:20; Rev 21:8, 15). Why in the world would anyone seek a drug-induced “word” from an unreliable, unconfirmed source?

Turning to channelers, tea leaves, horoscopes, crystal balls, palm readers, tarot cards or any other occult practices for knowledge or power, mocks prayer, diminishes God’s revelation, and disparages any ounce of trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. So no, the law of sorcery is not weird at all.