As we saw in part 1 of this series on Deuteronomy 18:9-22, God instructs Israel to not dabble in the detestable religious practices of the nations they will encounter when they enter the Promised Land of Canaan. He lists a bunch of these practices, making it abundantly clear what he is talking about.
The most obvious one is child sacrifice in verse 10, a grave injustice he has warned them against previously in Deuteronomy. That one seems obviously wrong. It is hard to imagine how any people group could ever practice ritual child sacrifice.
The others on the list, though, are not as obviously destructive, but they are just as detestable in the eyes of God. They all relate to the occult, and are almost all in the realm of gaining special knowledge or power through occult practices. Witchcraft, sorcery, divination, trying to consult with dead people. You see these activities pop up in many Bible stories. The magicians of Pharaoh in Egypt, the wise men of Babylon, and the prophets of Ba’al, to name just a few. God comes against these practices totally and completely.
In our society there are many movies and TV shows that have similar practices,so that we might be confused about what God is talking about here. This is not the Jedi of Star Wars or the wizards of Harry Potter. This is not Disney. God is referring to real dark, evil power. And it exists today. It is rooted in the power of Satan and his demons. So of course God doesn’t want his people to getting mixed up in that. It might look impressive, and enticing, because Satan is powerful. But God is more powerful yet, by an infinite magnitude.
When Israel follows God who is truly powerful, there is no need to get mixed up in the lesser powers of the occult. But the occult is tempting. Especially when we want to know the truth about life, and especially when we feel like God is being silent. That happens, right? We can feel God is silent, and we get desperate, and we can be tempted to get knowledge in dark places.
A couple years ago my Amish neighbors wanted to dig a new well, because they needed extra water for the animals and gardens. So beforehand they hired a local water “guy.” He walked around their property with metal pipe wrench that supposedly started vibrating when he got over a place that was good to drill for water. I did not see this man, but when they dug the well, I saw the drilling rig. A few days later, I stopped by their house to buy eggs from them, and I asked about the well. The wife explained that they were seeking more water, and then she told me about the “water guy.” She asked me what I thought of him. She had heard that it was just science, the vibration in the pipe wrench. In my mind, I thought, “diviner,” and I said to her that I wouldn’t have hired him.
Every now and then I hear about groups, usually at teenage birthday parties or sleepovers, where people get an Ouija board and ask it answers. Sometimes people hold séances to contact the dead. There used to be a palm reader and tarot card reader that had a storefront not too far from us. None of this is rooted in God and his ways, and Christians reading this, I would strongly encourage you to stay away. Like Israel, we have knowledge and power from God, and we just don’t need to seek it anywhere else.
Growing up my wife wasn’t allowed to watch certain movies and TV shows or read certain books because of this same concern about dabbling in the occult, when we Christians are to find the truth in God. I’m not trying to tell your family what to do, but I do think we need to be cautious. Don’t underestimate the power of evil. Take it seriously. So often we live our lives seeing how close we can get to line of what is evil, without crossing over it. Instead, I would like suggest what Moses says in verse 13, “You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”
That word “blameless” is the Hebrew word for “complete” or “perfect”, and that is a high bar, right? One scholar I read said that here in Deuteronomy 18, it refers to the integrity of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, the Lord, meaning that they must give their devotion to God and God alone, and they must not have allegiance to any other god or detestable worship practice of the nations in the land of Canaan. Same goes for us! See what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” The answers Paul is obviously looking for, in response to both of these questions, is “No!”
And that is where Moses goes next. If they are not to rely on knowledge and power from the occult, where should Israel go to get that knowledge and remain blameless? We’ll find out in part 3.