Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live.Exodus 22:18 ASV
A sorceress in the purview of this Divine order, was an open rebel against God. We should remember, “The tremendous power of magic in the ancient world and among the heathen races today, and its deadly nature as a negation of all true religion.”
There is no way that intelligent men can question the wisdom of God in this commandment making such a terrible crime a capital offense. In bringing Israel out of the gross superstitions and pagan idolatry of the times, it was the height of wisdom and concern for His people that lay back of God’s edict.
Of course, there is nothing in this verse that gives Christians the right to accuse people of witchcraft, try them, and condemn them to death as was done in Colonial times in America. That entire fiasco of the “Witch Burnings” in New England in the eighteenth century was due to the gross ignorance of the most learned pastors and divines on earth of the central fact of the whole Judaic-Christian religion, that fact being that there are revealed in the Bible TWO COVENANTS, the TWO big ones, the OLD COVENANT and the NEW COVENANT.
This division between the two covenants is even dramatized in the arrangement of the Holy Bible itself, which is divided into the OLD TESTAMENT and the NEW TESTAMENT. (See a dissertation on The Covenants at the end of the commentary on Exodus 24.)
Back to the subject of witches. The Hebrew word for “witch” in Exodus 22:18 is feminine.
It was absolutely necessary if Israel was ever to be brought into true fellowship with God. To be sure, Israel disobeyed this commandment just like they did every other commandment God ever gave. This is proved by one of their kings (Saul) consulting the Witch of Endor at a time long after this.
One of the principal reasons for consulting witches of course was to arrange help in getting rid of an enemy, and the witches certainly knew how to help!
Regarding the people today who make their living dealing with what they call “the occult arts,” they are likewise sinners, though probably not on the same scale as those envisioned in this verse. Deception is their stock in trade, and this writer has never heard of one who was a true believer in Christ. They cannot reveal the future.
In 1964, the arrest of several of the most notorious of them at Coney Island in New York revealed that not a single one of them could prophesy his own arrest, several of them pretending to tell the arresting officers why they had come to visit! One police lieutenant was greeted with this remark, “I’m glad you have come. I know why you are here, and I can solve all your problems!” Such people cannot tell fortunes, read cards, tea leaves, crystal balls, or trace the future in the patterns of oil poured on water. As regards the entire conception of witches, one word describes it all – fraud!
When thou art come into the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found with thee any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, one that practiseth augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto Jehovah: and because of these abominations Jehovah thy God doth drive them out from before thee.Deuteronomy 18:9-12 ASV
Significantly, “all of these were alleged oracular sources” in ancient Canaan, and they were most frequently consulted by people who desired to know the Divine will about this or that.
Now some of these practices were used to protect from enemies, to acquire benefits or blessings, to assure success or failure of some project, and similar objectives.
The big thought in the whole passage seems to be that Israel must rely upon the written will of God and that they should, under no circumstance, resort to occult, magical, or satanic consultations in the hope of knowing God’s will.
The N.T., as well as the O.T., leaves no doubt that all of the things mentioned here are sinful, unprofitable, deceitful, and of no earthly benefit whatever such activities are just as “abominable” in the sight of God today as they ever were.
The list here is representative, rather than exhaustive, and we may add astrology, soothsaying, rhabdomancy, and all similar things. The N.T. writers condemned such things, leading to the unsupported charge that “they believed in such practices.” Well, they “believed in” them exactly as does this writer, that such practices are widely indulged in by the people, that countless thousands of people are making a living by such shameful “arts,” that they are altogether useless, powerless, deceitful and entirely evil in every sense of the word.
The astrology nonsense, for example, is a 2 billion-dollar-a-year business in the U.S.A. at this very time, yet all Christian values are contradictory in every particular to the whole system of astrology. Leon Morals affirmed that “In the order of the listing of the precious stones making up the foundation of the New Jerusalem, the author of Revelation contradicts all heathen conceptions, the principle being that God reverses human judgments.”
This is a class name for a number of ways to make decisions, one of which was described by Keil, thus: Two rods were held upright, and then allowed to fall while incantations were uttered, and the oracle was inferred from the way in which they fell, whether to the right, or to the left.
Pass through the fire
There can be no doubt whatever of this being a reference to the sacrifice of children to such pagan gods as Molech, but nobody ever heard of this being a “method of divination.” Of course, that is what Dummelow declared: “The context here seems to imply this.”
We do not believe that the context “implies” any such thing, and the only discernible reason for such an assertion is that it fits in with the critical denial of the plain meaning of the following passage relative to that Prophet. The lack of any historical example whatever of anybody’s ever sacrificing a son or a daughter to “get an oracle,” however, did not prevent Davies from affirming (without proof or evidence) that “This was a common practice for obtaining an oracle!”
Augury refers to some practice which “is uncertain” and thus impossible to classify as a means of divination.
An enchanter, or diviner
This class of magic pretended to predict future events by watching the flight of birds, reading tea leaves, pouring oil on a cup of water and studying the resulting patterns, etc.
In our day, palm reading is a thriving business in a place like Houston, where a dozen establishments in one square mile (or less) are making all kinds of promises based upon this dubious “so-called science.” It will be recalled that when Joseph, the all-powerful deputy of Pharaoh planted his cup in Benjamin’s sack, the “discoverer” stated that Joseph used that cup “for divining.” (Genesis 44:5).
Such words as “warlock” and “wizard” amount to the masculine gender of this word, although “witch” has also come to include either sex.
Such persons had nothing whatever to do with revealing information or any kind of revelation concerning future events. Their business was that, generally, of helping people to get rid of their enemies, by means of casting some spell upon them. Such persons freely used all kinds of drugs, potions, and medicines. Vine tells us that the word came to mean “poisoning.”
Also, there can be little doubt that some of the hallucinatory drugs were known and used for various purposes by this class of persons. The drug culture element in our current society immediately comes to mind.
Dummelow listed this evil practice as the device by which one claimed to weave magic spells and curses by tying knots, etc.” By no stretch of imagination can this be related to “getting information from God.”
Consulter with familiar spirits
Such persons, pretending to speak with ghosts or spirits, “were probably ventriloquists who claimed to hold communications with subterranean spirits.”
This referred to one who made inquiries of the dead, pretending to procure vital information by this device. Despite this evil, futile thing being condemned in the law of God, Saul, king of Israel sought out the witch of Endor in order to have a conversation, as he thought, with the deceased prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 28:7-25). From the above, it is clear enough that this paragraph deals with a number of evils that having nothing whatever to do with “getting a revelation from God,” yet that is the cornerstone of the false allegation that “because of the context, we must accept the next paragraph (regarding `that Prophet’) as primarily dealing with Israel’s receiving proper revelation from God through their succession of prophets. We have seen repeatedly throughout this extended address by Moses that it is a “shotgun sermon,” and that the proximity of paragraphs touching different subjects is no safe criterion whatever for exegesis of a given passage. There is absolutely nothing in Deuteronomy 18:9-14 that casts any light whatever upon the meaning of Deuteronomy 18:15-19.