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Christianity and the Scam of Sorcery

We live in a time when people are willing to believe just about anything. I heard someone say many years ago, “If you don't believe in something, you will believe anything.” I do not know who said it, but I believe it has some truth and is relevant to the day in which we live. Mankind has pretty much rejected belief in God primarily because it brings accountability and responsibility to the individual. The problem for most people is that they have nothing to anchor their lives to morally and spiritually, and so they grab onto just about anything that comes along. The amazing thing is that what has replaced the functional and true teachings of Jesus Christ is a mish-mash of witchcraft, sorcery, and magic. This is not a new problem.

In Old Testament times the nations around ancient Israel were deeply steeped in sorcery and witchcraft. The Old Testament is full of warnings to the ancient Israelites to avoid the sorcery and witchcraft of the people around them. The problem was so destructive that, in Exodus 22:18, the Israelites were told to put sorcerers and witches to death. In Deuteronomy 18:14 the Israelites are told “The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord has not permitted you to do so.”

A clear picture of what life was like in those days is seen in Exodus 7 and 8 when Moses goes to the Pharaoh. God had given Moses some things to do to give him credibility. The problem was that everything Moses did could be duplicated by the magicians and sorcerers of Egypt. Sticks were turned into snakes (7:10 – 12), water was turned into blood (20 – 22), and frogs were produced in massive numbers (8:6 – 7). I have seen modern magicians throw a large stick on the ground and have it turn into a snake. I do not know how they do it or any of the other sleight of hand things they do, but I do know that what they do is sleight of hand and not supernatural. Eventually the things God did through Moses exceeded the ability of the Egyptian magicians, but they obviously had become the Pharaoh's main source of control and power. It is interesting that when the miracle that Moses does exceeds their magic they told the Pharaoh that what was happening was beyond magic and must be coming from God (8:19), and he still did not listen. This was so well known in New Testament times that two of the Pharaoh's magicians are called by name in 2 Timothy 3:8 — Jannes and Jambres. These people were not mentioned in the Old Testament, but were still in the minds and knowledge of people during the life of Jesus.

Another picture of what life was like in Old Testament times is in the story of Daniel, Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar. In the first chapter of the book of Daniel, we read that Nebuchadnezzar recruited the best of the young men among the Israelites to be trained for three years to enter the king's service. The ability of Daniel and his friends is explained in Daniel 1:20 like this: “In every matter of wisdom and understanding which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” When Nebuchadnezzar had a dream and wanted to know its meaning we are told, “So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed.” This was the way ancient people functioned. Laws and decisions were based upon what magicians and sorcerers told public officials. It was in this climate that the ancient Israelites functioned and Christianity began, and it is also why God repeatedly told His people that these practices are false and they are to have no part in them (see Jeremiah 27:9 – 10; 2 Chronicles 33:6; 2 Kings 9:22; 21:6; Micah 5:12; 1 Samuel 15:23).

It is interesting in the story of Nebuchadnezzar to see how the king defeated the vices of his sorcerers. He told them they were not just to tell him what the dream meant (which anyone with imagination could do) but they were to tell him what the dream was (see Daniel 2:5)! Their response was, “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks,” and for once they were telling the truth.

In the New Testament the condemnation of witchcraft, black magic, and sorcery is even stronger, but there is also good evidence that these devices still held sway in the political, religious, and social world of the time. In Acts 8:9 – 11 we read about a man named Simon who had become a celebrity because of his magic. When Simon saw the power that the apostles had available to them, he realized that his magic was insignificant compared to what they were able to do and he tried to buy the ability (verse 19). It is interesting that Peter told Simon that he had a heart problem when he tried to do this. People who seriously try to elevate themselves through magic and witchcraft are people who are dangerous and need to be avoided. They have no special power, and they are as dangerous as any criminal. We are not talking about sleight of hand and fun magic here; we are talking about manipulation and control.

In Acts 13:6 – 12 is the story of a sorcerer who had become the chief advisor of the proconsul Sergius Paulus. When Paulus wanted to hear about Jesus from Paul, the sorcerer tried to stop it. Paul said to the sorcerer, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right. You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery.” Witchcraft and sorcery are not just fun parlor tricks. This is an insidious evil through which dishonest persons attempt to con people. In Galatians 5:20 witchcraft is included in the list of destructive things in the world, right along with orgies, drunkenness, and fits of rage. The Greek word used here is pharmakos which refers to the use of potions or drugs. These are the choices of humans. They are not powers that are superhuman and which humans have no ability to withstand. They are evil attempts to control others, motivated by selfishness and dishonesty. They are scams right along with the claims of the tabloids of our day.

aa witch

 Skeptics and promoters of various forms of black magic will always refer to the story of the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28:6 – 15 to back up their claims of power and ability. King Saul had rejected God's instructions and God had no longer responded to him. Saul decided to resort to a medium and contact Samuel through a seance. Witches have always included contacting the dead as one of their devices. It is effective because talking again to a dead relative is an emotionally loaded promise that is cruel but effective on people who have suffered loss. In this case, the woman who conducted seances had been in hiding because the Israelites had followed God's condemnations of witchcraft. Saul convinced the woman that she was safe and told her he wanted Samuel brought back from the dead (verse 11).

Let us first of all point out that seances are well orchestrated scams. You find out all you can about the person that died by interviewing the person requesting the seance and their family. You have access to local records about the person — especially how they died and what they did for a living available from their obituary. Websites have made this especially easy in our day, but it has always been pretty easy to do. In this case the medium had it made, because Samuel was a national political and religious figure. If you ask me to do a seance on Ronald Reagan I could do it quite well.

What happens in this case is that the witch of Endor has everything set up and was ready to do her scam when all of a sudden the real deal showed up. In verse 12 we are told that the woman actually saw Samuel — not the scam she had arranged. When she saw Samuel, she went ballistic. What happened was not what she expected. Mediums do not scream when they see what they have arranged. Seances are dark, quiet, mysterious, secure events where the environment is tightly controlled. What happened here was that God miraculously sent Samuel back to confront Saul. Samuel was not happy about this (verse 15) and pointed out that all of this was a part of Saul's problem in becoming an enemy of God. The story of the witch of Endor was a demonstration of the falsehood of witchcraft and seances, not a vindication of them.

We might point out here that there are many examples in the Old Testament of how a person responds when he has sinned and alienated himself from God. David is the classic example of this. When David committed enormous sin in God's sight his response was repentance and remorse. He still endured the pain of the consequences of his sin, but his life went on and he lived successfully in spite of the awful thing he had done. This had not been Saul's response, and the ultimate sin he committed was to go to human scams and distortions to try to solve his problem without a change of heart.

a black cat

Modern prophets and sorcerers like Cayce, Nostradamus, Dixon, and the like are tricksters. All studies of the claims of these folks have shown that they are con artists who made massive amounts of money off gullible people by making promises of cures and events that were false. I want to emphasize once again that I am not talking about professional magicians who make a living doing tricks. The ability to levitate, make things disappear, pull animals out of unlikely places, and the like are fun. Those who do good magic tell us it is sleight of hand, and they make us laugh. They are skilled entertainers and we are willing to pay to be entertained and know that what they do will end when we walk out of the door. This is a world apart from black arts where curses and spe lls are put on people to change their lives forever.

Satan is alive and well on planet Earth. Evil is real and the battle between good and evil is ongoing. The fact is, however, that “No temptation has come your way that is too hard for flesh and blood to bear. God will not allow you to suffer any temptation beyond your powers of endurance. He will see to it that every temptation has a way out so that you can come through it victoriously” (1 Corinthians 10:13, Phillips). Choose God and his Son — not the charlatans of this world who will use you to satisfy their own ends.

 — John N. Clayton

Picture credits:
Hemera Clip Art or Art Explosion by Nova Development Corporation, © 1997 – 2001.