Leviticus 19:26, 31, 20:6-8, 27: Laws Against Mediums

Communication with the spirit world is something that has remained popular for a long time in the culture of Western Europe, despite its clear prohibition in the Bible.  Whether one consults tarot cards and gets one’s palm read, reads (or writes [1]) horoscopes, or goes to a seance, one is engaging in spiritualism that the Bible strictly and harshly condemns.  As this is a common, almost ‘normal’ practice, let us examine the laws and two biblical accounts that deal with these illicit practices.  Let us examine first the law and then the application.

The Laws Against Mediums

Leviticus 19 and 20, in four short passages, contain laws against mediums and spiritists that are worthy of discussion.  These laws contain very direct condemnations of communication with the spirit realm as well as soothsaying.  The language that the Bible uses to describe this process condemns it in the harshest terms.  Therefore let us examine them.

Eating Blood And Practicing Divination Forbidden

Leviticus 19:26 reads:  “You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying.”  While at first blush these laws may appear unrelated there is some connection between them.  Divination and soothsaying, insofar as it was practiced in the ancient world, consisted of using the blood and organs of animals in different to attempt to divine the future.  The practice was common around the world from China to Rome.  Attempts to propitiate false gods in the New World included human sacrifices with the hearts ripped out, another element of this wicked practice where blood was spilled profligately.

I should note that as the life of an animal was in the blood, it was improper to either eat it or to use it in pagan worship.  This required that even clean meats be slaughtered and bled properly, and cooked properly, to avoid sinning by eating the blood.  This is a matter of importance even now.  During the Fall of 2004, I attended the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) in France, and while there the hotel attempted to serve us, for our trip to Montreux, Switzerland, some “blue” steaks that had not been cooked at all.  Even the sight of the bleeding cut of meat with the rice was nauseating to me, but there were some who professed to be biblical law-abiding Christians who partook of the unclean meal.  It would be just as ungodly for a Christian to call the psychic hotline, or to get a palm reading, or to play with tarot cards.  God forbids these activities very clearly and distinctly, and that prohibition stands.

The Defilement of Spiritism

Leviticus 19:31 reads:  “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.”  Here the Bible provides part of the reason why these religious practices are strang verboten (strictly forbidden):  they are defiling.  Part of the reason this is so is expressed (amazingly enough) by a couple of mainstream Christians who write about fantasy literature (with apologies for the long quote, and with the following italics in the original):

“It is the third type of magic–the third concept of magic, or source for magical power–that is most troublesome in a work of Faerie, it is when the witch or wizard draws his or her power from some external personal supernatural or invisible source that the magic bears closest resemblance to occult practices in our own world.  This is the witch who calls upon evil spirits to do her bidding, or the man who has the bottle by which he controls the genie.  If one believes in such invisible personal powers–demons, or ghosts, or genies–then one may be tempted to perform rites and ceremonies to call such powers to aid.  Often, there is a belief that such invisible powers are bound by laws requiring them to give aid if a certain spell is said in a certain way, or a certain invocation is spoken.  When Aladdin possesses the bottle or lamp, the genie must obey him.

There are two problems with this type of occult magic.  The first is that it functions by slavery and domination.  The creatures being called by the magician have no choice; they must obey…In this way, the tale of Aladdin might be seen as a much more destructive story, in that Aladdin is portrayed as a hero because he accomplishes his goals by magic through the enslaving of a powerful genie.  A second problem with this type of magic is that the magician is often deceived.  When a man works a spell or uses a magic charm and calls upon a demon to do his bidding, is the demon really obeying the magician’s will, or does the magician become a slave of the demon?  The Christian has good cause to believe that the second possibility is far more likely.  This also makes occult magic very dangerous, and it suggests that any representation of it ought to portray it for the evil it is [2].”

Let us remember that the above warning is written by people who are fans of fantasy literature.  How many Christians who condemn the magic found in such works as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings (or the Chronicles of Narnia), all of which were written by professing Christians, are as consistent in condemning occult magic when it is found in Disney cartoons (like Aladdin), or condemn the underlying slavery and domination that make occult magic so offensive and wicked to God, offensive both in that man would attempt to gain power through domination of spirit beings, as well as in the self-deception of a would-be magician, by virtue of his experimentation, leaving himself vulnerable to being possessed, “defiled,” and dominated by evil demons created to serve mankind.

Leviticus 20:6-8 continues the hostility against spiritism:  “And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people.  Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God.  And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them:  I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”  Here the engagement in mediums and other spiritism is considered ‘prostitution’ (not something the Bible views highly) and is directly considered as an attack on God’s authority and dignity.

Let us ponder why this is so.  Why is it disloyal and treacherous and defiling to engage in the practice of calling on the spirit world for help.  For one, we have already seen that some of the defilement occurs because it opens one up to possession and influence from evil demons (not something one wants to get involved with), similar to what drunkenness and drug use (called sorcery in the Bible–see for example Revelation 22:15) do in attacking the defenses of the mind against harm.  Additionally, though, it is prostitution and treason because it is what fearful people do who do not trust in the power of God and seek to have an alternative source of power that allows them to do what God forbids without being under the limitations of God’s laws (whether moral or physical).  Those who consult mediums or seek to read the omens in the entrails of animals, like Saul or the Etruscan priests of a Roman army, are slaves of their fear and rebellious and hostile to God’s authority and rule–and will be judged accordingly.

The Penalty On Spiritism

Leviticus 20:27 provides the biblical penalty of judgment on people who practice such behavior:  “A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones.  Their blood shall be upon them.”  This echoes the command of Exodus 22:18:  “You shall not permit a sorceress to live.”  Engaging in fortune telling or occult practices put one under the biblical death penalty.  The law of God does not endorse or protect such activities, but rather makes the wicked people who engage in such behavior criminals under the threat of capital punishment.  Those Christians who support the enforcement of God’s law are therefore aware that they themselves cannot frequent or endorse such activities themselves.

Biblical Case Studies On Mediums

The Bible presents two notable case studies on Mediums that demonstrate the nature of wickedness present the practice of occult magic.  The first is 1 Samuel 28:3-20, and the second is Acts 16:16-24.  In both of these stories combined, we see the elements of fear and disloyalty to God as well as the sins of slavery and domination expressed in the use of familiar spirits.  We ought therefore to condemn all such wicked practices, seeing as the condemnation remains in force for Christians today through the biblical example of Paul.

Saul And The Witch of En Dor

1 Samuel 28:3-20 reads as follows:  “Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had lamented for him and buried him in Ramah, in his own city.  And Saul had put the mediums and spiritists out of the land.  Then the Philistines gathered together, and came and encamped at Shunem.  So Saul gathered all Israel together, and they encamped at Gilboah. When Saul saw the armies of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly.  And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.  Then Saul said to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.”  And his servants said to him, “In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.”  So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night.  And he said, “please conduct a seance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.”  Then the woman said to him, “Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land.  Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?”  And Saul swore to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”  Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”  And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”  When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice.  And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me?  For you are Saul!”  And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid.  What did you see?”  And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.”  So he said to her, “What is his form?”  And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.”  And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.  Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”  And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams.  Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.”  Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy?  And the Lord has done for Himself as He spoke by me.  For the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David.  because you did not obey the voice of the Lord nor execute his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines.  And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.  The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”

This passage is full of considerable controversy and debate, but let us examine it in the most straightforward way possible, letting it speak for itself rather than seeking to force any alien and mistaken interpretation on it.  Let us examine a few of the most notable elements of this passage insofar as it relates to spiritism.  First, let us examine the nature of Saul’s sin and problem.  Next, let us examine the behavior of the medium.  Finally, let us briefly deal with the implications of Samuel’s presence at the seance.

As the spirit of Samuel (!) correctly says, Saul was rejected by God for his failure to obey God’s command to wipe out the Amalekites in holy war [3].  As God had rejected Saul for David, God did not hear Saul’s prayers or provide Saul with counsel through either the means of priests (many of whom Saul killed because of their support of David in 1 Samuel 22), dreams, or prophets.  Saul was afraid of the army of the Philistines and he wanted the support and encouragement of God.  God had already rejected him, and so he sought a way around that rejection by receiving comfort from Samuel the prophet through conducting an ungodly seance.  Saul’s behavior here is very inconsistent–he knows on some level that God is against him, but he believes that he can call up Samuel and receive encouragement from a faithful prophet of God even after death.  He promises as the Lord lives not to punish a witch for doing that which the law of God condemns with the death penalty.  Nonetheless, in noticing his inconsistency, let us be aware that the same fate can fall upon us if we are as muddled in our thinking as Saul was.  Let us remember that we too will suffer judgment from God if we flagrantly disobey the clear commands of God, no matter the sort of godly language or rhetoric of legitimacy we wrap ourselves in.

Next, let us look at the behavior of the medium.  She was sufficiently well-known as a medium to be known to Saul’s servants, and sufficiently worldly wise to wish to avoid the death penalty for an action she knew to be a sin.  Additionally, when conducting the seance she was aware that the spirit of Samuel was different from the normal sort of spirit she was used to dealing with.  A few possibilities exist here–she could either have conducted fraudulent seances and not really raised anything up but made up prophecies and statements, or she was used to dealing with demons and the genuine shade of a former human being had never entered her presence before.  Either is possible, and both have implications.  Furthermore, after the passage examined here, the medium insists that Saul eat to refresh himself, showing herself to be a person of some human kindness, regardless of the immense ungodliness of her behavior as a medium.

Finally, it would be improper (though it is tempting) to leave this passage without some comment on the massive implications of Samuel’s postmortem presence here.  It should be noted that the medium correctly notes that the spirit of Samuel came up out of the earth (and not down from heaven) since people do not go to heaven when they do, but rather are buried in the ground and reside in the grave (or Sheol, or Hades) until their time of resurrection/judgment occurs.  It is not the purpose of this entry to discuss this matter in depth [4] [5] [6], merely to comment that as Samuel appeared different to the medium than the usual spirit she dealt with, came up out of the ground (where the dead, both righteous and unrighteous, are kept), looked like Samuel in life, delivered a true prophecy about the death of God and an accurate knowledge of God’s rejection of Saul for disobedience and a concern for God’s laws, that this appearance was a legitimate (if miraculous) appearance of Samuel being temporarily taken from the grave in some form to give a divine condemnation to Saul.  It is unwise and impossible to put into this passage more than it says, given the mysterious nature of the temporary sleep of the dead and the lack of accessibility of “life” in the grave to the living.

Let us merely note, in leaving this passage, that God gave Saul one last warning by some means that was recognizably in the form of Samuel, despite God’s rejection of the faithless and treacherous Saul.  Saul’s consultation of the medium was as a result of his lack of faith and his disastrous spiritual state, leading him to break a law in search of encouragement from God.  Something unusual happened in the seance (at least two decent possibilities exist), and something resembling Samuel gave a true warning from God that came to pass.  A good and simple lesson can be taken from this passage–messing with mediums is a bad idea that could be potentially fatal.

These Men Are The Servants of the Most High God

In contrast to the example of folly and disobedience from Saul in 1 Samuel 28, the example of Paul and Silas concerning the continued relevance of this command against mediums and spiritists, along with its implications on slavery and domination, can be found in Acts 16:16-24.  Let us not be blind to the understanding that the biblical prohibition on occult magic is also a condemnation of the human desire to dominate and control other beings, the lust and desire that motivates the participation of people in such evil and wicked practices.

Acts 16:16-24 reads:  “Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling.  This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”  And thus she did for many days.  But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”  And he came out that very hour.  But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.  And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.”  Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods.  And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely.  Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”

This particular incident took place in Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia that was particularly proud of its Roman citizenship (as, we might note, was Paul).  The use of the “we” in verse 16 indicates that Luke was an eyewitness of this particular experience, having joined Paul’s party previously.  Acts 16 is usually remembered because of the conversion of the Philippian jailer, which occurs later in this chapter, but it is noteworthy to examine that the wicked and biblically forbidden practice of occult magic (through a demon that specialized in fortune telling) is what led to the jailing of Paul and Silas.  It is also worth noting in passing that the masters took advantage of the local anti-Semitism of the crowd to stir up a lynch mob against Paul and Silas instead of being candid about the true economic nature of their complaint (being upset that God’s servants had reduced their business profits, a common lament of wicked businessmen when presented with the ethical demands of God’s law).  Thus wicked capitalists stirred up a mob on anti-Semitic grounds and got a corrupt government to jail and illegally beat unconvicted Roman citizens (namely Paul and Silas) because of their frustration that a demon had been cast out of their property, namely a slave girl.  This reads like some kind of gothic novel of the Antebellum South, if you change the nationalities.

Let us note as well a few aspects of Paul’s exorcism.  For one, he did not act in a rash and impetuous manner.  It was the continued provocation of the demon to claim credit as the source of the truth that Paul was a man of God that led Paul to cast the demon out of the slave girl.  Even when a demon tells the truth (as this demon was), the truth is being told for malicious reasons, to pre-empt God as the source and origin of truth.  This subtle attack on God’s authority and Paul’s mission led Paul to solve the problem by casting out the fortune-telling demon.  It was this godly act, in accordance with the biblical prohibition against spiritism, that led her masters, who were immorally and unjustly profiting from the demon-possessed slave girl (not only immoral because a demon was involved, but also unjust because the girl got all the horrors of being possessed by a demon and her masters got all the profits).  It was the threat of God’s true servants to their profits that led them to attack the servants of God.

This particular account provides a chilling and very relevant account of the immoral nature of delving into the spirit world for fun and profit.  For one, the process depends on domination and control.  Human beings believe that they can control demons and profit from the demon-possession of others, or believe that their fellow human beings can be owned and their curses the source of profit for others.  Additionally, the attack on the illicit profits and system of domination that Paul represented led to the full and fierce attack on him by the business and government elites of the city.  We see here that Satan’s system of culture and government involves an unholy alliance between businessmen that profit from ungodly activities, a culture hostile to God’s law (as evidenced by their rabid anti-Semitism), and a corrupt and tyrannical government that violates the rights of others and shares and enforces this ungodly and corrupt culture, with the aid and influence of demons standing at the base of it all, pulling the strings behind the scenes.  To exorcise demons is to attack the corrupt culture that demons inspire and influence human beings to adopt, and to invite the full hostility of the enemies of God.

Conclusion

Leviticus 19 and 20 contain four very short but very direct laws against the practice of mediums and spiritists.  The practice of using divination or familiar spirits in heathen religious practice is considered by God to be defilement and prostitution, and placed under the death penalty.  The practice of Saul in calling up a demon in 1 Samuel 28 shows that the use of mediums is often done by those who are fearful and who desire a source of power and truth that is outside of godly channels and presumably exempt from his moral and legal standards.  The hostility of the corrupt business, cultural, and political elites of Philippi towards Paul after the exorcism of the demon from the slave girl demonstrates the evil of control and domination and slavery that occult magic represents, an evil that is even more widespread than the practice of occult magic itself, and more confirmation of occult magic as representing a conscious attempt to rebel against the standards of God’s law and profit from the domination of both human and spirit beings by wicked men.  Seeing, therefore, that the laws of God against this practice are still in practice (through the example of Paul), let us therefore resolve to avoid both occult magic as well as the deeper and darker lust for power and domination over others that occult magic represents.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/book-review-88-money-making-writing-jobs/

[2] Matthew Dickerson & David O’Hara, From Homer To Harry Potter:  A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy (Grand Rapids, MI:  Brazos Press, 2006), 237-239.

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/exodus-178-16-blotting-amalek-from-under-heaven/

[4] http://www.gnmagazine.org/booklets/AD/

[5] http://members.ucg.org/sermon/what-bible-teaches-about-concept-hell

[6] http://members.ucg.org/sermon/what-happens-after-death

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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10 Responses to Leviticus 19:26, 31, 20:6-8, 27: Laws Against Mediums

  1. Doug says:

    You did a really good job of communicating the Laws Against Mediums. I am doing research on whether it is considered immoral or un-biblical to have a tattoo (I don’t have any tattoos but so many Christians do). Lev. 19:26 states not to cut our bodies with tattoos but the context seems to be not to imitate the pagans.

    The argument against tattoos comes from Lev. 19:26 but then again Lev. 11:7 forbids the eating of pork. So as Christians, we are set free from the Law (Rom. 8:1-2) and have freedom to do things like eat pork. The argument for some people would say that this freedom would then allow for a tattoo if your conscious would allow it.

    I read a good article on it in the Christian Research Institute by Lorne Zelyck.
    http://www.equip.org/articles/under-the-needle

    Since you have a good knack for giving unbiased views on a subject, have you considered writing about tattoos?

    • I have considered it. It is worthwhile to examine, and a subject that relates to a context of biblical laws about taking care of the body as well as sanitation. Many tattoos relate to religious symbolism (see, for example, the tattoos of Polynesian peoples like the Maori), and the health hazards of tattoos mirror the health hazards of eating pork–which probably account for the laws being placed so closely together. I will definitely have to post on it as part of my series on contemporary applications to biblical law, though.

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