Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bible Heroes and Witchcraft

Today is day two of week three in our "Read the Bible Through in a Year" plan.  Today's scriptures are Genesis 30-31, Mark 12, and Psalm 11.  My focus today is on the Genesis passages, and on the negative example that we can see in the lives of these characters.  While Jacob is called a patriarch in our faith, his family put the "fun" in "dysfunctional."  In these stories, his dysfunctionality revolves around magical practice.  Let's take a look at just these two chapters:

Verses 1-24 show that Jacob's polygamous marriage (not a good idea, by the way) fosters jealousy between the sister-wives, and results in a competition to see who can have the most children.  Even when Rachel and Leah are unable to continue childbearing, they employ the services of their maids, allowing Jacob to sleep with them in order to produce more children "in their name."  Verses 14-18 tell a confusing little story within this larger narrative of competition, in which Leah's son Reuben finds some mandrakes which he brings to his mother.  Rachel wants some of them, and when she is refused she pimps Jacob out to Leah in exchange for the mandrakes.  (For his part, Jacob doesn't seem to mind the attention that he gets from the four women involved in this competition.)  So--what's the deal with the mandrakes?  Some Bible commentators say that they were an aphrodisiac.  While this may be true, it's only part of the truth.  Actually, mandrakes were known for their magical properties.  Because they are shaped like little men, consuming mandrakes was thought to aid in conception.  This is called 'sympathetic magic.'  Like affects like.  If you eat something that looks like a little man, then a little man will grow inside you.  Rachel planned to use these mandrakes for their supposed magical properties.  (In Harry Potter, Hermione says it's used to turn those who have been petrified to their original state...but this fantasy story has nothing to do with the actual practice of witchcraft, either as the patriarchs knew it, or as occultists know it today.) 

Just because biblical characters--even those in the first family of patriarchs--used magical means to accomplish their desires, that doesn't mean that believers should do so today.  The fact that they did so, and that the Bible records it, doesn't mean that God endorses such things.  Witchcraft and magic are forbidden in the Bible.  Click here for a good Bible study on the biblical prohibition against the occult.  The trouble was that Jacob's family had not yet received the Law forbidding such practices.  They still borrowed from the pagan religions around them--and this caused a lot of trouble for them.

In 30:25-31:16, we read about Jacob's prosperity.  He attributes his successful breeding practices to a technique that he says he received from God.  A subtle point needs to be made here.  The author of Genesis never says that the dream and breeding instructions came from God.  The narrator says that Jacob (whose name means "trickster") claimed that the instructions came from God.  In fact, we see that while Jacob (as in the case of the stairway to Heaven) did indeed have communication from God, he also mixed his practices with the pagan rituals around him.  In verse 27 (ESV) he says to Laban, "If I have found favor in your sight, I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you."  Mixing occultic practices with the worship of Almighty God--not a good idea!  We see this mixture, or syncretism, both in the way Jacob and his wives breed people, and in the way they breed animals.

Sympathetic magic indicates that if you breed animals in front of striped or mottled sticks (phallic symbols), then the resulting offspring will be striped or mottled.  This isn't good genetic theory--but it is sound magic in the mind of an occultist.  While Jacob attributes his secret knowledge to a revelation from God, the author of Genesis never actually says that God commanded him to do so.  Just because a patriarch does something--that doesn't mean his example should be followed by Christians.

Genesis 31:17-15 tells about Jacob fleeing from Laban, along with his family.  Rachel steals her father's household god, maybe because she is still attached to its occultic lure, or maybe because she wants to hinder her father by robbing him of his god.  Either way, it seems clear that she attributes some kind of power to the object.  (A strange idea, because if it was so powerful, why would it need her to protect it by sitting on it?)  Simply put--this family, although Jacob bore the promise of God and entered into covenant with God, was greatly immersed in pagan practices.

Which leads me to you--

Are there any magical practices in your life?  Though you say you're a Christian, are you also reading the horoscope religiously?  Are you seeking spiritual guidance from tarot cards instead of from reading the Bible and praying?  Are there "harmless superstitions" that you carry out, that really aren't so harmless?  Are there any "like affects like" things that you're trying to do--trusting in your own techniques rather than trusting in God?  

Just because a notable Bible character like Jacob practiced witchcraft and divination, that doesn't mean it's something available to believers.  Prayer is asking God to do something, and then trusting God to do it.  Witchcraft, or magic, is when you believe that you have the supernatural power to make something happen, irrespective of God's will.  It's when you manipulate spiritual forces to do your bidding, rather than trying to understand God's will so you can do His bidding.  Meditation is discerning God's will through silent listening to God's spirit.  Divination is trying to learn the truth from the spirith realm by manipulating objects so that they form some sort of message.  Be careful how you experience the supernatural--because God says...

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:6-9 ESV)

Now...just for fun...a funny look at mandrakes.

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