Welcome to MOTIFS, where I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible in an attempt to unearth God's meaning in His pattern of usage.

20. WITCH          WITCH

Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw . . .

Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing . . .

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Shakespeare’s MacBeth conjures a picture of witchcraft that has prevailed through four centuries of literary imagination: three foul sisters hunker over a simmering vat in a dark cavern, brewing potions and casting powerful spells. This play was written during the translation period of the King James Bible (1604-11), and both texts use the word “witch”—coming from the Old English wicca, relating to religion and the sacred. Current versions of Scripture instead use the word “sorcerer.”

But biblical reference to the magic arts includes a wide vocabulary of terms that are often interchangeable and undifferentiated in role, with no real distinction made between witches, wizards, sorcerers, and poisoners; lists also include the forbidden practices of astrologers, seers, mediums, and necromancers. The civilizations of Old Testament days abounded in divination and oracles, charms of protection, and interpretation of omens. It was from this occult worldview that God separated out a people to be His very own—to worship Him alone. He condemned the practice of all such activity as idolatrous.

The first mention of sorcery in the Bible shows Moses and Aaron in a standoff before Pharaoh and his Egyptian magicians (Exod. 7:8-13). Recorded shortly thereafter is God’s absolute rejection (via capital punishment) of any fortunetelling or use of demonic power:

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live (Exod. 22:18 KJV).

God’s character mandated that His people follow a holy lifestyle, turning to Him rather than defiling themselves by seeking the supernatural “wisdom” of the surrounding cultures (Lev. 19:31; 20:6; Deut. 18:10-14). But time and again the Israelites turned away from the Lord, offering their children as burnt sacrifices to the gods and otherwise “selling themselves to do evil” (2 Kings 17:17), as we can see through the stories of some infamous Bible characters:

  • Balaam was a pagan diviner asked by a Moabite king to curse his enemy Israel; in attempting to appease the powerful Jewish God, Balaam first sought out the will of the Lord—who used a donkey to open the enchanter’s eyes to His truth over the falsehood of omens (Num. 24:1-2 and following).
  • Saul in sinful desperation resorted to consulting a medium to call up the apparition of Samuel—and God, abhorring satanic involvement, yet graciously intervened with a vision of the dead prophet to rebuke the king (see 1 Sam. 28:7 and following).
  • The notorious and arrogant Jezebel practiced witchcraft, and ruined Israel’s peace by killing God’s prophets and pandering to the seers of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 21:25; 2 Kings 9:22; see also Rev. 2:20).
  • King Manasseh broke away from his father’s godliness to re-establish Assyrian astral worship, Canaanite spiritist practices, and Molech-inspired human sacrifice (2 Kings 21:1-6).

Isaiah declared judgment upon Israel for all this sorcery, comparing the fate of the idolatrous against that of God’s righteous remnant (Isa. 2:6; 19:3; 47:9-12; 65:11-12). He admonished Judah not to fear her coming tribulation, for “Immanuel” God would be with her (Isa. 8:8-10) if she ran to His Word rather than to soothsayers:

And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn (Isa. 8:19-20).

While in captivity, Daniel honoured God above Babylon’s magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, astrologers, and diviners who used incantations in exorcisms, cast spells, sought revelation in the stars, and decreed the fate of others. The meaning of royal dreams and visions were not correctly revealed to this court of “wise men” but rather to Daniel (Dan. 4:7; 5:5-12). Only Daniel’s God directs the future; only the God of Israel is worthy of praise (Dan. 2:19-23; 4:34-35).

Words of judgment ring out from the last books of the Old Testament against the conjurings of Israel (Micah 5:12-14; Mal. 3:5). But occult activity was still ongoing four centuries later, when Jesus cast out demons throughout Galilee and sent His disciples out with the same power, and when Philip evangelized Simon the Magician in Samaria (Mark 1:39; Luke 9:1; Acts. 8:9-13). Paul encountered the fraudulent wizardry of a Jewish “prophet,” the maniacal ravings of a possessed slave girl, and the conversion of Ephesians who burned their scrolls of magic (Acts 13:6-8; 16:16-18; 19:18-20). In his epistles, Paul preached against participating with demons in the works of the flesh, listing idolatry and sorcery alongside drunkenness and orgies (1 Cor. 10:20-21; Gal. 5:18-22).

The book of Revelation seals up the written Word with a damning verdict against witchcraft (that is, use of drugs, potions, spells, and enchantments as one calls upon demonic powers through incantations, charms, and amulets). God will allow the hell-bent to suffer everlasting torment, for the sins of Babylon in deceiving the nations with her sorcery will eventually come to fruition (Rev. 9:20-21; 18:21-23; 21:8). In the closing chapter of the Bible, the final words of Jesus Christ ring out to explain the destiny of witches and their ilk, as well as the blessedness of those found instead in Him:

Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood . . . Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price (Rev. 22:12-15, 17).



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