Thursday, July 21, 2011

Saul and Sorcery: Pieces of the Earth

It is almost settled that the witch of Endor used a jar (or, jars) of clay to divine the Prophet Samuel’s ghost. It was a method that may have originated from the Egyptians. It was not, however, the only fashion in town, and Saul, as revealed in 1 Samuel 28:8, seemed to have expected the witch to utilize a divining method popular among his people during his time. He told the witch, “I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, who I shall name unto thee” (King James Version). “Divine” in this passage was the Hebrew word qacam which meant, “to determine by magic scroll or lot.”

Martin Meyer/Corbis
Despite the sanctions against it, the esoteric art of divination, whether for good or for bad, have had its part in Israelite history and culture. Cleromancy, or the casting or drawing lots, was the most popular methods of divination employed by the common folk when deciding difficult and doubtful matters. Although Deuteronomy 18:10 expressed the uncompromising and relentless hostility God has waged against the one who “practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens… or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead,” the lot was given Divine sanction in Numbers 26:55 in partitioning Canaan among the Israelite tribes. The verse following this implies the indisputable conclusiveness of the lot.

The system of the lot as shown in Joshua 7:14 to 19 was used to pinpoint an offender from out of all the twelve tribes of Israel. This was God’s divine instruction to Joshua:

“In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe that the Lord takes shall come forward clan by clan; the clan that the Lord takes shall come forward family by family; and the family that the Lord takes shall come forward man by man.”

It was also in this way Saul was chosen as king: “When Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was chosen. Finally Saul son of Kish was chosen” (1 Samuel 10:20 to 21).

In choosing what army among the twelve tribes would lead an assault, the lot was also consulted in Judges 20:9: “We’ll go up against it as the lot directs.”

Among the priests the lot was referred to in determining what ministerial function to perform. This was seen in Luke 1:9 when Zechariah was tasked to serve in the Temple. In Leviticus 16:8, the choice of the ceremonial scapegoat depended on the lot. As we know today, the scapegoat represented Jesus, God’s “sin offering” (verse 9). On the day of His crucifixion, lots were cast over His garments (John 19:24).

In the New Testament, the Apostles elected Matthias as Judas Iscariot’s replacement to fulfill the prophetic requirement stated in Psalm 109:8, through lot preceded by a prayer for guidance: “’Lord you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two [Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias] you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.’ Then they drew lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:24 to 26).

Probably the most celebrated use of the lot was the one that tossed the Prophet Jonah overboard into the Mediterranean to get swallowed by a giant fish.

“Then the sailors said to each other, ‘Come let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.’ They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah” (Jonah 1:7).

There are experts who believe that the art of lot casting came from the pagans. The sailors in Jonah 1 were foreigners each of who worshiped and “cried out to his own god” in the wake of the squall (verse 5). The soldiers who gambled for Jesus’ garments were Roman pagans whose over familiarity with the lot led them to toy with its significance and serve their own gain. It may also be, on the other hand, a coincidence that this trapping appears in both the cultures of the Israelites and the foreign neighbors.

The story of the Israelite custom of lot casting may have had its origins from a mysterious pair of words that literally mean “lights” and “perfections” that seem to predate Moses. The Bible calls it the Urim and the Thummim, an aspect of the ancient Israelite civilization that we virtually know nothing about. [We got more so stay tuned!]

[Also, I keep forgetting this, the passages of Scripture you see in the articles are lifted from the New Internation Version--nice piece of translation--unless otherwise indicated, coz we just gotta use the others like the King James Version, the New International, New King James, and when I get the cash I'll be purchasing the Wuest and all those cool versions!]

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