I grew up in a small town. During my teen years my hometown may have best been known as the home of “Mama Nell.” Mama Nell lived about half way between my house and town. She was a fortune teller with widespread notoriety. Articles about her appeared in national papers and magazines. I passed her house each time I went to town. The yard was always filled with cars often from far away states.
So what does the Bible say about such things? The Bible refers to these fortune tellers as soothsayers, diviners, sorcerers, etc. There are many examples of them in the Scriptures.
We find one such account in Numbers 22 and the story of Balaam. He was a diviner. He was also one who offered sacrifices on pagan alters. We are familiar with the story of his donkey speaking to him. The donkey was able to see the Angel of the LORD blocking the pathway. Balaam beat his donkey for refusing to proceed until the donkey eventually spoke to Balaam. The LORD opened Balaam’s eyes so that he could see the Angel of the LORD as well.
An interesting point in this story is how the LORD used this pagan individual, Balaam, to accomplish His will. Scripture identifies Balaam as a false prophet in many references. And yet GOD used him to bring about His will. I am sure GOD continues to use pagan men today to accomplish His will. Romans 8:28 tells me GOD is able to make things work for the good of His people.
Fortune telling, sorcery, etc. was forbidden in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:26ff and 20:6). Reading the whole chapter of Leviticus 19 one finds many do’s and don’ts. And each one is followed by the statement, “I am the LORD your God.” We might consider this as the ultimate “because I said so.” It is noteworthy the Old Testament literally closes with a warning against sorcery in Malachi 3:5.
This activity was not confined to the Old Testament as the disciples encountered it many times throughout the New Testament.
In Acts 8 we find the account of Simon the Sorcerer. This man had astonished the people for a long time with his sorcery. He was converted to Christ but immediately had a problem of the heart. Peter chastised him for wanting to use the power of GOD for money. He saw the apostles’ ability to work miracles as a means of continuing his livelihood. He was told to repent of the wickedness and pray for forgiveness. Aren’t we glad for this pattern of forgiveness available to us as Christians? We learn that even after we are converted and we fall, forgiveness is available if we repent and pray!
A few chapters later Paul and Silas met a slave girl practicing divination in Acts 16. Her masters were using her fortune telling to make money. Paul and Silas cast out the evil spirit and in so doing wound up in prison at the hands of her angry masters. The lesson for us is that sometimes when we confront evil we pay a price.
In Galatians 5:19-21, we find the works of the flesh listed. Sorcery is on the list along with the reminder that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of GOD.
So what about fortune telling today? Do these modern day soothsayers possess powers? Can they predict the future? Many make that claim today. I do not believe that is the case.
From what I read about these individuals, they follow common patterns. They pick up on body language and pursue certain lines of thought when receiving positive feedback. They often predict the future in a way that when certain events in one’s life occurs, they are reminded of the “prediction.”
Isaiah 41: 21-23 provides a text on fortune telling. GOD says “Present your case. Tell us what has happened and what will happen, that we may know that you are gods.” Being able to tell the future makes one a god. Be sure, GOD alone is able to know the future. In fact, speaking of one particular future event, Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:36 that GOD alone knows of the time.
No, these modern day diviners have no power to see or influence the future.
Oh and just for the record, I am proud to say I never went to see Mama Nell. Even as a young man yet to be converted to the LORD, I knew she was someone to avoid. As a teenage boy I would never have admitted it but I was afraid of Mama Nell.
And I have to share one more thing. Mama Nell claimed she was a distance relative of my mother. Mom was always mortified when she said that. Sorry Mom for sharing that extra tidbit of information.