The term divination, as used in this passage, refers to attempts to control evil spirits, to penetrate the mysteries of the universe, or to foretell the future by using magical acts, pronouncing superstitious incantations, or interpreting natural signs. Today we refer to such practices as “the occult.” “Black magic” was a prominent feature of pagan religious systems in Bible times. But God prohibited the Israelites from participating in these practices. Seven different types of divination are mentioned in this passage.
Observer of times. The Hebrew word behind “observer of times” is translated by the New International Version as one who practices “sorcery.” They often made their predictions by “reading” the clouds in the sky. The practitioners of this art specialized in distinguishing lucky days from unlucky days and recommending to people the best times to plant crops, make a purchase, take a trip, and so on.
Enchanter. The New International Version translates the Hebrew word behind “enchanter” as one who “interprets omens.” This person predicted the future or told people’s fortunes by reading certain signs. One way of doing this was to use a magic cup. The cup of Joseph was referred to as a “divining cup” (read Gen 44:2). Another method was to interpret the pattern formed by birds in flight.
The art of enchantment is referred to several times in the Old Testament (Lev 19:26; Num 23:23; 24:1; 2 Kings 17:17; 21:6; 2 Chron 33:6).
Witch. A witch was a person who cast spells or used other supernatural “black magic” tricks to commit evil or wicked acts. The Hebrew word for “witch” or “witchcraft” is used to describe Jezebel and her associates who promoted the worship of the false god Baal (read Num 22:41) throughout the Northern Kingdom during the reign of King Ahab (2 Kings 9:22).
Charmer. The Hebrew word behind “charmer” is translated as one who “casts spells” by the New International Version. It is not clear how a charmer differed from a witch. Some interpreters believe charmers practiced their craft by tying magic knots or using knots or using a magic ring.
Consulter with familiar spirits. Consulters with familiar spirits claimed to be able to call up the spirits or ghosts of dead people. They did this at the request of friends or loved ones who sought advice or guidance from the deceased.
King Saul sought out “a woman that hath a familiar spirit” (1 Sam 28:7) when he wanted to communicate with the prophet Samuel, who had died. This woman was shocked when the spirit of Samuel actually appeared and gave the king some bad news about his forthcoming battle with the Philistines (1 Sam 28:11-19). Her surprise indicates that these consulters with familiar spirits probably used trickery-perhaps ventriloquism-to convince people that they were talking with their departed friends and loved ones.
Wizard. The Hebrew word behind “wizard” means “the knowing one.” Thus, a wizard may have been an expert in all of the magical tricks associated with sorcery and divination.
Necromancer. The New International Version translates the Hebrew word behind “necromancer” as one who “consults the dead.” This practitioner of the occult apparently claimed to be able to conjure up the spirits of the dead, just like a consulter with familiar spirits. In additional, necromancers may have used corpses to foretell the future. Some interpreters believe they “read” dead people’s bones or veins to determine the future of the survivors of the deceased.