Monday, January 21, 2013

Amazed By Magic

Amazed By Magic

What has gone on before...

Fleeing violent persecution, led by Saul, Christians have scattered out from Jerusalem, leaving only the leaders, the apostles appointed by Jesus. Philip went to Samaria to preach Christ and the city erupted in joy as he healed many who were paralyzed or lame.

People watching from a distance would have found the preaching and healing interesting or intriguing, but for those whom God touched, the miracles confirmed Philips words about Jesus.

This was, however, not the first time Samaritans had been astounded by great power.

Moving on...

"There was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, - This man is the power of God that is called Great. - And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic." Acts 8:9-11 (ESV)

MAGIC: mageuo (to practice magic); from magos (a Magian or Oriental scientist; a magician); from rab mag (Hebrew, meaning chief Magian, a Babylonian official); from rab (abundant); from rabab (to cast together, to increase or multiply by the myriad)

"Rab" in Hebrew means "chief" or leader. "Mag" is a Babylonian word meaning "Magian", a person belonging to a group of magi, which is plural for magus. Magus meant a Persian priest, of a religion similar to Zoroaster (Zarathustra). The prophet Zoroaster taught that Ormazd, lord of light and goodness, wars ceaselessly against Ahriman and the hosts of evil. Ormazd created man to aid him, and finally the good kingdom will be attained. (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1949)

The writings of Zoroaster were old even by the time of ancient Greek philosophy. For the Greeks, anyone with a reputation for "alien wisdom", having "authority of a remote and revelation wisdom", deserved the title of "Magi", which was directly connected with mysterious powers: "magic".

The three wise men from the east, come to worship the Baby Jesus in Jerusalem, were "magos", or magicians. Their journey to Jerusalem was initiated by their study of stars and planets. They also readily accepted direction from dreams. (Matthew 2:1,7)

Ex-magician, Simon of Samaria, was a "magi" in name only, not necessarily due to association with Zoroaster, but simply because anyone demonstrating mysterious powers was called "magi" or "magian" or "magician".

Simon had amazed the townfolk.

AMAZED: existemi (to put, or stand, out of wits); from ek (origin, from, out) and histemi (to stand)

Simon had "blown them off their feet" with his mysterious feats. He called himself "great" (megas) and the people called him the "Great Power of God".

What were Simon's "powers"?

Perhaps they were similar to those of a girl who Paul had encountered.

"As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling." Acts 16:16 (ESV)

SPIRIT OF DIVINATION: pneuma (a current of air, a breath or breeze; spirit, soul, vital principle, mental disposition; angel, demon, God) and python (Python, a monstrous serpent in Greek mythology, implying inspiration or soothsaying)

FORTUNE-TELLING: manteuomai (to divine, utter spells); from mainomai (a prophet, as if raving through inspiration); from mao (to long for, insensate craving; to rave as a "maniac")

Philip performed signs and wonders, healing disease and disabilities, and exorcising evil spirits. Simon the Magician and the slave girl amazed the people with mysterious powers.

How are mysterious powers different than signs and wonders?

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do we encounter supernatural, mystic, mysterious power today? How does our faith distinguish between magic and ministry? What aspects of magic might be spiritually dangerous, and what might be innocent and good?

Philip's contact with Simon the Magician points toward controversial topics: the supernatural and paranormal. The Bible describes examples of both real and false supernatural power, and both are consistently identified as abominable.

"When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this." Deuteronomy 18:9-14 (ESV)

This passage lists several practices that are forbidden by God.

PRACTICES DIVINATION: qasam (to distribute or determine by lot or magical scroll) and qesem (a lot, divination, oracle)

Pronounced: kaw-sam' keh'-sem

The Philistines practiced divination to determine what to do with the ark they had captured. (1 Samuel 6:2)

King Saul, facing invasion by the Philistines, trembling with fear, was given no direction by God, neither by dreams, Urim or by prophets. He resorted to a medium to use divination to allow him to speak to the dead prophet Samuel. (1 Samuel 28:7)

The prophet Ezekiel described the king of Babylon using divination:

"The king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination. He shakes the arrows; he consults the teraphim (a healer, a family idol); he looks at the liver." Ezekiel 21:21 (ESV)

TELLS FORTUNES AND INTERPRETS OMENS: anan (to cover or cloud over; to act covertly); related to anan (a cloud, as covering the sky; nimbus or thunder-cloud and nahash (to hiss, to whisper a magic spell, to prognosticate)

Literally, "tells fortunes" means to cover with clouds. God covers the earth with clouds to bring rain, using the same word as "tells fortunes" (Genesis 9:14).

A literal use of "interprets omens" is seen in the actions of captured enemies brought before Ahab, the king of Israel. The prisoners pleaded for mercy in the name of their leader, Ben-hadad. Ahab expressed curiosity, calling Ben-hadad his "brother". The prisoners "were watching for a sign", and quickly took courage from Ahab's favorable response. (1 Kings 20:33)

These two words together, however, describes an attempt to perform a supernatural power.

Joseph pretended to use a silver cup to "practice divination", using the same word used for "interpret omens". (Genesis 44:5) He continued the deception later, recognizing his brothers but pretending as if he had divined their identity. (Genesis 44:15)

SORCERER: kashap (to whisper a spell, to inchant or practice magic)

Egyptian sorcerers performed the same signs of divine power as Moses. (Exodus 7:11)

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, relied upon sorcerers to interpret his dreams. (Daniel 2:1)

CHARMER: habar (to join, to fascinate) and heber (a society or a spell)

Pronounced khaw-bar' kheh'-ber

Typically, the word "habar" is used to describe the common action of joining things. Curtains were joined together using this word (Exodus 26:3). Kings joined together in policy or common interests (2 Chronicles 20:35). Long, windy speeches are composed of words joined together (Job 16:4).

The concept of joining can also describe the voice of snake charmers:

"The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers or of the cunning enchanter." Psalms 58:3-5 (ESV)

Combining "habar" with "heber" implies a ritualistic, religious, practiced chanting for the purpose of fascinating or hypnotizing someone or something.

MEDIUM: sha'al (to inquire, request or demand) and ob (a mumble, as if prattling a father's name; a hollow sound from a water-skin; a necromancer or ventriloquist, as if speaking from a jar); from ab (father)

Closely associated with "medium" is "necromancer", often translated as "wizard":

"You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them." Leviticus 20:26-27 (ESV)

WIZARD: yidde'oni (a knowing one, a conjurer or ghost); from yada (to know, as if by seeing; observation, care, recognition, instructive, designation, punishment)

Isaiah described wizards as ones who "chirp and mutter", "inquiring of the dead on behalf of the living." (Isaiah 8:19)

"Necromancer" is also the English translation of another Hebrew word:

NECROMANCER, ONE WHO INQUIRES OF THE DEAD: darash (to tread or frequent, to follow, seek, ask or worship) and mut (to die or kill)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Look back over the definitions of each example of supernatural power. What common characteristics can you find? What distinguishes mystical practices from the signs and wonders performed by the apostles?

The Wizard, by Sean McGrath, Creative Commons License