The problem with using the word "God" or "god" to translate the Hebrew word Elohim is that the English word "god" does not mean the same thing as the Hebrew word Elohim. While the word "god" means a supernatural being of divine origins, the Hebrew word Elohim literally and simply means "one of great power." Yahweh is not the only "Elohim," the messengers are called Elohim (Psalm 8:5) as is Moses (Exodus 7:1). Anyone possessing great power is an Elohim. The question now is what is that power? We commonly perceive of the many miracles in the Bible as coming directly from God, but is this true. No where do we see Elohim performing a miracle, rather it is through someone or something, as if they were conduits for the power.
There is no argument that the power originates within Elohim, but is this power solely at the will of Elohim, or can it be manipulated by man? In the discussion of the creation, we have speculated that the creation itself is the Elohim; Elohim is the universal force that is found within all of creation. If an individual were able to tap into that power of the Elohim, he could use it to perform "miracles." An analogy would be the power of the wind. No one can say to the wind, "do this" or "do that," as the wind just does what it naturally does with its power. However, if you were make a sail or windmill you could "tap into" that power and use it for your own benefit. What if the power of the Elohim worked in the same manner?
Moses was able to perform the miracles he did because he was able to "tap into" that power. The same is true for Elijah and Elisha and the other prophets. But this would not be limited to the Israelites alone as anyone with the knowledge would be able to "tap into" that power. For example, Elohim came to Abimelech, a Canaanite, in a dream (Genesis 20:3). Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, was a Midianite and he also had a relationship with Yahweh the Elohim (Exodus 18).
In our English language, especially from a religious viewpoint, we make a clear distinction between "miracles" and "magic." However, as we shall see these two terms mean exactly the same thing. To illustrate this, let's look at the word "occult." This word, based on our cultural influence, immediately brings to mind something that is evil, but let's carefully examine this word. The word "occult" is a Latin word meaning "hidden" or "secret." According to the bible Elohim reveals "secrets," things that are "hidden," the "occult."
And that he [Elohim] would tell you the secrets of wisdom... (Job 11:6, RSV)
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6, KJV)
The definition of "occult" is, “knowledge of secret or supernatural powers or agencies."
When Pharaoh says to you, "Prove yourselves by working a miracle," then you shall say to Aaron, "Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent." So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the LORD commanded; Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent.(Exodus 7:9-10, KJV)
Moses clearly had "knowledge of supernatural power" and therefore, by definition, he worked in the occult. Now let's take a look at some of the other words in our English dictionary and compare them with the Biblical text.
The definition of magic" is " the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature." In Exodus 7:9-10, which we just examined, we find Aaron turning his staff into a serpent. While we may call this a miracle, it is by definition magic as this act was a supernatural control over the natural and we could just as easily translate the phrase "Prove yourselves by working a miracle," as, "Prove yourselves by working magic." The following passage is another example of a prophet working in "magic."
And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean." (2 Kings 5:10, RSV)
An incantation is by definition "a written or recited formula of words designed to produce a particular effect." Isn't the prayers recited by Jews and Christians today a formula for bringing about a particular effect?
The definition of divination is "the practice of attempting to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge by occult or supernatural means."
And you shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me; and I will cast lots for you here before the LORD our God. (Joshua 18:6, RSV)
Casting lots was a common means of divining the will of Elohim. Also the Urim and Thummim were used for this purpose as well. On Yom Kippur lots were cast to decide the fate of the two goats.
Joseph said to them, "What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can indeed divine?" (Genesis 44:15, RSV)
With his cup (see Genesis 44:5), Joseph practiced divination.
Channeling is "the practice of entering a meditative or trancelike state in order to convey messages from a spiritual being."
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep (tardeymah, meaning trance) fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; (Genesis 15:12-13, RSV)
Elohim, a spiritual being, who conveyed his message to Avram while in a trance.
And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. (Numbers 12:6, KJV)
Yahweh speaks to the prophets in dreams and visions, a form of channeling.
A potion is defined as "a liquid or liquid mixture, especially one that is medicinal, poisonous, or magical."
He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain. (Numbers 5:24, RSV)
The entire process is covered in verses 17 through 31. The curse is written on a scroll that is blotted out with a mixture made of water and dust from the tabernacle floor. The woman drinks the mixture and if she is guilty her belly will swell. Another example of potion within the Torah is the mixture of the ashes of a red heifer, hyssop and the tola (the coccus-ilicus worm), which is used for cleansing.
A talisman is something that has magical or supernatural power.
And the LORD said to Moses, "Say to Aaron, `Stretch out your hand with your rod over the rivers, over the canals, and over the pools, and cause frogs to come upon the land of Egypt!'" (Exodus 8:5, RSV)
During the plagues, the staff was used on several occasions to bring about a supernatural event. Moses also stretched out this staff to part the waters of the sea. Another example of a talisman in the Bible is the bronze serpent.
So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:9, RSV)
Astrology is "the study of the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs."
And God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, (Genesis 1:14, RSV)
The sun, moon and stars are for signs and were used for harvest times and feasts.
Meditation is defined as the "continued or extended thought; reflection; contemplation."
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, there were camels coming. (Genesis 24:63, RSV)
Biblical prohibition of magic
One verse is commonly cited by Jews and Christians that apparently condemn the practice of magic, divination and witchcraft.
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, (Deuteronomy 18:10, KJV)
The word for divination is qesen, but the actual meaning of this word is unknown.
The word for "observer of times" is me'oneyn. This word is derived from a root meaning "cloud" and its actual meaning is unclear, but must have something to do with divining knowledge by watching the clouds. Interestingly, this is exactly what Moses did during the wanderings in the wilderness.
Thou in thy great mercies didst not forsake them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud which led them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night which lighted for them the way by which they should go. (Nehemiah 9:19, RSV)
The word for "enchanter" is the noun nahhash. This is the same word used in Numbers 21:9 where it is translated as "serpent." A derivative of this word is nehhoshet, which means "bronze" and this word is also used in Numbers 21:9 for the bronze (nehhoshet) serpent (nahhash).The verbal form of this word is used for Joseph's practice of divination in "divination" in Genesis 44. It is interesting to note that Joseph is never condemned for this practice, but is instead protected by Elohim.
The word for "witch" is kashaph, but its original meaning is uncertain.
There are a few other verses using similar terminology as the verse above (Leviticus 19:26, 2 Kings 17:17, 2 Kings 21:6, 2 Chronicles 33:6), but the problem is that the precise and literal meanings of these words are unknown. While there does appear to be forbidden forms of magic, other forms are permitted, such as we see in the narratives of Joseph, Moses, the prophets and others.
The most common explanation within Judaism and Christianity is that this "magic" must come from Elohim, but my argument here is that Elohim (as the universal force) is accessible to anyone, not just the Israelites. The deciding factor on "good" magic and "bad" magic may be the motivation behind its use.