“you are not to learn.” The so-called “black arts” and magic arts and pagan worship are not instinctively understood by humans, but are learned. God’s people are to stay away from all activity that is not a glory to God. Witchcraft and the black arts can fascinate the senses and their power can be attractive to the flesh, but those abominable and demonic practices and also the physical things that are associated with them such as wands, crystal balls, Ouija boards, etc., are to be completely avoided. The power that they have comes from God’s arch-enemy, the Devil, and if a person, and especially a believer, chooses the Devil over God he or she will have terrible consequences.
“the abominable things that those nations do.” The Devil is always trying to lure people away from God, and has many ways to do it. One of them is by getting people to look to him for information instead of looking to God. This section in Deuteronomy 18 gives us a list of some of the practices that God calls “abominable.” The Devil was effective in getting those practices inculcated into the pagan culture of the ancient world, and many of these practices are still going on today despite the fact that they are an abomination to God. The “nations” in the verse specifically refers to the various Canaanite nations, including the Ammonites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hittites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
People generally want more information than God wants to give them. God wants people to act wisely, make decisions for their own lives, and accept the consequences of the decisions they make. However, that takes a lot of wisdom, time, and risk, and many people are unwilling to do that. Besides, all the human wisdom in the world cannot tell us many of the things we would love to know: will a boyfriend/girlfriend make a good life partner; will a certain investment work out; will changing jobs help or hurt me in the long run; will my child turn out to be a good person; and many more questions like those. But God is comfortable with us not knowing those things.
God knows that we live in a fallen world, and that we are not going to be able to fix it or to “make everything right” in our lives. He wants us to trust Him on a day-to-day basis and have confidence that our next life will be wonderful, and sorrow and death will be no more. For the mature Christian, the fact that life is hopelessly broken and things go wrong in people’s lives is evidence that Adam’s sin ruined the world, and it leads us to recognize how horrible sin is, and how important it is that we make a genuine effort to obey God. The brokenness of life forces us to trust in God’s support, and it builds our desire for the restored world in the future.
Understandably, however, many people are not satisfied with being part of the consequences of Adam’s sin, and they don’t want to wait for the Millennial Kingdom for things to improve in their lives. People want to be “right” and do not want to take the risks inherent in making their own decisions. The Devil takes advantage of that, and he also takes advantage of the fact that many people are content to hand off their decision-making to “invisible forces” they believe are somehow more knowledgeable than themselves. Thus, the Devil supports many different ways of telling the future and influencing people to make decisions based on the information that he provides.
Providing different ways of dispensing information supports the Devil’s agenda in many ways. It weakens people’s resolve to obey God; it weakens people’s emotional growth in making, then taking responsibility for, their own decisions; it gives evidence, false evidence, that God is not important to people’s lives because they can get the information they want from other places; it provides an avenue for the Devil to feed people false and misleading information; it enriches disobedient people such as diviners and sorcerers with both money and influence; and, by engendering people’s disobedience and the devaluing of God, it hinders the unsaved in getting saved and hinders believers from building up rewards in the future Kingdom of God.
The list of practices in Deuteronomy 18:10-11 is not exhaustive, but it is indicative of the way culture will go if the people do not know God and the truth He provides about the visible and invisible world. There is a lot of overlap in the practices listed below, and that is understandable because although different demonic arts have specific differences, there is a lot of overlap, just as in English, concepts like “magic,” “sorcery,” and “witchcraft,” have a lot of overlap. The point of the list is that it gives us enough information to be clear that God wants to be our only God and our only source of supernatural information. Getting information from the Devil always in some way ends in harm, and God knows that.
[For more on the Messiah’s future kingdom on earth, the Millennial Kingdom, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on how the future will unfold from this present age to the Millennial Kingdom to the Everlasting Kingdom, see commentary on Rev. 21:1.]