Bibliomancy. n. Divination by interpretation of a passage chosen at random from a book, especially the Bible. (American Heritage Dictionary)
About thirty years ago, I sat on an examining council for a missionary candidate applying for service in Japan. The candidate had grown up in Japan as the daughter of very successful church planters in that country, yet she said she had felt a burden for the newly opened field of Russia. Knowing she would have to learn a new language and culture if she went to Russia, she struggled over whether to go to that field or return to Japan. Which one was God’s will? To which field was she called?
Her struggle ended when she received what she believed was guidance from God in her devotions. She read Jeremiah 49:31 – “Arise , get you up unto the wealthy nation, that dwelleth without care, saith the LORD, which have neither gates nor bars, which dwell alone.” The candidate explained her reasoning to the council along these lines: The Lord was calling her to a “wealthy nation, that dwelleth without care” and whose homes have no “gates or bars.” Russian people, she reasoned, did not dwell securely, their homes have walls and gates for security, and they are certainly not a “wealthy nation.” Japan, on the other hand, is a wealthy nation whose people dwell securely without walls or gates. On this basis, she was certain that God was calling her to return to Japan as a missionary. I saw that the regular council members were delighted with her answer, so a bit my tongue. What was more disturbing than the fact that this recent Bible college graduate and young missionary candidate misused the Bible in this way was the fact that the council members, all long-time pastors, approved of that use!
The missionary candidate egregiously took Jeremiah 49:31 out of context, but she was also mislead by the wording of the King James translation she was using. (The college she attended held to a KJV-Only position.) Better translations like the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version clearly show that the LORD’s command was not a missionary commission but a call to war! It was a prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of the Ishmaelite tribes of the Arabian peninsula:
"Arise, go up against a nation which is at ease, which lives securely," declares the LORD. "It has no gates or bars; they dwell alone.” (Jeremiah 49:31 NASB, emphasis added)
The context of Jeremiah 49:28-33 is the pronouncement of God’s judgment on “Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor” (v. 28), the nomadic tribes of Arabia-Petraea.
Wrenching verses out of context to make them say something that was never intended is nothing new. Every pseudo-Christian cult does it. But it is paganism, seeking signs instead of truth and wisdom from the Scriptures. Many best-selling so-called Christian authors make millions off the gullibility of the Christian public by writing books claiming to have found “hidden” messages in the Bible. The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin started an avalanche of books on the subject, pro and con, in the late 1990’s. Jonathan Cahn, who is sometimes called “pastor” and sometimes “rabbi,” is a Messianic Jew who has also capitalized on “hidden messages” in the Old Testament. His books The Harbinger and The Mystery of the Shemitah both claim to unravel the “mystery” of America’s future. Cahn also says the Old Testament – in hidden messages – predicted the major economic crises and 9/11. The Harbinger sees the “mystery” of America’s future in Isaiah 9:10. But since the context surrounding that verse names “Jacob” and “Israel” and “Ephraim” and “Samaria,” who would imagine, just reading the text for what it says, that it contains a “hidden message” about America?!
This misuse of the Bible is bibliomancy! And it has a long history in Judaism. The Kabbalah -- which seems to be Cahn's inspiration -- is a Jewish mystical movement which began in the 6th century A.D. The Kabbalist commentary on the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), called the Zohar, serves as a guide to Kabbalists in their quest for a deeper knowledge of God through mystical experience and understanding the hidden messages in the numerology and individual words of Scripture. According to Elliot Miller, writing for the Christian Research Institute: “The overwhelming philosophical influence in areas where Kabbalah began was Greek; Neo-Platonism and its ‘Christian’ offshoot, Gnosticism.”[i] Early gnostic influences were among the false doctrines Paul and John were combating in the early church. (See Colossians, John, First John, especially.)
This may come as a surprise to many, but the purpose of the Bible – even the Book of Revelation – is NOT to reveal specific details of the future. The Apostle Paul wrote to his young colleague Timothy about the power and purpose of Holy Scripture:
“. . . from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17 NASB, emphasis added)
But how about the Book of Revelation? The stated purpose of Revelation was to edify and encourage God’s people in the face of a hostile world. It is applicable to Christians in every epoch:
“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3 NASB, emphasis added)
Prognostication is always popular. That’s why the daily newspapers have astrology columns. But that’s not the purpose of the Bible. The Bible is God’s unfolding plan of redemption through Jesus Christ and instruction in godly wisdom to conform His people to the image of Christ. That message is clear and plain throughout Scripture.
Looking for hidden messages in the Bible is bibliomancy, and that is paganism.