More and more frequently I have been seeing videos and social media posts passed around in Christian circles that claim to contain “prophecy” concerning the coronavirus.
For example, the 700 club’s recent videos contain “prophecies” that a divinely directed cure is being developed in Israel as well as a “word” that this virus was created for politically motivated means. There have even been videos and posts that claim special revelation on a coming antichrist and his “mark” being administered through vaccines.
Two thoughts come to mind when I see these types of posts: First, how absolutely disgusting is it that there are individuals out there, claiming to be agents of God, who are so willing to utilize fear for views, recognition, and monetary gain. Jesus called them wolves in sheep’s clothing. But second, why is it that these individuals are so successful? What is it about these posts and video that make them so appealing to many? Why are so many people falling for their deception?
Simply put, they are not comfortable trusting God alone.
The appeal for these types of conspiracies is that they claim to have the ability to place power back in the hands of the individual who feels powerless. Once enlightened with the secret knowledge, the recipient now has an “in” into the mind of the divine, or so they believe. They remove mystery and grant temporary reassurance. They claim to have the ability to grant control in a time where no control was actually granted.
The funny thing is, this is not a new problem. It’s one as old as time.
Magic, Trust, and the book of Leviticus
Rarely do we read through the Levitical laws about sorcery and magic and give them any deeper thought. Now might be the time to do so.
Passages like Leviticus 19:26, 19:28, 19:31, 20:6, and 20:27 are surely related to those like Leviticus 19:4. Decrees against sorcery definitely had something to do with the false worship of other deities besides the Lord. Pharaoh’s sorcerers did their magic in the name of their Egyptian gods, and Israel was to have “no other Gods before me [YHWH]” (Exodus 20:3). But while these magic prohibitions do include idolatry, there is a bit more going on.
What exactly did magic look like in the ancient Near East?
There were two primary ways that the ancients practiced sorcery in the time of Leviticus. The first was through astrology. Mesopotamian priests would be trained on how to read the stars and celestial bodies in the hopes of discerning the will of the gods. Eclipses, constellation patterns, the color of the sky, and other phenomena were thought to be signs from the gods that trained priests would be able to interpret. If their scriptures didn’t have the answer they were seeking, maybe the sky would?
Astrology was often employed by trained priests and royalty. But extispicy was the magic of the “working class.” Extispicy was the reading of animal entrails, like the liver and intestines, to deduce good or bad omens. And similar to how our Magic 8 Ball toys work today, the ancient Near Eastern magician practicing extispicy would typically ask a “yes or no” question to a god in prayer, and then would observe the entrails for certain conditions that would point them toward a positive or negative answer.
But why in the world would the ancients waste their time looking at the stars or digging through animal guts?
They were uncomfortable with mystery. They wanted control. They wanted answers on their own time. Even if their god demanded worship in a specific way, many of the ancients would still feel comfortable bending the rules a bit with magical syncretism as long as it gave them assurance and a glimpse into their future.
And this, of course, was why magic was prohibited for Israel. The Lord required a specific type of worship. He had already made known what He wished to be revealed through the Law and His prophets. And He promised Israel that He would guide and protect them. When He was silent, He expected His people to walk by faith. They were to get comfortable with mystery. They didn’t need to know all the answers.
They didn’t need control because God already was.
In fact, through their example of faithful living, they were to be examples of God’s sovereign control over all. Using magic, or turning to those who did, was a blatant disregard for this high calling.
Modern “Magic” and our Christian Witness
Both ancient Near Eastern and Israelite sorcerers practiced witchcraft because they wanted control. They overstepped the bounds of divine revelation to gain “secret knowledge.” They did not want to trust God alone for security, so they sinned against the Lord with magic. And that’s extremely similar to what many are doing in the present with these conspiracy theories and so-called prophecies.
They’re practicing modern-day magic.
So, what are we to do? How can we make sure we aren’t swept up into a conspiracy? How might we still remain adamant witnesses to Jesus during time when fear and confusion abounds?
1. We should utilize sound biblical interpretation.
Does the video containing this so-called prophecy take scripture out of context? Does the teacher talk about a passage without making mention of its original intent? Do they even back up what they’re saying with scripture at all? We need to be cautious about what we watch and read.
2. We should fact check.
Before we buy into a video or social media post, we need to do our homework. And this is especially true before we share it with others. Bearing false witness taints our testimony. It makes the God we worship look bad. And it’s actually prohibited by one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16). So, here’s a good rule-of-thumb: if you’d like to share a video or post but aren’t sure if the material presented is true or not, err on the side of not sharing.
Posting a Bible passage talking about Jesus’ resurrection in the same place that you posted a video sharing a “prophetic” coronavirus conspiracy only hurts your Christian witness.
3. We should not grasp for control but trust in the God who is.
Both ancient and modern magic is about control. And I get it. It’s scary living in a world without a lot of solid answers. But when God was silent, He expected Israel to walk by faith. He expects the same for us now.
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Learn to embrace mystery. And know that we don’t need any sort of “secret knowledge” about the times ahead because if we are in Christ, our futures are completely secure with Him.
 John Hilber, “Prophecy, Divination, and Magic in the Ancient Near East,” in Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018), 369-370.