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It is written:
Leviticus 19:31-Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
Throughout the Old Testament, we are told about creatures called “familiar spirits” (the Hebrew word ob).
What are familiar spirits?
To answer that, we must notice several things.
To begin with, let’s notice all of the passages where the “familiar spirits” are mentioned.
Leviticus 20:6-And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people.
Leviticus 20:27-‘A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them.’ “
Deuteronomy 18:10-11-There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.
1 Samuel 28:3-Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had lamented for him and buried him in Ramah, in his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the spiritists out of the land.
1 Samuel 28:7-9-Then Saul said to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.” 8 So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Please conduct a sÍance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.” 9 Then the woman said to him, “Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land. Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?”
2 Kings 21:6-Also he made his son pass through the fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger.
2 Kings 23:24-Moreover Josiah put away those who consulted mediums and spiritists, the household gods and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.
1 Chronicles 10:13-So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance.
2 Chronicles 33:6-Also he caused his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom; he practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger.
Job 32:19-Indeed my belly is like wine that has no vent; It is ready to burst like new wineskins.
Isaiah 8:19-And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?
Isaiah 19:3-The spirit of Egypt will fail in its midst; I will destroy their counsel, And they will consult the idols and the charmers, The mediums and the sorcerers.
Isaiah 29:4-You shall be brought down, You shall speak out of the ground; Your speech shall be low, out of the dust; Your voice shall be like a medium’s, out of the ground; And your speech shall whisper out of the dust.
First, let’s notice the clues from these passages that “familiar spirits” are somehow connected with “the dead.”
Nearly all oof these passages connect “familiar spirits” with the dead. The most obvious example of this is in 1 Samuel 28, where Saul goes and consults a medium who raises up the “familiar spirit” of Samuel from the realm of Hades. Some deny that this medium was able to accomplish this: however, all of the passages that discuss modicums point out that they had the ability to summon the dead!
Since there is a clear connection between “mediums” and the spirits of the “dead,” then it is clear that a “familiar spirit” had some connection with a deceased human being. We see this clearly again in Isaiah’s passage and his use of Hebrew poetry to express his point:
Isaiah 8:19-And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living?
God is pointing out that the people were going to modicums for guidance, and not coming to Him. Then the Prophet shows us that going to a “medium” was the same as going to “the dead.”
Second, a familiar spirit also had a connection at times with a spirit that was “familiar” to not only a person, but to a family. Indeed, the idea of a “familiar spirit” could include a spirit that had been passed down generationally within a family.
Scholar Merrill Unger points out:
“The term “familiar” is applied to the foreboding demon,2 it would appear, because it was regarded by the English translators as a servant (“famulus”), belonging to the family (“familiaris”), who was on intimate terms with, and might readily be summoned by, the one possessing it. The significance of the Hebrew term is disputed. It is not impossible that it might be related to the Arabic root awaba (“to return”), with reference to the spirit who periodically comes back. The commonest view, on the other hand, associates the fundamental etymological significance with the idea of “something hollow,” as a “leathern bottle,” or “wine skin” (Job 32:19). Assuming the fundamental notion of “hollowness” to be in the word, various explanations are current as accounting for it, such as calling the spirit ‘ob because of the hollow tone of its voice, which indicates a sound that might be expected to issue from any hollow place, or because the divining spirit was regarded as speaking out of a cave or opening in the ground. Among the Greeks and the Romans, oracles depending on necromancy were situated among the deep caverns, which were thought to communicate with the spirit-world.3 Davies quotes W. R. Smith as of the opinion that divination by the ‘ob was connected with this ancient superstition. Just as ‘ob, meaning “a divining spirit,” came to denote the person in whom the spirit resided, so by a similar metonymy-the contained for the container and vice versa-the hollow cavern came to be used for the spirit that spoke out of it.4 Gesenius suggests that the connection between “bottle” and “necromancer” probably arose “from regarding the conjurer, while possessed by the demon, as a bottle, i.e., vessel or case, in which the demon was contained.””” (Merrill F. Unger, Biblical Demonology: A Study of Spiritual Forces at Work Today, 144-145 (Kindle Edition): Grand Rapids, MI; Kregel Publications)
So a familiar spirit could also have reference to a spirit that had been somehow handed down within a family line.
Kurt Koch points out:
“When a possessed person dies, the demon goes out and tries to enter another member of the family. Relatives of possessed persons are often themselves psychic, and so open to invasion by evil spirits. Sometimes a possessed person cannot die until the demon which has been inhabiting him has found another home. If one of these spirits succeeds in gaining possession of a grandchild, a certain family tradition is set up. A hypnotist who hypnotizes such a person back beyond his birth is in fact making contact with these family spirits, and it is from them that the knowledge about the ancestors is gained. This all sounds like an absurd construction. Even real Christians who have no experience of spirit possession, find it incredible and impossible to understand. But anyone, who has spent years counseling those who have come under occult influence, is familiar with such experiences. The fact that unbelieving, unregenerate psychiatrists, hypnotists, parapsychologists, and modernist theologians scoff at it does not invalidate the truth. It is significant that in various English translations of the Bible the term familiar spirits is used in Old Testament references to sorcery. Although this expression in its natural sense means intimate, well-known known spirits, it could also be taken in the original, literal sense of the word to mean spirits of the family. There are some families which are ruled for many years, even centuries, by such spirits. The evil spirits enjoy deceiving and misleading men and women. The “prenatal hypnotists” are without exception to be counted among their victims.” (Kurt E. Koch, Occult ABC: Exposing Occult Practices and Ideologies, 311-320 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI; Kregel Publications)
One young man that I worked with explained to me how his family had passed on a “familiar spirit” to him when a relative had died. Some of his kin were gathered at a funeral home where the deceased’s body was being prepared, and they set him down beside the corpse. (At this time, he was a very young man, perhaps six or seven years old). He remembers-and others in his family have verified to him over the years -that as they performed the ceremony, “something” passed from the body of his deceased family member into him.
From that time forward, this “familiar spirit” has been with him. He said that it provided comfort for him in difficult and depressing days, but when the true Jesus was mentioned with any kind of seriousness or reverence, the spirit became infuriated. Indeed, it had been trying to convince the young man for most of his life that he was antichrist! (I have seen these same lies perpetrated by demonic spirits several times in my ministry).
Third, a “familiar spirit” could be termed such because it attempted to repeat the same cycle in the afflicted person as it had in victims of the past.
People have often noticed that certain patterns seem to repeat within families. Now of course, some of this may be due to genetics and environment (Genesis 3:17-19; 1 Corinthians 15:33). However, a third possibility is the influence of familiar spirits. Indeed, a “familiar spirit” may be termed such for this very reason!
“If you go to a doctor for a checkup, and it is your initial visit, you will likely be given a health questionnaire to fill out. The doctor wants to know what diseases, illnesses and vulnerabilities exist in your family history. Did your parents have diabetes? Has anyone had a heart attack? Is there a history of high blood pressure? Doctors do this because they know the propensity for these physical weaknesses to be passed on through the generations, right? Well, the same phenomenon is true in the realm of the spirit. If someone in your family opened the door to the demonic through an iniquity, then demons can enter through that opening and travel down the family line. Even if you have never taken part in the particular sin that let the demons in, they can affect you and your children. This explains why we sometimes struggle in certain areas and cannot break free, or our children cannot break free, and we have no clue why. We simply cannot figure out if we did something to allow these things or to cause these things to happen. In many cases we are struggling with demonic personalities that have been living in our families for generations. These are also called “familiar spirits.” They seem familiar, like an unquestioned part of the family line, because they have been within the genealogy for years. Typical examples are spirits of unforgiveness, resentment, poverty, inferiority, judgment, condemnation, adultery, divorce, alcoholism, lust, lying, hate, anger, selfishness, doubt. Almost any type of demon can enter this way.” (Rabbi K.A. Schneider, Self-Deliverance: How to Gain Victory over the Powers of Darkness, 315-324 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Chosen Books)
It is also important to realize here that the ones condemned in the Old Testament for “having” familiar spirits were actually the ones who were involved in willful sin by communicating with and submitting to these forces. Some people were just the victims of these vicious creatures, and were not therefore subject to the penalties described in these Scriptures.
Many claim that all such demonic activity is explained away medicine and enviroment. This may account for some of the maladies that people experience (as noted above), but certainly not all of them.
Dr. Kenneth McAll was a physician who witnessed amazing examples of influence from familiar spirits in his mission work among the diseased and ravaged in China. Being skeptical that such spiritual and supernatural events occur in our day and age, he decided to become a psychiatrist.
What did he learn?
“When patients come to me, often after enduring years of unsuccessful medical and psychiatric treatment, they can be in a highly unreceptive state of mind, unwilling to co-operate and reluctant to trust yet another doctor. It is essential first to establish their medical history, to check previous diagnoses and confirm that all the obvious necessary medical tests have been carried out: nothing is taken for granted. When a mutual feeling of trust has been established, the patients are usually able to unburden themselves of the ‘secrets’ that have been the source of their illnesses. Many emotional problems have their roots in a purely biochemical imbalance which requires medication, and this can be remedied easily enough when once identified, although it is not always easy to discover. But many deep emotional hurts need a different sort of therapy and the supportive love of a Christian community. We cannot ignore any means by which the full healing of an individual can be achieved. An increasing number of the patients sent to me admitted that they suffered from the presence of ‘spirits’ or the intrusion of ‘voices’ from another world which were apparent and audible only to themselves and which psychiatry dismissed as madness. This was reminiscent of the traditional Chinese superstitions about good and evil spirits that I had encountered so many times when I lived in the Far East. Gradually, I realized that the spirits and the voices were real and also that there was a distinction between them. Some seemed to be evil and often came as a result of occult practices, while others seemed to be neutral, harmless voices begging for help. Sometimes the patient could identify the voices as belonging to a recently dead relative but often there was no known connection in the patient’s mind. Who were these unbidden, unquiet spirits? Why and how could they hold living people in bondage? With careful and often painful analysis of the histories of my patients, by listening to them as they began to trust me, and by bringing them to trust God in the firm belief that he would lovingly listen to them and always forgive them, we were able to piece together the answer…“It is essential to make a differential diagnosis in each case and to classify the possession syndrome into one or more of the defined categories. The bondage of the living to the living is the most obvious to diagnose. The bondage of the living to the dead, whether to ancestors, to those not related, to stillborn, aborted or miscarried babies, or to those who once inhabited a particular place now occupied by the living, can present considerable difficulties in diagnosis. The bondage of the living to occult control is, perhaps, the most dangerous evil to unravel. Deliverance is no one-step miracle pill to be swallowed on impulse for an instant cure. It is, rather, a long course of treatment, sometimes painful, to be followed conscientiously and trustingly until a cure is effected, although often the final moment of release can happen suddenly and dramatically. First, it is necessary to cut the known bond to the controlling person, alive or dead, then to forgive wholeheartedly, finally, to transfer control to Jesus Christ, making any essential environmental changes to support these steps.” (Kenneth McAll, Healing the Family Tree (SPCK Classics Book 0), 5-7 (Kindle Edition); London, England; Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge)
Familiar spirits are real, and so are the generational curses which they can bring.
They may be the spirits of the dead.
They may be spirits that are passed down within families.
They may be spirits that try to establish generational curses, in that can try to bring about the same “patterns” in the person presently afflicted as in persons afflicted in the past.
The only way to be free of these spirits is to in faith submit to Jesus Christ and His plan of salvation.
Colossians 2:11-15-In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
The principalities and powers (Colossians 2:15) are the spiritual forces that we (the church of Christ) are at war with.
“Rather, we should suppose a hierarchy of heavenly powers -“thrones” superior to “lordships,” and so on (see particularly Lightfoot 151-52). The “thrones” are assuredly to be located in heaven (cf. Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:4; though cf. Wis. 7:8), not least because the word is used for heavenly beings in Testament of Levi 3:8 (in the seventh heaven, with “authorities”); 2 Enoch 20:1; and Apocalypse of Elijah 1:10-11. Likewise the “dominions” (xvptotirltiES) are almost certainly to be taken as referring to heavenly powers, in the light of Eph. 1:20-21 (also I Enoch 61:10 and 2 Enoch 20:1; F. Schroger, EDNT 2.332). But the same must be true of the “principalities” (apxai) and “authorities” (~4ovaiat) in the light of 2:10 and 15, not to mention the other New Testament parallels (I Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21 again; 3:10; 6:12; see also on 2:10). The fact that all four terms thus refer only to the invisible, heavenly realm23 and the repeated emphasis on Christ’s supremacy and triumph over the “principalities and powers” in 2:10 and 15 do therefore strengthen the likelihood that the two lines were inserted by the author(s) of the letter, sacrificing the balance of the hymn in order to add a further reference to Christ’s superiority over all beings in heaven as well as on earth.” (James D.G. Dunn, The New International Greek Commentary: The Epistles To The Colossians And To Philemon, 1292-1301 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
Through Christ, we have victory!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.