God has made it abundantly clear in His revelation that the practice of divination is forbidden, yet in Genesis 44:5 the text tells us this about Joseph:
“Is it not from this that my lord [Joseph] drinks, and by this that he practices divination? You have done evil in doing this.’”
A few verses later in Genesis 44:15 we learn directly from Joseph:
Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that a man like me can indeed practice divination?”
It is in Leviticus 19:26,31 where God commands His people:
“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.”
“Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”
So, how and why is that Joseph does divination? It’s obvious that Yahweh forbids it.
First, why does God prohibit this practice?
In the ancient cultures surrounding Israel the people worshiped other gods. Because these spiritual beings were not the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Yahweh who was loving, kind, and merciful, who brought rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), they wouldn’t simply pour out blessings on those they ruled. They had to be appeased. Their wisdom had to be sought in certain ways that were not the ways of Yahweh. In the course of that search, these gods had to teach the nations under their rule that the path to them and to enlightenment they brought was different from the means to attain the favor of God Most High. These gods hated Yahweh, their creator, just as He was the creator of mankind. As such, the people under their rule had to be taught anything but that which would please Yahweh.
Joseph’s use of divination was a normal practice in Egypt and elsewhere in the Ancient Near East (ANE). On the surface, in using the cup in question, Joseph was adhering to the ways of the wise men of that land. In addition, the specific revelation from God shown above in Leviticus had not yet come to the Hebrews. That only occurred 400 years later when Moses delivered God’s people from the fiery furnace of Egyptian slavery during the Exodus.
Despite this, I contend that Joseph didn’t practice divination as the Egyptians did. Their magicians and sorcerers sought a word from the pagan gods they worshiped. They were far from Yahweh and knowing Him.
Joseph, on the other hand, knew God and worshiped Him alone. In seeking divine guidance, he came before Yahweh and no other god. In fact, later in Scripture we see through the priestly breastplate, and the Urim and Thummim, that God’s people actually practiced divination through His approved means to determine His counsel.
Understanding the Biblical text at a deeper level helps us gain insight into seemingly puzzling contradictions of this nature. The more we read God’s Word, and through that attain an appreciation for what God desires of us, we can begin to see how some of these situations we read about aren’t opposed to Him and what He expects of us after all.
God wants us to know Him more deeply, but that knowing only comes with effort on our part. But, isn’t it worth it to seek out the deeper mysteries of God?