Qâsam (קָסַם, Strong's #7080), “to divine, practice divination.” Cognates of this word appear in late Aramaic, Coptic, Syriac, Mandean, Ethiopic, Palmyran, and Arabic. This root appears 31 times in biblical Hebrew: 11 times as a verb, 9 times as a participle, and 11 times as a noun.
Divination was a pagan parallel to prophesying: “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination.… For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen; you shall listen to him” (Deut. 18:10,
Qâsam is a seeking after the will of the gods, in an effort to learn their future action or divine blessing on some proposed future action (Josh. 13:22
). It seems probable that the diviners conversed with demons (1 Cor. 10:20
The practice of divination might involve offering sacrifices to the deity on an altar (Num. 23:1
ff.). It might also involve the use of a hole in the ground, through which the diviner spoke to the spirits of the dead (1 Sam. 28:8
). At other times, a diviner might shake arrows, consult with household idols, or study the livers of dead animals (Ezek. 21:21
Divination was one of man’s attempts to know and control the world and the future, apart from the true God. It was the opposite of true prophecy, which essentially is submission to God’s sovereignty (Deut. 18:14
Perhaps the most perplexing uses of this word occur in Num. 22-23 and Prov. 16:10,
where it seems to be an equivalent of prophecy. Balaam was well-known among the pagans as a diviner; at the same time, he recognized Yahweh as his God (Num. 22:18
). He accepted money for his services and probably was not beyond adjusting the message to please his clients. This would explain why God, being angry, confronted him (Num. 22:22
ff.), even though God had told him to accept the commission and go with his escort (22:20). It appears that Balaam was resolved to please his clients. Once that resolve was changed to submission, God sent him on his journey (22:35).