Ezekiel 13:17-18 reads:

17 “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own hearts. Prophesy against them 18 and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the women who sew magic bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of every stature, in the hunt for souls! Will you hunt down souls belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive?” [ESV]

The way the context is put, it is as if these "magic wrist bands" really worked. But did they, so that the people would counter this demonic power by asking God for help?


4 Answers 4


The Idea in Brief

As was in the case of Balaam, who was not able to bring magical powers to bear on the people of God, the dark power instead lay in tempting and dissuading people from the Lord through idolatry and immorality, which is how Balaam brought the Israelites out from under the protection of the Lord (Numbers 22-25). In the end, Balaam had exploited the Israelites through this deception, and thus aggrandized himself.

In this same regard, the female prophetesses during the siege of Jerusalem had tempted and dissuaded the Israelites when they sold magical amulets and head scarfs, which brought the Israelites from under the protection of the Lord. That is, these charms were literal substitutes for the binding of the law on the heart (hand) and mind (head). Finally, the prophetesses had exploited the Israelites through this deception, and thus aggrandized themselves.


The Book of Deuteronomy mentions the heart and mind as the place for the Law of the Lord. That is, the hand stood for the heart, and the head stood for the mind.

Deut 6:5-8 (NASB)
5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.

With regard to Ezek 13:18, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki ("Rashi") had understood that there were clear references to divination and witchcraft. His commentary makes several allusions to divination evident in this passage. His references to cushions and pillows under the arms finds no support with Keil & Delitzsch (1996), who lean toward the normal and plain reading of the text, which is that the false prophetesses had sold devices for binding the hands and fixing some firm head covering to the head.

In line with the plain and normal reading of the text, Rabbi Meïr Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser ("Malbim") in the Nineteenth Century made the poignant and insightful observation that the amulets and veils in the verse were the analog to the tefillin and/or phylacteries, which were to represent the Law of Moses on the heart and mind (that is, on the hand and head). Thus the "magical" charms appear to be substitutes for the Covenant of Moses, which were to be affixed on the hand and head (that is, on the heart and mind per the verse from Deuteronomy, noted above). The following proposed translation comes from the first paragraph of the commentary of Malbim regarding this passage (which hyperlink is best viewed in Google Chrome).

Woe to the women who sew bands...
In like manner, [there is] the sanctity of putting tefillin on the hand against the heart in order to subject the desire and intents of the heart toward the Lord, and they place upon the head as over against the brain in order to enslave the power of thinking, and having in mind toward himself to bless himself. Thus there were female witches [with their analog amulets and veils].

The Babylonian Talmud makes several references to the tefillin and/or phylacteries. The most explicit is Menachot Folio 34b, which is best translated by Jacob Neusner. Jewish oral tradition recognizes the use of tefillin or phylacteries throughout Jewish history. The Jewish Encyclopedia mentions several ancient references, which include their first apparent use as early as the time of Elisha.

Finally, the translation of the Targum Jonathan (Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible) provides insight as to how Jewish scholars in the early centuries of this era had understood this particular verse in Hebrew. Please note the "patches of darkness" to emphasize the "magical" aspect of these charms.

Ezek 13:18 (Proposed Translation)
18 And you will say, so says the Lord God, "Woe upon them, since they were sewing patches of darkness upon all the joints of the hands, and were making scarves for the head of every sort in order to destroy souls. Will you (feminine plural) indeed be able to overpower my people in order to destroy (them) and prevail? Is it not their (=prophetesses-feminine plural) souls for destruction? Will they (=prophetesses-feminine plural) not indeed be overpowered from making covenants?"

The Aramaic term for covenant here is קְיָים, which is similar to the Aramaic word here for stand up or prevail, which is קוּם. Both words occur in this verse with the smallest of Aramaic letter, yod, distinguishing their respective meanings. In other words, the Targum translators drew the contrast between casting spells through the use of "magic" charms and self-aggrandizement (or prevailing to exploit people), which will NOT succeed according to this verse in the Targum. This Targum translation eliminates ambiguity that "magical" power would ever be stronger than the protection of the Lord. That is, there are no doubts that the Lord and his power are stronger than any "magical" power.


The emphasis here is protection under Covenant. Through their deliberate violation of the Covenant of Moses through idolatry, the history of the Israelites indicates how they squandered their divine protections. For example, during the siege of Jerusalem, rejection of the Mosaic Covenant appeared when Israelites paid false prophetesses to provide magical charms. These amulets and scarves "replaced" the Law of Moses, which was supposed to be tied on the heart and mind (that is, the hand and the head through tefillin and/or phylacteries). In this regard, the mystical charms of the false prophetesses had power not through any spiritual "magic" per se, but in their ability to leverage idolatry in order to tempt and dissuade people from relying upon the power of the Lord and his Covenant.

Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, Vol 9, 98-101.

Neusner, J. (2011). The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Vol 19, 190-191.


The JPS Tanakh translation (1985) of these verses is:

And you, O mortal, set your face against the women of your people, who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them and say: Thus said the Lord GOD: Woe to those who sew pads(a) on their arm-joints and make bonnets(a) for the head of every person, in order to entrap! Can you hunt down lives among My people, while you preserve your own lives?

The footnote (a) states the meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain.

The commentary of these verses states:

"17-23 Ezekiel then condemns the women who prophesy falsely and practice divination. Miriam (Exod. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judg. chs 4-5), the wife of Isaiah (Isa. 8:1-4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20), and Noadiah (Neh. 6:14) demonstrate that female prophets appeared in both Israel and Judah. A careful analysis of the condemnation of these female prophets in contrast to their male counterparts reveals important assumptions about gender in ancient Israel. 18. Ezekiel points to the divinatory side of their activities in which they employ wristbands and veils (see Moses veil in Exodus 34:29-35), and indicates that they are paid for their services. The exact identity and function of these devices that the women use to aid them in prophecy are unclear." (Jewish Study Bible p.1065)

Ezekiel is in Babylon writing to the community in exile, those taken into captivity before the final fall and destruction of Jerusalem. In terms of calling on God, being taken captive would seem to be a serious call to repentance. The fact that the captives are still turning to false gods is the issue Ezekiel is condemning.

While the exact nature of the items is not known, one should not presume they were shams. As noted in the other answer, in Exodus the followers of evil and false gods can perform acts which modern man would term miraculous.

As is recognized in another answer, Ezekiel has many things that are forward looking. In this case I think it is significant that the false prophets are using 2 elements, one for the head and one for the arm/wrist. This foreshadows the last book of The Holy Bible where the false prophet(s) has people take a mark on their forehead and/or their hands. Revelation also states the false prophet(s) will do wonders. If the pattern in Ezekiel is continued, the implication is that one (or more) of the false prophets in Revelation may be female.


Please consider this Strong's definition of what the bands were.


Then view an image of it found here http://jkhairreplacement.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/phylacteries-tefillin-432x395.jpg or you can go to google's image search to find more.

Fortune telling, witchcraft, and socery were all abominations to God. It is not a question of whether or not they worked, but more, rather, that they were of demonic origin and the results, whatever they were, were of great deceit. This prophecy here alone, speaks to the fact that women should not have been doing this or taking roles that were specifically for men. So to sumise, they tefflins were not "magic" in the sense that you would think, but rather part of a bigger scheme of deception and coy put on by the women to get people to fall for their guise.

For further studying and context, look no further than the Pharoah's magicians turning their canes to snakes [Exodus 7: 10 - 11].



There is no mention of "magic bands" in the verse. It is always advisable to return to the actual Hebrew verses. Neither is mention of "tefillin" in these verses. Nor "demonic power".

ואתה בן אדם
and you son of man

שים פניך
place your cheeks (=face)

אל בנות עמך
towards daughters of your people

המתנבאות מלבהן
those self-prophesying (reflexive) from their(feminine) own heart

והנבא עליהן
and prophesy upon them(feminine)

ואמרת כה אמר אדני יי
and you should say thus says the LORD ETERNAL

הוי למתפרות כסתות
Oy those who sew cushions

על כל אצילי ידי
upon all delegates/nobles of hands

ועשות המספחות
and those making veils

על ראש כל קומה
upon head of all/every standing

לצודד נפשות הנפשות
to turn-aside/mislead souls of the souls

תצודדנה לעמי
you will turn-aside/mislead my people

ונפשות לכנה תחיינה
and those souls going they(feminine) will stay-alive
Alt: and they your souls they will stay-alive
Alt: and those souls going you will keep-alive

Back to ground-zero of the Hebrew ...

  • It beats me how [אצילי ידי] (delegates of hands) got interpreted as "arm pits". So that modern Hebrew poetic usage inherited this misinterpretation.
  • Every occurrence of [אציל] in the Bible = delegate, selected representative, noble person. Why this exception in this verse ??
  • Did the early interpreters thought that the "arm pit" is the noble and selected area of the arm ?

  • [נפשות לכנה] translated as "your souls" would not be quite grammatical, because it would have to be in adjectival-connective (aka construct) form [נפשת לכנה] . It is also structurally awkward if interpreted that way.

  • Note: declension for soul is feminine.

  • [המתנבאות] = the self-prophesying. [מתנבאות] is reflexive and has two other occurrences in the Bible in the singular verb inflection [מתנבא] :

    • 2Chro 18:7 when king Ahab insinuated that mikaiahu-son-of-fulfillment is always self-prophesying bad tidings.
    • Jer 26:20 the coward self-prophet ur-iahu son of shma-iahu.
  • [צדד] = beside/adjacent. Therefore [צודד] = turn/move aside.

Since the verses in Hebrew do not say what the translation you had read say, I will be unable to provide an answer to a non-tenable question, but I shall have to proceed to explain my understanding of, conflicts with, the verses.

You son of man, face toward the those women of your people who self-prophesy according to their own leanings, and prophesy to them that the LORD ETERNAL says: Oy! you who sew cushions/comforters for all the foremen/leaders, and veils for the every head/chief of established institutions, to mislead/detract souls upon souls, you will mislead/detract my people. And those souls they will go to you to keep alive. They will be deceived into thinking you will keep them alive.

We know that Ezekiel is a futuristic book, with description that is unusual relative to the rest of the Hebrew of the Bible, we should note

  • son of man face toward daughters of YOUR people. The LORD did not say daughters of MY people.
  • yet further down the passage, the LORD mentions MY people. Why the difference in mentioning YOUR people and MY people ?
  • who is this "son of man"? Is the "son of man" a purveyor of a future religion, and the daughters of this new religion will mislead Jews with fraudulent promises of salvation ?
  • Not only will daughters of YOUR people mislead many other souls ...
  • YOUR people will deceive MY people with false salvation.
  • Your opinion vs mine.
    – Cynthia
    Aug 11, 2015 at 3:57

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