A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Battle Plans — Liam Goligher’s 5th sermon on the book of Esther

Battle Plans
Esther 5:1-14

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Barb’s précis of the sermon:

Ps Goligher introduces this sermon by talking about how the story of the Bible is about the war — mostly an invisible war —between God and the devil, Christ and antichrist, the serpent and seed of the woman, and between the devil and the people of God.

In the book of Esther, Hamaan is a type of the antichrist.  Hamaan had immense power and prestige and he tried to effect ‘the final solution’ of the Jewish people, just like Hitler did. Mordecai, Esther’s older cousin, will not bow to Hamaan because he recognises that such obeisance would break the commandments of God and it would be like bowing to the devil.

Mordecai’s resistance was not a personality clash between Mordecai and Hamaan. It wasn’t a personal pique. It was a principled stand for truth and righteousness.

Mordecai’s resistance, his refusal to bow the knee to Hamaan, precipitates a great threat to the church of God. [As victims of abuse we have experienced similar things: when we refuse to bow the knee to our abusers, the abusers usually escalate and rage against us, so we are in more danger.]  Mordecai’s one action of resistance — in God’s name and for God’s honor —puts the whole church of God in danger, because that one action exposes the heart of Hamaan and it explodes in rage and anger … which leads to a decree that the Jews will be eradicated.

And interestingly, Hamaan engages in occultism, just like Hitler did.

Mordecai sends a message to Esther with a copy of the decree; he encourages Esther, who is no longer a young girl, to do what she can to save the Jews. Esther accepts the challenge. She moves into the position of controlling what happens as the situation unfolds.  She becomes the governor. She tells Mordecai what to do. She tells Mordecai what to tell the other Jews to do. She mobilises the people of God to gather together to fast and pray.

Why did Esther pray? She knew that all things come to pass immutably and infallibly by the providence of God; but she also knew that God orders these things sometimes according to the nature of second causes, and one of those second causes is the prayer of God’s people.

And on the third day of prayer and fasting, Esther approaches the king’s throne room. The dramatic tension is highlighted by the slowing down of the narrative here. Esther is risking death by approaching the king uninvited.

Esther isn’t hasty. She doesn’t push in to the throne room. She stops. She stands outside the throne room, in full view of the king. When he sees Queen Esther, her queenliness, her resolution, her dignity, her inner nobility affect him — and he holds out his royal sceptre, setting her free from the risk of being immediately killed by his bodyguard.

The third day:  the Jewish Midrash says, “Israel is never left in dire distress more than three days.” (Hosea 6, Jonah, etc.)

And when the king offers to grant whatever her request may be, we are surprised to find that she does not grasp her moment too quickly. She simply asks the king to come to her dinner party and to bring Hamaan too. And after the dinner, does Esther put her real request? No. She simply asks the king and Hamaan to come to dinner tomorrow night and THEN she will tell the king her request. Esther is very much in charge here. She has them eating out of her hand! She’s acting as the Queen. She is being careful and wise.

Hamaan’s responses at this point show the folly of the evil-at-heart. All his pride and pleasure from the elevated status he had in the court — these feelings are dashed when he again sees Mordecai at the gate of the palace and he recalls that Mordecai won’t bow to him. And Zaresh, Hamaan’s wife, “consoles” her husband by suggesting he build a gallows and hang Mordecai on it.

… but the one enthroned in heaven laughs…

 

 

 

Why do Christians insist that Abuse Victims Return to Egypt?

Right on through Scripture, any desire to return to bondage and slavery is treated as foolish and even sinful.

And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them. Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:1-6)

They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:1-3)

The Israelites grumbled. The Lord had done wonderful things for them by His might and power, delivering them from the harsh life in Egypt. But when the going got even a little difficult, the grumbling began. They longed for Egypt. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Abuse victims want freedom. They are enslaved and oppressed by their own personal “pharaoh” and once they begin to see just what is happening to them, they yearn for liberty.

Freedom and liberty in Scripture are good things. It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Don’t let anyone trick you into returning to bondage. That is what the Bible says.

So why do so many pastors, churches, counselors, and individual Christians teach the opposite when it comes to abuse? What do I mean? The standard line — you all know it far too well — given to an abuse victim in a church is “Go back to Egypt. Go back. Return. Be enslaved. Submit to it. You’ve got a contract with pharaoh and it can’t be broken.” So the abused ones go back. And the abuse intensifies —

So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.'” So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. (Exodus 5:10-12)

Why? Why is it that there are myriads of “freedom” programs (aka “ministries”) allegedly under the banner of Christ, offering liberty to captives — but not to abuse victims? “Come on, you can be free from slavery to overeating. You can be free of addictions. Here is how you can get free of co-dependency.” And on and on and on. But abuse victims? Forget it.

Think it through. How many ministries are in professing Christian churches specifically designed to set abuse victims free? You are going to have to search high and low to find one. Oh, but go looking for “ministries” (quotation marks here indicate my sarcasm) that put victims back into bondage in Egypt and you will find them all over the place. “Come on down and we will fix your marriage. Don’t even think about divorce. We will show you how to live happily ever after….with Pharaoh.”  Am I right? Of course I’m right. Because all of this is true.

Christ redeems His people. That means He sets us free. That is why He came and went to the cross. Anyone telling you to stay in Egypt is not of Christ no matter how “Christian” they might appear.

Jessica Fore (Abuse Survivor) Charged by her PCA Church with Contempt – She is Telling the World

Our friend Jessica Fore has been formally charged by her church elders (Presbyterian Church in America) with contempt for refusing to comply with their orders that she, essentially, just be quiet about her cries for justice. The following is Jessica’s own story which she released today on her blog jessicafore and also shared here on her facebook page.

I might get excommunicated for this.

I am a survivor of domestic violence, and I just got formally indicted by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) for not cooperating with various instructions about speaking out regarding my experience of injustice surrounding abuse in the church.  Indictment is the first step in a disciplinary process that can lead to excommunication, and it’s meant to be employed only when someone is committing heinous sin.  My crime?  Holding this sign, among other things:

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Below is the indictment issued by Faith Presbyterian Church in Watkinsville, Georgia (with non-officers’ names redacted.)  My response follows.

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September 22, 2016

To Whom It May Concern:

This is in response to Faith Presbyterian Church’s formal indictment of me for “contempt toward the Church and its leaders,” dated September 12, 2016.  First, I will summarize the events leading up to the indictment to the best of my recollection:  I was hired as Faith’s worship leader in the fall of 2008.  I was married to an abusive spouse at the time.  My husband’s abuse escalated and became known in a dramatic way with copious evidence over the course of several months in 2009.  Audio recordings, photographic evidence, police reports, psychological evaluations, and eyewitness testimony by various elders and church members corroborated his abuse, lying, and criminal activity.  Nevertheless, the church predicated me keeping my job on reconciling and cohabiting with him, and ultimately fired me for remaining separated.  I was already in a vulnerable financial situation and was plunged into poverty for the next three years.  Had it not been for the help of friends and family, I would have become homeless.

After I recovered, I confronted the Session about what it had done.  In 2013, after much arm twisting, the Session issued a public apology for its lack of “shepherding care” when I experienced a “series of extremely painful events.”  Abuse was not mentioned.  The Session never expressed repentance for firing me, never set the record straight with the congregation that I was a victim of domestic violence, and never pursued any kind of restitution.  I have seen no substantive change in the Session’s attitude toward abuse in the church.  I have not seen the Session deploy any new churchwide policies or leadership training that would improve the church’s response to abuse victims in the future.  On the contrary, as I have continued coping with the fallout from all of this, the Session has taken new adverse actions against me.  In 2014, the Session affirmed my closest friends shunning me in response to me trying to resolve a related grievance with them.  In 2015, the Session brought a Licensed Professional Counselor, a church member, into a Session meeting to advise on my mental state and what was best for me in absentia, without my knowledge or consent, based on the testimony of the opposing parties in the grievance.  In 2015, the Session launched a formal disciplinary investigation into the grievance that consisted of having one called Session meeting with the opposing parties and then issuing written conclusions and directives at me.  In 2016, the Session attempted to limit my fellowship in the church without due process by instructing me not to attend a Gospel Community Group which I had previously attended faithfully for several years.

After many patient attempts to address these issues privately, I sent an open letter to the whole church via email in July 2015 and a follow up letter in May 2016, and I escalated a formal complaint which is currently pending before the Georgia Foothills Presbytery.  I attended my Gospel Community Group and said that I would keep attending in defiance of the Session’s attempt to restrict me without due process.  In the last few months, I have kept a sign propped at my feet during worship which reads “Justice, not Abuse.”  The sign is my personal expression of lament in worship, and a visual reminder to everyone that these things are happening and the Session still hasn’t repented.  So now the Session has decided to formally indict me, the first step in a process that can lead to excommunication, not in response to me committing any immoral act, but simply for not “submitting” to the elders.  Elders told me not to send my letter, not to attend my small group, and not to hold my sign; I did it anyway.  The Session issued the indictment on my birthday and appointed the attorney/elder who mediated my divorce to prosecute the charges.

Here is my response:  when I joined the church, I agreed to submit to its government and discipline as constrained by the Word of God and the PCA Book of Church Order.  The Session is in violation of both as delineated below and in my formal complaint before the Presbytery.  The Book of Church Order affirms individuals’ inalienable rights of private judgment on all matters which are not explicitly in violation of God’s law, and prohibits church leaders from making any additional laws to bind the conscience, as discussed in the following BCO Preliminary Principles:

  1.  God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from any doctrines or commandments of men (a) which are in any respect contrary to the Word of God, or (b) which, in regard to matters of faith and worship, are not governed by the Word of God. Therefore, the rights of private judgment in all matters that respect religion are universal and inalienable.
  1.  All church power, whether exercised by the body in general, or by representation, is only ministerial and declarative since the Holy Scriptures are the only rule of faith and practice. No church judicatory may make laws to bind the conscience.

In other words, the authority of elders is limited.  Elders don’t get to issue edicts to adults and punish noncompliance just because they’re elders.  If an elder instructs me to do something that is contrary to God’s word or unaddressed in God’s word but violates my conscience, neither God nor the BCO require me to submit to that.  The burden of proof is on the Session to show that a specific action (sending an open letter, saying I would attend a Gospel Community Group, or bringing my “Justice, not Abuse” sign to worship services) is a violation of the law of God according to Scripture in order to present it as an offense for church discipline (BCO 29-1.)  None of these actions violate God’s law; they’re just inconvenient for the Session.  My conscience requires me to bring issues of injustice surrounding abuse in the church into the open and to insist they be meaningfully addressed.  I believe God has called me to do this.  I will not allow what I’ve experienced to be shoved aside and buried in bureaucracy so that church leaders can maintain power and control.

The purpose of church discipline is to address gross unrepentant sin or immorality that endangers someone’s soul.  It’s not to exert control over conscionable behavior that you don’t like, put a woman in her place for challenging you, silence someone who is speaking up about injustice, or engage in whistleblower retribution when you are being held accountable for wrongdoing.  If what I’ve said about the Session in my open letters weren’t true, the church could indict me for lying.  If I were engaged in immorality, the church could indict me for that.  But since you know perfectly well that I’m telling the truth, and am a genuine Christian acting in good conscience, the strongest thing you’ve come up with to indict me for is not “submitting” to your control.  Spinning my noncompliance as a mortal sin against Jesus Christ is a petty, frivolous power play, and this whole situation is the most shameful failure of leadership I’ve ever personally witnessed in fifteen years of vocational ministry.

Jesus Christ is my Lord, and I will obey Him.  I am a sinner and far from perfect, but my conscience is clear before God on the essential points of this matter.  There are two ways the Session can get my sign out of the Sanctuary.  The first is a sea change pertaining to abuse in the church, with abject, unequivocal public repentance for the issues I’ve raised, accompanied by churchwide abuse and domestic violence training for all leaders.  This is how the Session should have responded to this whole situation long ago.  The second is a spurious excommunication with our whole community and the wider body of Christ watching, followed by appeals all the way up to PCA General Assembly.  I’m fine either way.  If you put me on trial, it will be the proudest moment of my life thus far, in the company of my heroes, and in the company of Christ.

Sincerely,

Jessica Fore, The Accused

Thursday Thought — The Endless Chase

Catch!

Jane’s description of a “cat chasing a laser pointer guided by a sociopath” nails it as she describes the exhaustion and frustration of working against abuse.

 

I think one of the hallmarks of working against abuse ESPECIALLY within the contentedly patriarchal church is how utterly exhausting and frustrating it is. It’s like being a cat chasing a laser pointer guided by a sociopath. You know it is there, you can see it, you can chase it and you know when it’s on. But you cannot nail it down, catch it or demonstrate it if the person holding the remote decides to turn it off. They just “unclick” and all of a sudden you’re a frenzied, panting cat standing splay-legged in the middle of the room having chased . . . nothing.

ACFJ told me, “We see it too. We see it and it’s not ok.” It was water to a desert. It was a real demonstration of Christ’s church — because the only people who decried what I was experiencing were secular until I found this place, leading me (like so many) to believe I was denying my faith and my savior if I left an abuser. Don’t give up. 

This analogy was taken from our Allegories, Analogies, and Fairy Tales — from Comments page.

Jane’s original comment can be found here. 

Christ Has His Remnant — There ARE True Christians

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:45-47)

Here at ACFJ we deal with evil most of the time. And the victims of evil. This evil is usually hiding in churches, wearing an “unholy” disguise of holiness. Sometimes (we are tempted to say “often”) the evil is in the pulpit or holds some ruling office in the church. And the typical response of local churches to this evil is also very often evil. Alliances are formed with the abuser while victims are mistreated and rejected.

Now, for myself and I think probably for many of you, all this dealing with counterfeit Christianity can take a toll on us. It can be extremely discouraging to realize that much of what we thought all our lives was the real thing is in fact phoney. We have been fed traditions of men that we were told were God’s truth. We have looked up to people we thought were genuine Christians, only to find out later that they were hypocrites of the worst kind. We have even been rejected by entire churches and even denominations when we called out evil in disguise for what it really is.

And after a while….you begin to wonder. Is all this bogus? Are there any real Christians? Are we wasting our time in ministry? Does anyone want to hear truth anymore?  I have felt like that and so have you.

But numbers of places in Scripture remind us that Christ’s true church is real. Jesus has His sheep and they DO hear His voice. They refuse to recognize false shepherds. Jesus calls them and they follow Him. You can read about all this in John chapter 10. And then you have this passage in John chapter one concerning a young fellow named Nathanael. He didn’t know Jesus. Philip told Nathanael about Jesus, even saying that Jesus was for sure the promised Messiah that Moses and the Old Testament prophets had written about.

Initially, Nathanael even had some doubts. Nazareth? No way! I guess that town had a bad reputation. Maybe Nazareth was like the suburbs that are on ‘the wrong side of the tracks’. Or maybe …where would we say today… “Could anything good come out of Los Angeles/Seattle/Newark…?” That doesn’t sound much like faith.

And yet, Nathanael went to see. And when Jesus saw him coming at a distance, Jesus knew him. Jesus in fact knew his heart.  And Jesus  had known Nathanael BEFORE Philip even came and told him “We’ve found the Messiah!”

Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48)

And Jesus said, as he saw Nathanael coming, (this is the main point I want to emphasize), “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael was not yet born again, but Jesus was calling him to Himself. Nathanael was a Jew, an Israelite, INDEED. Truly. That is to say, he believed the Scriptures. He was looking for the Messiah. He wasn’t some religious phoney like the majority of his countrymen were. I suppose he was much like Cornelius in Acts —

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. (Acts 10:1-2)

Still in need of meeting Christ. Still in need of a heart transformation, but a person who wasn’t given to playing the hypocrite. Really I think that Saul of Tarsus was such a man, though his zeal led him to even persecute the body of Christ.

There ARE such people around us. We do not know how many, but we know that as long as Christ postpones His Second Coming, He is calling His remnant to Himself.

So let’s take care not to let abusers who are playing the religious hypocrite game cause us to cease from doing good. Don’t let them convince you that evil is so widespread today and the visible church has so many counterfeits in it that we may as well just sit back and coast, waiting for Jesus to rend the heavens and come down on that great Day.

No. There are Nathanaels out there. There ARE people whom Christ is calling by His Spirit and through His Word, entrusting US with the task of taking that Word to them. Think about it. In a time when the Lord of Glory was about to be rejected, hated, and murdered, Philip led Nathanael to Christ. How tough was it? Did he have to do any arm twisting? Nope. He simply said, “we found Jesus. Come and see.”

Nathanael did. His heart had been prepared. And Nathanael followed Christ that day.

 

Why Did Jesus Warn Us About Balaam? (part 2)

In part 1, we looked at the error of Balaam — which appears to be willingness to do wrong for financial gain. Now let’s look at the doctrine of Balaam

As you remember from part 1, King Balak of Moab sends messengers to Balaam offering money if he will just come and curse Israel. God tells Balaam not to do it, so Balaam says No to the messengers. Then King Balak send higher rank guys with a bigger bribe. Balaam is tempted, so he asks God for a second opinion. God tells him to go with the messengers “but do only what I tell you to do.”

And while Balaam is making the journey, God sends his angel to bar the way so that Balaam will realise that God isn’t pleased with his attitude and is ‘on his case.’ The angel reiterates God’s instructions: “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.

So now we go on with the story. When Balaam arrives, there’s a bit of jockeying for position. King Balak reprimands Balaam for not coming sooner and reminds him of the wealth and power he can bestow on the prophet. Balaam pushes back by replying that he can only speak the words that God gives him to speak.

When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”

“Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” (Numbers 22:36-38 NIV)

Is Balaam obeying God at this point? It would seem so. But remember that he has already been rebuked by the lowly donkey; and God has felt it necessary to double-drill His instructions into Balaam’s entitled head, rather like a surgeon trepans a skull.

At Balaam’s initiative, he and the king build seven altars and sacrifice a bull and a ram on each altar. Balaam then goes off to a private place to see if God will give him a word of prophecy. God does, and it is word of blessing for Israel, not a curse.

King Balak is furious. And like a movie director ordering Take Two, he asks Balaam to come with him to another place to try again. Balaam agrees; he is arrogant enough to try for a second opinion from God in whom there is no shadow of turning (James 1:17).

At Balaam’s instigation, they repeat the ritual of altar building and sacrificing. How important Balaam makes himself look by commanding Balak to build all these altars and sacrifice all these animals! He likes to perform. He likes to make a big impression. But would God be impressed? Not likely. (“I want your loyalty, not your sacrifices. I want you to know me, not to give me burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6, GW)

Balaam then goes off privately to seek a word from God. God gives a second prophesy of blessing upon Israel. Here is part of Balaam’s second oracle:

God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?

I have indeed received a command to bless; since He has blessed, I cannot change it. He considers no disaster for Jacob; He sees no trouble for Israel. The Lord their God is with them, and there is rejoicing over the King among them. God brought them out of Egypt; He is like the horns of a wild ox for them. There is no magic curse against Jacob and no divination against Israel. 

It will now be said about Jacob and Israel, “What great things God has done!” (Numbers 23:19-23 HCSB)

Here is verse 21 in another translation:

God saw no wrong in Jacob’s people. He saw no sin in the Israelites. The Lord is their God, and he is with them. The Great King is with them!  (ERV).

God’s heart for his people is not like all those sermons we’ve heard that accuse, slam, and blame us. How many times have we been told that we’re good for nothing? How many ‘c’hristian books have slammed us left and right, accusing and blaming us for everything? But when God looks at you, dear Christian — if you are someone whom God has regenerated unto saving faith— if you are in Christ and Christ dwells in you— God says you are the “the righteousness of God in Christ.” (2 Cor 5:21)

King Balak is not happy! He pretty much tells Balaam to shut up: “Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all.”  Balaam reminds him, “Did I not tell you, ‘All that the LORD says, that I must do’?” (23:25-26)

But the king had spoken impulsively, he doesn’t really want Balaam to stop. We know this because he orders Take Three (v 27). And Balaam complies. They do the whole altar and sacrifice thing again. But this time Balaam doesn’t go off privately to seek an omen.

Balaam saw that the Lord wanted to bless Israel so he did not try to change that by using any kind of magic. (24:1a ERV)

When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. [facing where the Israelites were camped] (24:1 ESV)

Balaam’s third prophecy blesses and praises Israel … and it announces destruction on Israel’s enemies.

God brings him [Israel] out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows. (24:8 ESV)

King Balak is furious and he refuses to pay Balaam anything.

But God hasn’t finished using Balaam as his spokesperson. He inspires him to prophesy the coming of Israel’s Messiah and the destruction of Moab, Edom and Amalek.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be dispossessed; Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed. Israel is doing valiantly. And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion and destroy the survivors of cities!” (24:17-19 ESV)

No matter how much King Balak tried to engineer a curse on God’s people, and no matter how Balaam in his greed toyed with the offer of financial gain and cooperated with Balak’s scheme, God kept insisting on blessing His people. We find a summary of this in Deuteronomy 23:5 —

… the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. (NIV)

Balaam may have spoken God’s word, but in his heart he was on the side of the evil

Balaam, for all his ‘obedience’ in prophesying only the words that God gave him, is not happy about having missed out on his speaking fee. So he figures out how to get the money. He couldn’t get it by being a prophet. But he can get it by being a consultant, an advisor, a counselor, a mentor to Balak. The advisors behind the scenes can often pull more strings than the men who hold the microphones.

He tells Balak the secret to destroying Israel — seduce them into sin and then God will have to destroy them for you.

So Balak gets attractive women to tempt the Israelites. The porn stars and spin doctors of Moab do their thing. “Come to the feast we’re having! It’s gonna be a great party!” … And the Israelites fall into sin.

While Israel was staying in the Acacia Grove, the people began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab. The women invited them to the sacrifices for their gods, and the people ate and bowed in worship to their gods. So Israel aligned itself with Baal of Peor, and the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord so that His burning anger may turn away from Israel.”

So Moses told Israel’s judges, “Kill each of the men who aligned themselves with Baal of Peor.”

An Israelite man came bringing a Midianite woman to his relatives in the sight of Moses and the whole Israelite community while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he got up from the assembly, took a spear in his hand, followed the Israelite man into the tent, and drove it through both the Israelite man and the woman—through her belly. Then the plague on the Israelites was stopped, but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
(Numbers 25:1-9 HCSB)

God’s heart is broken. Sin has consequences. He has to hurt the people that He wanted to protect. Twenty-four thousand people die from a plague. The plague only stops when Phinehas takes the initiative to purge sin out of the camp.

This is the part of the story that Jesus references in Revelation 2:14 when he tells the church at Pergamos —

But I have a few things against you, because you have some there who follow Balaam’s teaching. Balaam had taught Balak to trip up the Israelites so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, you have some who follow the Nicolaitans’ teaching. Rev 2:14-15 (CEB)

Jesus seems to be telling us that the essence of the doctrine of Balaam involves laying a stumbling block in front of others. Tripping up believers so they go off the path.

In practical terms, the teaching or doctrine of Balaam is the view that Christians can—or even should—compromise their convictions for the sake of popularity, money, sexual gratification, or personal gain. It’s the attitude that treats sin as “no big deal.” (link)

Yet even when there is a stumbling block, everyone is still responsible for their own choices. This is what the Apostle Paul emphasizes when he references this story —

These things show us something. They teach us not to want things that are bad for us like those people did. 

So anyone who thinks they are standing strong should be careful that they don’t fall.

God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted more than you can take. But when you are tempted, He will make a way for you to keep from falling into sin. (1 Cor 10:6,12,13b ERV)

This is pretty heavy stuff. Balaam’s advice led to the destruction of thousands of lives. And Judgment day came to Balaam when Israel killed him in battle — Num 31:8; Josh 13:22.

And there was a consequence for the Moabites too. God banned Moabites from attending worship services with the Israelites for ten generations! Not because they were from a different tribe but because they had hired Balaam to revile the Israelites and they had enticed the Israelites into sexual and spiritual sin. That’s how seriously God takes this stuff!

God didn’t want the Moabites to have any chance of closely socialising with the Israelites, for if Moabites were going to church with Israelites, the Moabites might have been able to recruit a covetous Israelite to help them draw the people of Israel into sin.

So what do we learn from this story?

My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.
(Micah 6:5 NIV)

Shittim is Acacia Grove — the place where the Israelites sinned with the Moabites (Num 25:1). Gilgal is where they camped after crossing the Jordan, where they renewed the covenant with God through circumcision symbolizing dying to the fleshly nature. (Josh 5)

Looking back on this story we can see how God cares for us — that He will turn a curse into a blessing because He loves us. We also see the warning that even after God delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage, they were seduced in the wilderness and there were consequences for those sins they committed.

We must watch out for the error and doctrine of Balaam in our churches

As believers we are called to recognize, resist and oppose the way, error and doctrine of Balaam—

  • the willingness to do wrong for financial gain, especially willingness to revile God’s people for payment
  • teaching that causes God’s people to be tripped up, any teaching that entices God’s people into sin
  • willingness to cooperate with the plots of God’s enemies

God exhorts us to RESIST not submit to sin.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up.  Hebrews 12:1 (GW)

Some of what we lay aside might be the burden of false guilt for someone else’s sin against us.

And some of what we get rid of (or remove ourselves from) will be the influencers in the church who are dedicated to the kind of covetousness and compliance with God’s enemies that Balaam displayed.

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This post was drafted by Avid Reader and MarkQ. Barb Roberts then edited it and added some material. Because Barb added so much, the byline shows Barb as the author. But Barb is immensely grateful to these two for starting the ball rolling — she has learned a lot from working on this series.