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.
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.
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.
UPDATE (22 Sept 2016) “If I perish, I perish ” — is highly relevant to the case of Jessica Fore (Abuse Survivor) who has been Charged by her PCA Church with Contempt. Jessica is telling the world and we think she is displaying the kind of courage and faith that Esther displayed. If need be, Jessica is prepared to appeal her case right up to the General Assembly of the PCA.
If I Perish, I Perish
Pastor Goligher unfolds three aspects of chapter four: the sense of dismay, of destiny, and of duty.
In this chapter Esther becomes the chief character in the story. She is no longer just acted upon, she is active. She takes the responsibility of her vocation as Queen very seriously. It was God’s providence that put her in the position of Queen, but she doesn’t see that as diminishing her personal responsibility to do good where she is able to.
Dr Goligher says—
The women in the King’s harem were there just to look good and say nothing and not engage their brains. By the way, that’s not million miles away from the way some people think in our culture, is it?
But Dr Goligher doesn’t admire Esther for her appearance and for keeping silent. He likes Esther for
- using her brains
- her leadership capacity
- her desire to live righteously
- her faith
- her courage
- her initiative
- her resolve
Haman is plotting to annihilate the people of God but Mordecai gets wind of the plan and passes the info to Esther. This is a riveting story of espionage and how to be wise as serpents when the Devil is trying to destroy God’s people.
We hope you take comfort and strength from this sermon.
Go to Part 3 in this series
What would it be like for Jesus to suddenly appear to us in an open vision? That’s what happened to John in the book of Revelation. Jesus appeared to him with a message for the seven churches and a warning for us about the doctrine of Balaam. (Rev 2:14)
Out of all the Old Testament characters, why would Jesus mention Balaam?
Read through the rest of the New Testament and you find that Jude also warns us about the error of Balaam. (Jude 1:11)
And Peter warns about the way of Balaam. (2 Peter 2:15)
That’s THREE direct New Testament warnings so this must be pretty important. Plus, there’s another reference where the Apostle Paul mentions this story without specifically naming Balaam. (1 Corinthians 10:1-14)
We, Avid Reader and MarkQ, have jointly written this post to help us consider what Balaam’s error was. (In a subsequent post we will be looking at the doctrine of Balaam.)
The story of Balaam
Balaam, a man from Mesopotamia (Deut 23:4), first appears in Numbers 22 when the Israelites are passing through the land of Moab on their way to the Promised Land. Is Israel planning to attack Moab and take their land? No. God had told Moses —
Don’t harass Moab or provoke them to war because I won’t give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as their property. Deuteronomy 2:9 (ISV)
The nation of Moab and Balak their king (= tribal chieftain) felt afraid when the Israelites camped in the plains of Moab. And they hated the children of Jacob/Israel. Chief Balak decides that striking first is his only option. He commissions some leaders of Moab as envoys to Balaam, to bribe him to curse the Israelites.
Then the Israelites moved and set up camp across from Jericho, on the plains of Moab east of the Jordan River.
Balak, son of Zippor, saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. The Moabites were very afraid because there were so many Israelites. Besides, the Moabites couldn’t stand these people.
So the Moabites said to the leaders of Midian, “All those people will eventually eat up everything around us the same way an ox eats up the grass in a field.”
At that time Balak, son of Zippor, was king of Moab. He sent messengers to summon Balaam, son of Beor, who was at Pethor, on the Euphrates River, in the land where his people lived.
Balak’s message was, “A nation has just come here from Egypt. They’ve spread out all over the countryside and are setting up their camp here in front of me. Please come and curse these people for me, because they are too strong for me. Maybe then I’ll be able to defeat them and force them out of the country. I know that whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed.”
The leaders of Moab and Midian left, taking money with them to pay for Balaam’s services. They came to Balaam and told him what Balak had said.
(Numbers 22:1-7, GW)
Balaam seeks God for guidance. God responds, “Don’t go with them. You MUST NOT curse these people. They are my people.” (Numbers 22:12b ERV)
Balaam obeys God and sends the messengers home.
King Balak isn’t happy. He sends even more money and more messengers to Balaam that are “higher in rank than the others.” Numbers 22:15b (HSCB)
This time Balaam gets the king’s message loud and clear. King Balak is offering him anything he wants if he just curses the Israelites. Balaam tells the messengers that he’ll pray about it.
Why does he want to pray about it? Hasn’t God already told him what to do? Why won’t Balaam take No as an answer from God? Is Balaam hoping to change God’s mind? God aways wants the best for us; but Balaam seems to be thinking about how he can line his own pockets by throwing everyone else under the bus. This is the first hint that Balaam is venal — that he’s showing or motivated by susceptibility to bribery.
However, God still has the last word and He can turn every circumstance round for His overarching plan. That night God tells Balaam to go with the messengers “but do only what I tell you to do.” Numbers 22:20 (ERV)
We can suspect that God is displeased with Balaam for caring more about money than God’s people. Balaam seems to be mouthing obedience to God even “while his heart is far from Me.” (Matt 15:8)
The next morning Balaam leaves with the messengers. We can surmise that God is not happy about Balaam’s heart- and mind-set, because He sends His angel to stand in the road to block the way:
As Balaam and two servants were riding along, Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road.
Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So Balaam beat the donkey again.
Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff. Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak.
“What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam.
“You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!”
“But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?”
“No,” Balaam admitted.
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him.
“Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are STUBBORNLY RESISTING ME. Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.”
Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.”
But the angel of the Lord told Balaam, “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.” So Balaam went on with Balak’s officials.
(Numbers 22:22-35 NLT)
Think about what’s happening here. Who seems to be taking orders from Balaam? The donkey, the two servants, the messengers…even King Balak.
But who’s going astray here? Who is blind to what’s standing right in front of him? Who shouts in rage when his way is stopped? Who tries to punish those that question him? Balaam! His heart is revealed by how he treats the donkey. He explodes in a fit of rage when he thinks the donkey is “making him look like a fool.” Then he uses both emotional and physical abuse to overpower the donkey’s will. Sound familiar? How many pastors would have applauded Balaam for “breaking the will” of the donkey?
There’s a pervasive thought in the church that only those brought down to nothing reach out to God, thus we need to break the wills of our children (and wives) so that they can be useful to God. The will is assumed to be depraved so people in authority assume that willfulness is the wrong choice and the right choice must be forced. Yet in reality, this is a stumbling block. People who work from that assumption are ignoring that God is able to work inside of us “both to will and to do His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) And they are assuming that because the ones in authority have authority, their wills must not be depraved and it is only the ones under authority whose wills are depraved.
(Game. Set. Match. No arguing with the umpire. )
There’s also a belief that training children and congregants to obey by strong and strict discipline for any supposed rebellion (i.e. saying no to any request) is the key to helping people obey God. Yet that is actually the key to driving children and congregants away from God. This is calling evil, good … and good, evil … by teaching that children’s willfulness must be punished without regard to whether it’s good or bad willfulness. That opens the door to the church siding with the
abuser “the man in authority” by assuming that he was just breaking the will of the abused “the disobedient.”
Another belief is that outward obedience can produce inward fruits. For example, if parents force their children to go to youth group, to attend worship, and to obey them with a smile, the children will somehow develop the heart for God that goes along with it.
These three things intersect to produce Pharisees: people who hate God (who they’ve been taught God is), who maintain an external veneer of good works. And who then — when they are in power — try to force others to maintain the similar veneer. Talk about a millstone.
Yet here — in the most clear example of this in the Bible — the donkey’s rebellion was to save Balaam’s life; but it was rewarded with cruel beatings. Did God then tell the donkey to be more submissive and obedient to protect Balaam’s image? Did God condemn the donkey for being too willful? NO! Once again we see that God NEVER condones abuse.
If even the humble donkey had the right to have its own opinion valued and to live free of abuse, how much more do we who are made in God’s image? Remember when Jesus talked about how much God cared for the sparrows, He said,
Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matt 10:31 BSB)
If even the lowly donkey at the bottom of the totem pole has the right to speak up for itself, ask questions, and RESIST abuse, then how much more do we who are made in God’s image? There’s a deep principle revealed in how the angel of the Lord confirmed that the donkey was the righteous one and Balaam was the sinful one.
How many of us have felt like that donkey? We can see the leader heading in the wrong direction, but we’re scared to speak up after all the sermons warning us that only sinful Absalom types question the leadership. (Remember Pastor Mark Driscoll called it sinning by questioning? link) So we remain quiet until finally we work up enough courage to speak up — only to feel the wrath of the leadership descend on us for making them look bad.
But Balaam didn’t get away with anything. The judgment was still coming even if it was delayed for a while. God had come came to Balaam at night in verse 20 and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but do only what I tell you to do.” And when Balaam raged against the donkey, God resisted Balaam’s entitlement by re-issuing his order: “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.”
God knows that abusers, and hard-hearted men in particular, need stern admonishment— correction that minces no words. And with men like that, the instructions may need to be repeated.
For what error did the donkey correct Balaam?
As we saw earlier, the references in Peter and Jude refer to the way/error of Balaam. But Jesus referred to the doctrine of Balaam. What’s the difference?
The typical approach in evangelical circles is to lump the two things together — some say that the error was sinfully accommodating the world and the teaching was that Christians should accommodate the world by sacrificing the essence of the Gospel to become more appealing to outsiders. That’s one way of looking at it, but let’s dig a little deeper here.
We know that Balaam was specifically hired to curse Israel. In Young’s translation of Deuteronomy 23:4 its says Balaam was hired to revile Israel. Pastor Jeff explained how reviling works in a really powerful post called, An Abuser is Called a “Reviler” in Scripture, And the Reviler is no Christian:
To revile someone is to mock them, to condemn them, to curse them, to falsely accuse them. And of course we all know that this is precisely what the abuser does with his mouth. He reviles his victim.
In the sermon Wise as Serpents: Calling Evil Good, and Good Evil (part 18), Pastor Jeff goes deeper on this, describing how the true nature of evil is revealed:
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
Evil actively works to deceive you. To convince you that what is the light of God’s word is really darkness and falsehood. And what is darkness and falsehood is really lightness and truth. Evil wants you to doubt your ability to perceive, to make judgments. If you are not wise in this regard you will find yourself falsely guilted, shamed and wearing a load of self-condemnation that is unjust.
Then continuing in his Wise as Serpents series, in the sermon Cain is Still Among Us Today, Pastor Jeff says:
Today many Christians are surprised when they are hated. They are told that it is their fault and they believe it — they are told they are too judgmental, too harsh, too narrow, they are blamed for dividing the family. But who is the real culprit? Cain! Cain killed Abel for one reason only — Cain was evil. Abel was righteous.
Abel was the very first victim of domestic violence in the history of the human race — killed simply because Cain was evil and hated Abel for his own righteousness — Cain exemplifies typical denial, blame-shifting and self-pity.
Doesn’t that sound like what Balaam was doing to the donkey? The spirit of Cain appears in the story of Balaam as the sinful one (Balaam) persecutes the righteous one (the donkey). Interestingly, Jude actually mentions both Cain and Balaam in the same verse. Listen to this.
Woe to them! They have traveled the path of Cain; they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam; they have perished in Korah’s rebellion. Jude 1:11 (BSB)
Keeping that in mind, think about how some pastors have bitterly opposed victims of abuse that came to them for help. Why? Were the pastors more concerned about keeping the peace in their church even if it meant reviling/slandering the victims? Did they fear that acknowledging sin in their midst would cause people to think less of their ministry and walk out the door? Were they more concerned about the finances of the church and their own pay-check, than the people? Is that a type of Balaam?
Balaam rebuked the donkey — the lowly donkey who was more obedient to God that he was. So the donkey rebuked Balaam!
The error of Balaam — willingness to do wrong for financial gain, especially willingness to revile God’s people for payment
Balaam was willing to go along with a wicked man’s plan to revile God’s people … for profit. The carrot of wealth was held out to Balaam, and he liked it. “He was willing to use his God-given talents for illicit purposes.” (link)
This is the part of the story that Peter references while writing in the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Peter is warning us to be on our guard for wolves in the church.
These false teachers left the right way and went the wrong way. They followed the same way that the prophet Balaam went. . .who loved being paid for doing wrong. But a donkey told him that he was doing wrong. A donkey cannot talk, of course, but that donkey spoke with a man’s voice and stopped the prophet from acting so crazy.
These false teachers are like springs that have no water. They are like clouds that are blown by a storm. A place in the deepest darkness has been kept for them. They boast with words that mean nothing. They lead people into the trap of sin. They find people who have just escaped from a wrong way of life and lead them back into sin. They do this by using the evil things people want to do in their human weakness. These false teachers promise those people freedom, but they themselves are not free. They are slaves to a mind that has been ruined by sin. Yes, people are slaves to anything that controls them. People can be made free from the evil in the world. They can be made free by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But if they go back into those evil things and are controlled by them, then it is worse for them than it was before.” 2 Peter 2:15-20 (ERV)
And Jude confirms this when he talks about the error of Balaam:
But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. (Jude 1:10-11 ESV)
These false teachers are willing to do wrong if they get paid for it.
A person following the doctrine of Balaam is willing to compromise his beliefs for the sake of economics. He acts to enable sinful behaviors for personal gain or even participate in them. (link)
They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Romans 1:32 NLT)
How many leaders in the church today are guilty of that? So many teachers gloss over the the error of Balaam or make it sound like an arcane Old Testament pagan-idolatry thing that is scarcely relevant to the church today — but they are committing it themselves.
These false teachers have hurt many of us and done it in the name of God. But once we identify them for what they are, we realize that God was not the one hurting His people. God’s heart for us is revealed in Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV):
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
This post was drafted by Avid Reader and MarkQ — many thanks to them. Barb Roberts then edited it and added some material.
Our society’s answer to everything that troubles people has become “You should go to therapy.” But is talking with a psychotherapist succeeding at making people feel better? The outcome research is mixed; it shows therapy having modest benefits on average, with many clients not finding it particularly helpful.
Under what circumstances does therapy work for a woman who has had, or still has, an abusive partner? First, the therapist has to get what controlling and degrading men are like. The sessions become counter-productive when the counselor starts to make the abuse partly your fault, or makes excuses for your partner’s behavior. It also doesn’t help if you get analyzed about ‘why are you in a relationship like this”; the reality is that any woman can find herself involved with a man who turns out to be a bully.
Second, the therapist has to respect you and support your right to make your own decisions. If you are under pressure within the therapy to stay with your partner, or to leave him, or to continue in therapy when you want to quit, that’s inappropriate. It’s important that the counseling not start to have control dynamics like your relationship.
Third, you have to feel that your therapist cares about you and is happy to see you, and you need to feel good being with him or her. If you find the counselor too businesslike or analytical, you’ll end up feeling even more starved for love and kindness.
In short, it can take some hunting to find a therapist who is a good match for you.
Don’t think of therapy as the only option. It is one approach among many healing paths. . . The best place to begin is usually at a program for abused women.
[Entry from Lundy Bancroft’s Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That?* pp369-370]
*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link
We’ve written before about how some leaders of the complementarian movement claim that the Son is eternally submitted to the Father (ESS/ERAS). We’ve written about how they use this notion to subtly oppress and coerce women into submission to abusive men (here, here and here).
We now know that these people and their associates recently changed Genesis 3:16 in the Permanent Text of the ESV Bible.
Verse 16b used to say, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”.
It now says, “Your desire will be contrary to your husband but he will rule over you.”
And Genesis 4:7 used to say, “[Sin’s] desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
It now says, “[Sin’s] desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
The online ESV has the new Permanent Text version and the older version can no longer be accessed online. Talk about a fait accompli! And with more and more people giving up books and only reading on digital devices, the previous version of the ESV will tend to be forgotten…
Christianity Today describes these changes as “a slightly more complementarian reading.” I think that is an understatement. I think the change ratchets up CBMW’s complementarian dogma giving it even more power to oppress women, and more excuse for men who abuse women.
In my opinion, the ESV’s change of this verse is very much related to the Eternal Submission of the Son doctrine which has been so controversial recently. I think they are two sides of the same coin, the coin being an agenda to keep women (and especially wives) down and keep husbands in authority. I’ll talk about this more below, but first let me introduce a concept which I think will help us understand it.
The colonial code of relationship
Allan Wade* articulated the colonial code of relationship like this:
- I am proficient
- You are deficient
- Therefore I have the right to fix you, diagnose you, change you, intern you
- For your own good.
In evangelical circles, it goes like this:
You are deficient — you lack sense, your understanding is distorted, your desire is contrary to your husband’s, your desire is contrary to your pastor’s, you are afraid, you are angry, you are helpless, you are passive, you are rebellious, you are acting in a manner inappropriate for your gender, you don’t have the theological training that I have, you are sinful, you are foolish, you are crazy.
And because I am proficient, I have the right, the duty, the sacred obligation and the authority to perform certain operations upon you. I can prescribe, educate, assess, correct, pray over and counsel you, and I can legislate what you can and can’t do, for your own good.
People who see themselves as proficient Christians are using the colonial code to perform certain operations upon women.
Their change of Genesis 3:16 emphasizes the ‘deficiency’ of women and affirms men’s right to assess, correct and direct women…for their own good.
If ESS/ERAS is wrong (which I believe it is) who will suffer the most harm from it? Women, and particularly wives who are married to abusive husbands.
If the ESV’s change of Genesis 3:16 is wrong (which I believe it is) who will suffer the most harm from it? The very same group: wives married to abusive husbands.
In his post Genesis 3:16 Ps Sam Powell analyses the Hebrew of Genesis 3:16 and discusses whether is right to use Genesis 4:7 to interpret Genesis 3:16. He also confesses that he used to teach that 3:16 meant that the woman’s longing would “be directed towards domineering, manipulating, and refusing to be truly loved” — but he has NOW CHANGED HIS MIND. (Yay! Thank you Sam!)
And in his post Odds and Ends, Ps Sam Powell says:
I only just recently heard that Genesis 3:16 is being used to justify domestic abuse. The thinking is: “She was trying to dominate me, so I had to rule over her.” I have a hard time fathoming the Satanic influence of this line of reasoning.
Bad exegesis ALWAYS has bad consequences. …
Some ideas are so entrenched that they can’t be blasted out with any kind of reasoning.
“This must be right because celebrity pastor … says so” is horrible hermeneutics. Even John Calvin was wrong at times.
Something is desperately wrong with the state of the church when the phrase, “Your desire shall be toward your husband, but he shall rule over you” is interpreted to mean, “If my wife tries to manipulate me, I have the right to smack her down.”
… all of that talk about the “others” coming to persecute us – the state, the gay lobby, the feminists (gasp) – is wrong. Persecution comes out of the house of God. It wasn’t Rome that Jesus warned his disciples of. It was the synagogue. When I hear the stories of what the powerful celebrity preachers do to those who question them, I become agitated and sad and angry. And it makes me feel helpless.
To every faithful pastor – don’t be intimidated by their threats; do your own exegesis; don’t be mesmerized by their “expert exegesis”. It really isn’t that good.
In his post The Permanent Text of the ESV, Dr Claude Mariottini says:
By translating the preposition ’el in Genesis 3:16 as “contrary to,” the ESV interjects a radical tension in the relationship between man and woman. The expression “contrary to” communicates the idea that everything the woman desires is contrary to what the man desires. …
It is no secret that many Christians use Genesis 3:16 as a proof-text to defend and justify the subordination of women. The revision proposed by the ESV, in a sense, requires a woman to be submissive to an all-wise man, since her desire is contrary to man’s desire. This means that only the man’s desire is correct and the woman must follow his desire because all her desires are “contrary to” her husband’s desire.
This picture shows C.J. Mahaney sitting in the front row of the Together For the Gospel conference in 2014. Mahaney was forced out of the conference because of his role in covering up the sexual abuse of children, but the celebrity conference speakers were keen to show their support for Mahaney by giving him a place with them in the front row.
L to R – Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, Thabiti Anyabwile, John Piper, C.J. Mahaney and Kevin DeYoung.
All these men have been seen as proficient christian leaders and teachers. They are part of the Frankenstein monster of celebrity christianity which has taken evangelicalism into a very bad place.
It is the mark of all movements, however well-intentioned, that their pioneers tend, by much lashing of themselves into excitement, to lose sight of the obvious. – Dorothy L Sayers
We contend that the obvious thing these celeb teachers have lost sight of is the epidemic of domestic abuse in conservative christendom and how their dogmas have been making that worse.
We victims are asking the bystanders to no longer stand by and do nothing
To all conservative Christians who’ve been silent or unconscious while these ‘proficient leaders’ have been re-writing the doctrine of God and empowering the oppression of women and have now clinched their position by slam dunking their Permanent ESV Bible — we ask you to share the burden of pain. We ask you to act. To engage. To wake up. To remember. To be brave enough to denounce the wrong that these ‘proficient leaders’ have been doing.
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* Allan Wade, “A persistent spirit. Towards understanding Aboriginal health in British Columbia” Canadian Western Geographical Series, 31. Victoria, BC: Western Geographical Press, 1995 — cited by Cathy Richardson in “Islands of Safety and the Social Geography of Human Dignity: A Child and Mother Safety Planning Initiative for Cases of Paternal Violence in Child Welfare” (link)
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The New Stealth Translation: ESV by Scot McKnight (NB: we do not endorse all of Scot McKnight’s theology; he promotes the New Perspective on Paul)
Truth and lies, light and darkness, cannot co-exist by Jeff Crippen
Headship is not Hierarchy by Sam Powell