What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The KJV and the NKJV both translate Exodus 20:3 as, "You shall have no other gods before Me." This translation is misleading, though, because it gives us room to think that other gods are permitted as long as the true God is first in importance. God permits no other gods at all!
Other translations more correctly catch the intent. Moffatt says, "You shall have no gods but me." The Knox translation has, "Thou shalt not defy me by making other gods thy own." The Spurrell translation reads, "You shall have no other gods beside Me." Finally, the New English Bible renders it, "You shall have no gods to set against me." These make it very clear God will not share His position, glory, and praise with any competitors (see Isaiah 42:8). It would not be good for His purpose to allow us to divide our loyalties.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
The princes come to Balaam and tell him what Balak has asked. Then, when Balaam goes to God, he leaves out some of what the princes said. After God gives His answer, Balaam reports back to the princes, this time leaving out some of what God said. Finally, when the men return to Balak, all they say is, "He is not coming."
So, we can see a great deal of deception going on, in which each party tries to slant the conversations to its advantage. The princes certainly do not want Balak angry at them because they failed in their mission, and Balaam did not want to tell the princes all that God had said to him because he wants them to come back with more money.
We cannot take this story at face value. This is what Balaam did for a living; this is how he made his money. He was a sorcerer for hire—for pay—and he is negotiating here. We have just read a sorcerer's negotiation for his hire.
The first thing Balaam did wrong (from our perspective) he did immediately: The princes waltz into his courtyard, saying, "Balak wants you to come and curse Israel for him." Balaam replies, "Oh. Let me think about that. In the meantime, why don't you stay the night? Here, I'll put you up and feed you." He probably entertained them—perhaps he performed parlor tricks for them. But, in such a situation, what should a Christian have done? What should just a good person have done? He should have said, "Go back to your master!" and not even listened to them.
The apostle John tells us what to do should anyone come to our house and wants us to do evil, to go against the Lord God:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (II John 10-11)
Immediately, then, Balaam becomes complicit in the sins of Balak. He should have said, "No. I'm taking my shingle down. I will not curse Israel." But instead he says, "Why don't you stay the night? I'll see if God gives me guidance in this matter."
It is probable that he did not expect God to say a word to him. His words were merely a ploy to get the princes interested and drag the negotiation out. He was putting on his diviner's hat and doing a little acting here. "Oh, I can't make this decision on my own! I must consult the gods. Stay here overnight, and in the morning I will tell you if God has come to me in a dream or a vision to tell me what I can do!"
He was playing the charlatan with them because most of the time, a demon did not come to him and say, "Okay, go ahead and do this," or "Don't do that." Balaam probably manufactured most of his "visitations." However, if a demon did communicate with him and was behind his sorcery, it makes Balaam even more evil. At the very least, he was giving the princes his pitch.
God surprises him by actually answering him! He starts off by asking him, "Who are these men with you?" making the man explain himself, which Balaam does. Then, incredibly, Balaam makes his pitch to God! "God, let me curse them!" God responds emphatically, "No! No! No! You shall not go with them. You shall not curse them. I have blessed them."
In the morning, Balaam tells Balak's princes, "Go back to your land. The Lord refused to give me permission."
We can give Balaam credit for this: He actually does what God told him and sent them away with their diviner's fee in their hands. He made no money. However, we can read into this that he did it, not because of the fear of God, but because of the thought that, "Hey, maybe this will help the negotiations if I send them away, because they might come back, and bring a bigger bag of gold with them to try and convince me. If I play hard to get, and they really want me, I could make a killing."
We need to remember that all the authors who mention Balaam after this write about him being greedy for profit at Israel's expense. We must include this fact in our understanding of what was happening here. God obviously inspired it to be written several times in His Word that this was how Balaam worked. He was avariciously negotiating a higher fee.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
1 Corinthians 10:1-5
Verse 5 is downright alarming. How many people of the 2 to 2½ million people who came out of Egypt under Moses made it into the Promised Land? Of those aged 20 and older, only two, Joshua and Caleb, along with their families, made it.
Paul uses vivid terminology. He literally says that their bodies were scattered all across the desert. They fell aside as they went along the way and did not make it. They were buried where they fell. The Israelites left a trail of graves all the way from Egypt, through the Sinai, and up into the borders of Israel, the Promised Land.
Such a thing will not physically occur to us. God is working out something different with us than He was with them. With them, He was establishing a type and setting examples for us. We can look at what they did and learn from what occurred to them. We have the Holy Spirit, and they did not. That should make a huge difference!
Paul says that they all went under the cloud and were baptized into Moses. They were not literally baptized in the way we were, but they did pass between the waters. When they went through the Red Sea, they walked on dry land, but the water rose up like walls on either side of them. The apostle Paul uses this as a type of the baptism we go through. They were buried into Moses, as it were, becoming partners in the Old Covenant. Moses, the mediator of that covenant, was a type of Jesus Christ.
Yet, these people died in the wilderness. Here is decisive proof (most of it contained in the record of their wandering in Exodus and Numbers) that though a person physically goes through all the ordinances, it does not mean a thing spiritually.
Verses 1-4 show the Israelites were in the presence of Jesus Christ. He was in the cloud and in the pillar of fire. He was there as the Angel, the Messenger of God, who was leading them through their pilgrimage on to the Promised Land. That is why Paul's illustration is so alarming: One can lose his salvation (not make it to the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God) if he is living a life of divided loyalties (Matthew 6:24).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover and I Corinthians 10
Faithfulness hinges upon what we value as important combined with commitment. Humans have a powerful tendency to be faithful to what they think is truly important, be it a family name, spouse, friendship, employer, school, athletic team, or even certain things like a make of automobile.
This tendency was an issue when the disciples decided to follow Peter's lead and return to their fishing trade after Jesus' death and resurrection. In John 21:15-17, Jesus pointedly asks Peter three times whether he loved Him. The first time He asks whether he loved Him "more than these," referring either to his fellow apostles or the tools of his fishing trade. The implication is inescapable: Jesus wanted Peter to hold Him of greater importance than anything on earth. Considering Peter's weighty responsibility, he could not be faithful to Jesus without the staunchest commitment to Him as most important of all in his life.
The meaning to us is clear. We must love Christ supremely, or we do not love Him much if at all. If we are not willing to give up all earthly possessions, forsake all earthly friends, and obey Him above all others—including our own carnal desires—to be faithful to Him, our attachment to Him is tenuous at best. Is such a proposition too much? Does not marriage require a similar faithfulness from each spouse? Without it, it is no wonder there is so much adultery and divorce.
Holding true to the course God has laid before us is difficult amid this world's many alluring distractions clamoring for our time and attention. This world is attractive to human nature and bids us to expend our energies in self-satisfaction. Jesus warns all who take up their cross that the way is difficult and narrow, requiring a great deal of vision and discipline to be faithful to His cause. Some have completed the course. Those who held God and His way in the highest esteem in their lives are awaiting those of us traveling the path now. Will we be faithful as they were?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
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