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(From Forerunner Commentary)
In this first message to mankind, Satan sows seeds of doubt as to whether God can be trusted. Satan's very first words were, "Has God indeed said. . . ?" Spoken or not, this sentiment that God is untrustworthy, and that His Word is suspect, has been a regular feature in mankind's relationship with God ever since.
The Gnostics were no exception—in fact, they are a prime example. In its most basic sense, Gnosticism is knowing, but its knowledge, while sometimes including the Word of God, does not have it as its foundation. Instead, more than what was contained in Scripture, Gnostics valued what they experienced, what elders told them, or what they learned from "angels," astrology, or chemistry (alchemy). Thus, we see elements of Gnosticism in Galatians: a mixture of "lucky days," to which they ascribed spiritual significance (part of their worship prior to conversion) and a belief, brought in by Judaizers or perhaps even an "angel" (Galatians 1:8), that justification could come by works of the law.
Judaism, though it has its roots in the Old Testament, sees God's Word through the lens of Hellenism (Greek thought) and the traditions of Jewish scholars and teachers through the centuries. The Galatian Christians gave God's Word lip service, but did not depend on it as the source of their beliefs and practices. If they had, they would not have returned to pagan "days, months, seasons, and years," nor believed that justification could ever result from good works—a concept that is read into the Old Testament, but not actually found there.
Similarly, the Colossian Christians were affected by an ascetic form of Gnosticism that included "ordinances" (KJV) or "regulations" (NKJV) that are not found in God's Word but were the commandments and doctrines of men (Colossians 2:20-23), as well as demons, the "basic principles of the world" (Colossians 2:8).
This same distrust of God's Word is readily seen in today's Catholicism and Protestantism. The Catholic Church holds that Scripture is only one of three sources from which its dogma is derived—the other two being divine revelation and the writings and traditions of previous Catholic saints. The Bible, while generally utilized as the source of doctrine, can be easily overridden by the words of a Pope or other theologian, living or dead. Once again, human words and traditions are considered more trustworthy than God's.
In some respects, Protestantism has a higher regard for Scripture. However, it, too, accepts the traditions of men in such beliefs as the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, going to heaven, observing Christmas and Easter, and venerating the first day of the week (which the Catholic Church rightly points out makes sense only if one accepts Rome's authority, for there is no scriptural authority for keeping any day holy but the Sabbaths).
Modern Gnostics who believe in "progressive revelation" have also succumbed to this first of Satan's ploys. While God does reveal things to us, the critical point is that what is revealed—if it truly comes from Him—will never contradict what He has already revealed in His Word. "God is not a man, that He should lie" (Numbers 23:19). Yet progressive revelation advocates believe that their revelations are more authoritative than the Bible, rather than complementing and harmonizing with it, making them ripe for satanic influence under the guise of God revealing something new to them. They may sincerely believe that God speaks to them, yet they simultaneously mistrust what He has already said in inspired Scripture. They tend to shy away from Bible study, concluding that they do not need it since God speaks directly to them, and if there is anything important, God will let them know.
Romans 10:17 tells us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." But Satan knows this too and believes that, if he can undermine the trustworthiness of God and the validity of His Word, he can destroy the faith necessary for salvation. Currently, the Bible's legitimacy is undergoing an intense assault. Due to popular Gnostic writings like the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas, as well as The Da Vinci Code book and movie, many people are questioning why we have the Bible that we do and wondering if something in the ancient apocryphal writings, if it were known, would change Christianity as we know it. Rather than quibbling about this or that point of doctrine, Satan seems to be gunning for the whole package by asserting that the Word of God is subject to the whims of men and thus cannot be trusted. At every turn, faith founded in God's Word is being undermined.
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
One can almost hear Balaam saying to himself, "Great! God gave me permission! I can go! Load the gold!"
How Balaam replies to the embassy of Balak is one of the main themes of this whole account. In verse 18, he says, "I cannot go beyond the Word of the LORD my God to do less or more." And then in verse 20, God tells him quite specifically, "Only the word which I speak to you, that you shall do."
God is on to him, giving Balaam enough rope to hang himself with - and he just sticks his head right into the noose. The noose is the "if" statement: "If the men call on you, then you may go." The Bible, however, gives no indication whatsoever that the men came to call on him. It says only that Balaam awoke, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.
What did Balaam do here? We might call it bending the rules. God gave him conditional permission to do something. And what did Balaam consider it to be? Absolute permission. It is almost as if he failed to hear God say, "If the men come to call on you." All he heard was, "Then you can go."
How many people do that? In our modern way, we have turned it around: "Well, the Bible doesn't say that you can't do this." Others put it as, "There is no 'Thus saith the Lord' about this" - though there may be dozens of verses that say that one should not do it because of this, that, or something else. Or, there may be a whole story about someone who does something, illustrating a principle of a way we should not go. Nevertheless, because Scripture does not specifically say, "You shall not do this," then many people think it is okay to do it.
Consider smoking. No place in the Bible says that a person shall not smoke cigarettes. It does not say anywhere that one should not breathe in the smoke of any kind of flammable substance. However, there are huge principles - love toward God, neighbor, and self; not defiling the temple of God's Spirit; slow suicide - that people totally ignore. This is similar to what Balaam did.
His thinking process may have gone something like this: "God didn't say that I could not go. He gave me a condition, but I'm sure it will be all right this time if I go. If He was willing to give me permission in this case, it must be okay." So, he went. He did not believe God.
Consider I Peter 2 in terms of what Balaam did. What Peter had been telling his readers to do was submit - submit to government; submit to the king; to governors; to anyone in authority - for the Lord's sake, because that is what God wants us to do. He wants us to learn to submit to authority, especially to God's.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good [submitting to government] you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men - as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. (I Peter 2:15-16)
God gave Balaam conditional permission. He made him free to do a certain thing, which was to go with the men, but He put a condition on it: "If they come to you." Well, Balaam used his freedom, his liberty, as a cloak for vice. Balaam's vice was money; he wanted riches. He was going to get his riches by cursing Israel - another vice! Cursing people is not a good thing - certainly, it does not show love for them.
As Christians, we have been given grace, freedom, and God-given gifts to do good. He warns us, "Do not use this freedom to do evil. I have given you, not freedom from the law, but freedom within the law - to do good and not evil."
Yet, how many have used the liberty given to us by Christ as license to sin? "God will forgive us! That's what God does best! So, if we do it just this once, it will be okay!" That is what Balaam did. He received permission from God in one small area, under a certain circumstance, and Balaam interpreted it as freedom to do generally as he pleased.
Does that not sound like mainstream Protestantism? This is why within Protestantism there is an overriding emphasis on grace. Truly, grace is a wonderful thing. God has given us so many freedoms, but there are also law, responsibility, and submission to the will of God, things Balaam totally left out of the picture. He ignored the conditions God placed on his liberty. All he wanted was the freedom. And his taking license came back to bite him severely in the end.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
If God repeats the same thing over and over again, it must be important. This is something God never got through Balaam's thick skull because throughout the entire account, he tries his best to curse Israel, to do more than God instructs, or to speak beyond what God put into his mouth. He keeps having to be restrained.
Why? Balaam wants the pot of gold and the honor! These are what are driving him.
God speaks to him time and again. He appears to him, visibly, as the Angel of the Lord. He speaks to him through a donkey! God changes Balaam's words in his mouth, causing him to speak blessings instead of curses. God puts His Spirit on him, and Balaam prophesies under the inspiration of the Spirit of God—and still Balaam tries to do his own will, not God's.
Balaam never really understood the connection between obedience and blessing, or, obedience and the relationship with God. Even the most easily understood command—"I will put a word in your mouth. Say that word, no more, and no less"—he fails to follow, though it is something a child could do. However, Balaam is being driven by gold, by pride, and who knows what else, so he constantly, consistently refuses to do what God tells him to do.
Balaam wanted to do all these things—to have a relationship with God, to be able to bless and curse, to be a real prophet—but he never wanted to obey. He wanted all the benefits and none of the responsibilities.
Balaam is an illustration of a person who has access to the truth—like a person who reads the Bible all the time—but never obeys it! Such a person is willing to cheat on his income tax, when he knows the eighth commandment says, "You shall not steal." There are "Christian" people who are willing to kill their unborn children, yet know that the sixth commandment says, "You shall not murder." There are "Christians" who lie all the time, knowing all the while that the ninth commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness." These people have access to the truth or have knowledge of the truth, but are never willing to put it into practice because they insist on doing what they want to do.
There are millions of people in the world like this. In fact, one branch of Christianity in particular—called Protestantism—was founded on this formula. One will not find more learned people than Protestant theologians; they know the Bible from cover to cover. Yet, they still keep and preach Sunday! They do more than this. They know—they admit—that God's law is "holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12), but they tell their congregations, "It is done away! We don't have the responsibility of keeping the law. Jesus kept it for us!"
Thus, they emphasize grace and make God's law of no effect because they want all the blessings of being a Christian but none of the responsibility. Just as Balaam did!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
Numbers 23:10 is one of Balaam's prophecies. He is looking out at all of Israel from a height, seeing their vast number, and he has just said that they have been blessed by God.
He then says, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!" What about his life between this particular time and his own death? He did not want to live as the righteous but to die as righteous. Put another way, Balaam did not want to live righteously; he only wanted to be considered a righteous man when he died. He wanted "heaven" without behaving heavenly while he was alive. He was perfectly fine with continuing his trade as a sorcerer and even cursing God's people—all he was concerned about was that, at the very end, he could make a death-bed repentance and squeak in between the bars of heaven's gate, so to speak.
Frankly, the religion of Balaam—his doctrine or teaching, his way of life—was the dominant religion of the time, just as Protestantism is dominant today. People then had the same human nature as people do now, and they wanted the best of both worlds. They were willing to do whatever they wanted—even to sin grievously—believing that in the end they would still be saved, because in their eyes what they were doing was not all that bad. They believed God would disregard their behavior. Remember, Balaam later advises the Midianites, "Get the Israelites involved in idolatry and sex with the women of Moab." A truly righteous individual would never even think of causing others to sin. Would God ignore such a thing?
This is the impression one gets from Balaam. He knew what was right, but would not take the responsibility to do it. Yet, he wanted all the rewards and blessings that would come from it.
Another idea that surfaces here is that he thought he could manipulate God. He thought he could bribe Him by giving Him sacrifices, cajoling Him, making a deal with Him—into cursing even His own people. Obviously, it did not work. He did not understand God in the least.
Balaam did not understand what is written in Deuteronomy 10:12-14, which Moses wrote at about this same time. In the New King James, this section is titled "The Essence of the Law."
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God [Balaam certainly did not fear God—he was willing to negotiate with Him], to walk in all His ways [he did not want to obey Him] and to love Him [certainly his actions did not show that he loved God at all], to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul [Balaam was in it for himself—his heart and soul were not with God], and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good? Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it.
Here puny Balaam was trying to match wits with the God of all the universe—and he thought he could win! Notice the next verses:
The LORD delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. (Deuteronomy 10:15-17)
Balaam did not understand this very simple point: In the covenant relationship we have with God, we are the junior partners. Our job is to submit, to obey, to fear and respect Him, and if we do that, everything will work out fine. However, when we step outside that role and try to take God's prerogatives from Him and do things that only He can do, then we start getting into deep trouble. This is where Balaam was—in very dangerous territory. He was trying to negotiate with God as if he were His equal.
He was attempting to impose his will on God, and make God change for him! Is that not basically selfish? Is it not self-interest above what's in God's interest? In a way, it is like saying to God, "You're wrong, and I'm right, so You should do it my way!"—as if we can see things from our vantage point better than God can.
If we try to change God's will on some matter that He has clearly shown us, we are saying, "I am God, not You." We want our will to be followed and not His. There are several verses in the Bible that say, "Who are we before God?" We are the clay—He is the Potter! Balaam had it all backwards.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
It is not a matter of them thinking God does not exist, but that they are denying Him. They do not want to believe that He is there. He has denied God by denying or renouncing what God says about Himself.
God says plainly in many scriptures that He will judge for sin. This is what the Ten Commandments are about: They define sin for us. By them, we know what is good and what is not good, so we can come into judgment before Him without excuse. A reason Christ came was to qualify to be that Judge, to judge all at the last day. We, however, are going through our judgment right now.
The wicked man has fooled himself into believing that God will not require an accounting for sin. He thinks God will not pass judgment on him; He will just let his sins slide.
It sounds much like modern, antinomian Protestantism. It is, in effect, what the psalmist is talking about. He speaks of a normal, everyday Israelite who would supposedly know God. He had entered into the covenant by circumcision, and so he should know better. However, he has decided to ignore what God has said and lives his life as a practicing atheist. He is not really an atheist, because he believes there is a God, but he lives his life as if God did not exist.
The wicked man here, then, could be somebody who professes Christ—a professing Christian—but his lifestyle betrays his real, inner conclusion that there is no God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Is God in All Our Thoughts?
Forever does not always mean "without end" in biblical usage, but it does here. Sometimes forever means "as long as conditions exist." Here, we are talking about a covenant, commandments, and about righteousness that endure forever (verses 3, 8-10—and strongly implied in verses 5 and 7). In six out of ten verses, various words indicate "time without end" and reinforce "forever and ever."
The covenant that he is talking about is the New Covenant, the one that will endure forever—not the Old Covenant. In Hebrews 8, the Old Covenant is declared to be obsolete! The important point is that God's commandments are connected to the covenant that will last forever. The commandments are definitely not done away with the coming of the New Covenant. In this Psalm—likely written during the time of Ezra—God says that His commandments are not done away with the coming of a covenant that will last forever.
However, the notion in Protestantism is that, since the Old Covenant is done away with, then God's law is also done away with. So, Protestant theologians decisively deal with the Old Covenant and the law of God in one fell swoop, but it is not correct. It does neatly get God's law out of the way, revealing an attitude behind their theology.
Their teaching continues by stating that a reason it had to be done away is that God's law is too difficult to keep—that it is harsh and enslaving. They leave one with the definite impression that the reason it did not work - the fault, the flaw in the whole mix—was God! Human nature is certainly agreeable to this because it is ever willing to shift the blame elsewhere to justify its conduct.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 10)
In Matthew 5:19, Jesus Christ mentions "the least commandment." It is parallel to verse 18 where it says, "not one jot or one tittle," the least things that are part of the law of God. Using this principle, consider that there can be no doubt that, of all the Ten Commandments held in respect and honor by the people of the world, the Sabbath commandment is the least of the ten. It is the least in terms of the world's regard and respect when compared with the other nine.
The Catholic Church thinks so little of it that it believes it has the authority to disregard it altogether. Even though officially admitting that the day is commanded in the Bible, the Catholic Church thinks it has the authority to change it. The Protestant churches' justification is to argue around it on twisted technical, legal grounds, but they ultimately reduce it to being merely ceremonial in nature.
Now we must add James 2:8 to our thinking. The fourth commandment is just as much a part of the royal law, the Ten Commandments. If not one jot or tittle, not even the least commandment, is done away until everything is fulfilled, the conclusion has to be that the Sabbath is still in effect—regardless of what men say—and to break it is immoral. It is just as immoral as adultery or fornication, lust, or lying.
The world does not think of immorality in terms of the Sabbath commandment, nor in terms of breaking the first, the second, the third, or the fourth commandment. How many people in the church think of breaking the fourth commandment in terms of immorality? Nevertheless, it is immoral to break the forth commandment.
James also refers to the royal law as being the law of liberty. Clearly, if people keep the seventh commandment, it keeps the world free from adultery and fornication. If people keep the eighth commandment, it keeps the world free of stealing. If people keep the ninth commandment, it keeps the world free of deceit. Keeping God's commandments keeps people free. If one keeps the Sabbath, like the other commandments, it leads to freedom. It produces freedom. God's is a law that liberates.
In our carnality, human nature tends to make us think that keeping the Sabbath constrains us, holds us in, and keeps us from doing things. In some cases, we feel almost imprisoned by it. That is human nature's thinking, not God's thinking. It helps us to understand what our thinking has to become. The Sabbath is a day, the breaking of which is immoral, the keeping of which will produce liberty.
There was a time that a group of people, the Pharisees, contrary to most of the rest of the world, believed that the keeping of the Sabbath was the most important of the commandments. They produced hundreds of laws in a vain attempt to try to keep people from breaking it, but they missed the point altogether. Because they understood Ezekiel 20, and other sections of the Bible as well, they knew that a reason for the Jews' captivity was Sabbath-breaking. So the reforms that were begun under Ezra were taken to radical extremes by people after he died. Their conclusions, though begun with good intentions, were worldly, and their keeping of the Sabbath, in that way, was just as wrong as the liberal tendencies that most of the world has toward the Sabbath.
Neither the Pharisees nor most of the people who have lived on this planet have ever grasped God's intent for the Sabbath. Because so much of this world's thinking carries right on into the church, some of us are thinking in much the same way the world does.
The Ten Commandments are a unity. To break one breaks them all, regardless of what level men think each commandment is on. To break the fourth commandment makes us just as guilty and worthy of death as breaking any of the others. This is where we have to begin. This is not a commandment that can be just shoved aside; it cannot be taken for granted any more than any of the other nine. God's intent for it is very important to our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)
Christianity is shown here to be a way. Protestantism is hesitant to admit that Christianity is a way, a way of life, a path to a destination. Why? If one believes that Christianity is a way of life, he must admit the fact that he is obligated to obey certain things to achieve the end, the goal, of that way.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 2)
2 Thessalonians 2:15
How frequently the servants of God have had to say this! John uses almost the same words at the beginning of I John 1: "Look, our hands have handled Him. We have looked at Him with our eyes and heard Him with our ears." Who is the we? He speaks of the apostles, intimating, "Get back to what we taught you." Jude and Peter say the same thing.
These men were not confronting the same people, but they probably were confronting elements of the same philosophical system that affected the church so strongly even as early as the AD 50s and 60s. Human nature always has a strong drive to make the way of God more attractive to the senses by blending it with traditions that are not part of God's Word.
This is what is found in Exodus 32, which God included in His Word so that we would see it etched vividly. The Israelites tried to introduce the Egyptian religion they had just left into the way of God. They used the bull to represent the nature of God. No wonder God was so upset! They were trying to syncretize paganism with the truth of God, just a few chapters after He gave them the terms of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was signed, sealed, and delivered in Exodus 24, which was a very short time chronologically - and they were already trying to twist the nature of God into something radically different.
We see elements of this in the book of Colossians. The theological term for this is, as has been already mentioned, syncretism. It means "a joining, a meshing, or a blending together," "an alloying." Is anything purer than the Word of God? How could a person think to improve it by adding something foreign?
The outstanding historical example of syncretism (at least in terms of what we call "the Christian religion") is Catholicism. It is a universal religion precisely because it has absorbed traditions of worship from cultures all over the world. Its Protestant daughters, having come from the same system, have not rid themselves of most of the sycretic beliefs, having thrown off only the governance of the Pope and several of the more blatant pagan practices.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 22)
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