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What the Bible says about Loopholes
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Numbers 22:20-21

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)

Numbers 22:22

God was angry because Balaam went when He had specifically told him, "Don't go unless they come to you and ask you." Nothing in God's Word says that they did. Instead, it says that Balaam got up in the morning and saddled his donkey, and off he went.

God gave conditional permission. The condition was only if he was asked again, but he was not asked again yet went anyway. Balaam was one of those people who, if you give him an inch, he takes a mile. If he was not specifically told, "You shall not go," then he thought that meant he could go ahead and leave.

In like manner, there are those who think, "Well, because the Bible does not say 'Thus saith the Lord,' it is okay!" We can see many things in Balaam's character that are similar to what many people today mimic due to the fact that they are not listening to God either. God was very specific with Balaam, but all he heard was, "Go ahead!" He tuned out the part that began with if.

This is why God was angry with him. He was so angry that He came out against him, to stand in his way. Maybe the most intriguing detail here is that the word adversary is, in Hebrew, satan, which means generally "adversary, enemy, foe." God came out against Balaam the same way that Satan comes out against us, when God allows him to do so. God set Himself up as Balaam's enemy.

In reality, by leaving without fulfilling the conditions, Balaam chose to join Satan's side. God, then, visibly to the donkey but invisibly to Balaam, set Himself up as the adversary to Balaam.

Balaam showed God that he would do what Balak wanted him to do. In counterpoint, God will do something to try to get Balaam to change, to turn. God does not come out against Balaam as a normal enemy would—to do him harm—but to turn him around and give him a chance to repent. But Balaam would have nothing to do with that. He had set himself up as an enemy of God, and he never turns himself around.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 2)

1 Kings 18:21

God says choose but then burn all bridges to the former way of life. Some of us, I fear, have maintained open-ended options, contingency plans, and escape clauses in our relationship with God. Like the Laodicean, we look at our spiritual contract with a view of finding loopholes and exploiting the blessings. It is apparent that some of us still approach our calling with the attitude of "what can I get away with and still appear to be a Christian?"

David F. Maas
Spiritual Double Agents

Matthew 16:6

The key to understanding the leaven of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6, 11-12) does not hinge on their zeal in keeping the law, but on their zeal in finding loopholes to twist it to their own ends. Their motto could have been, "How close can we get to the edge without going over?" We could refer to this practice as brinkmanship (pushing a situation to the limit to force a desired result) or marginalism (taking an extreme position on an issue).

A former homiletics teacher, also an avid skier, conveyed to his class an analogy of the Ten Commandments as the boundary markers along the ski trail. Every year, when contemplating the boundary markers at Vail or Aspen, he reflected that only an idiot would ski as close to the edge as he could. Yet this describes many practices of the scribes and Pharisees!

The legalist and the lawbreaker both have a morbid curiosity about those boundaries rather than concentrate upon the vast latitude of choices between those markers. This is reminiscent of our parents Adam and Eve developing a morbid curiosity about the one tree that God forbade, ignoring the thousands upon thousands of varieties that He did not forbid (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1-6). This behavior dwells on the negative and ignores the positive.

These examples point out that the spirits of legalism and lawlessness are twin siblings. When we place the critical points of the law/grace and legalism/lawlessness issue in proper perspective, law and grace are powerful allies opposing legalism and lawlessness. They give Christians great freedom to do good for others while also doing what is right.

David F. Maas
Righteousness from Inside-Out


 




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