sympathy for the devil: we’ve been warned

The Word for today:
Numbers 30

They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. (from 2 Peter 2:14-16)

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. (Jude 1:11)

But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:14)

We say goodbye to Balaam today. As we do, I must confess that I’m conflicted about him. I have a certain regard, even sympathy, for him.

But scripture isn’t fooled. It is neither conflicted nor sympathetic about Balaam, and makes of him an example of spiritual error.

He will pop up, here and there, throughout the rest of scripture. He will continue to garner a lot of ink. But his name will become a byword, and his life a parable of darkness.

We knew from the start that he was the charlatan, the swindler, the prophet for profit. But he’s such a spiritual scam artist that he will steal your soul and then ask you for change.

We need to be wary of Balaams, past and present. So let’s take a look at this personified parable to see what he represents…

First, we are warned about the way of Balaam.
The way of Balaam is covetousness. We’ve already gotten a glimpse (Numbers 22:7) of what motivates Balaam’s ministry. Our suspicions are confirmed in 2 Peter:
They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. (from 2 Peter 2:14-16)

Next, scripture reminds us to avoid the error of Balaam.
His error was that he was not aware that God could declare righteous these sinners who trust in Him. Balaam thought God must curse/punish Israel, as the natural man reckons. But there is a higher righteousness in Christ. God had dealt with sin in the camp with the brazen serpent, just as God now declares sinners righteous by faith in Christ. (See Jude 11, above.)

Finally, beware the doctrine of Balaam.
The doctrine of Balaam was to entice the Jews to commit idolatry, to corrupt the people whom he could not curse. (See Revelation 2:14, above.) The church is not hurt from the outside. Satan joins the church to hurt it from within. (If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.) Jesus was betrayed from the inside, by a “friend,” one of “his people.”

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So whatever happened to Balaam? He kept working the angles until he died:
The children of Israel also killed with the sword Balaam the son of Beor, the soothsayer, among those who were killed by them. (Joshua 13:22)

Balaam—the false way, the error, the false doctrine—is the antithesis of Jesus—the Way, the Truth, the Life.

But I still like him, which shows us precisely how the world will be taken in by the ultimate antithesis, the Antichrist, who will be every bit as winsome and seductive (and spiritually confusing) as Balaam ever was:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. (from 2 Corinthians 11:13-15)

We’ve been warned.

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looking forward to “the second Christmas”

The Word for today:
Numbers 28, 29

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. (Numbers 24:17)

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2)

Let’s pause, right here, for some perspective.

For the last couple of days we talked about the Wise Men, who pondered the prophecies of Balaam and Daniel until they found the King in Bethlehem.

These Gentile astronomers and scholars from Persia, Parthia, and Babylon — places where Balaam was considered an outstanding prophet — kept their eyes on the skies and their noses in the scriptures, anticipating the first arrival of the great King.

But Israel was not looking for him, with the exception of a small minority, such as Anna and Simeon (see Luke 2).

***

It is not necessary to be Rapture-ready in order to participate.  You won’t be required to anticipate “the second Christmas” in order to participate in it, but why miss out on all the fun of looking forward to it?

One significant difference between Jesus’ first coming and the Rapture of the church is that the Wise Men, Simeon, and Anna were able to deduce the time of his arrival from careful scrutiny of the scriptures (especially the book of Daniel).

But there are no definite prophetic indications of when the Rapture will occur. (It is a biblical precept that time is often measured when Israel is front and center in scripture, while time is not measured when the church is in view.)

Therefore, when Rapture will occur is unknown, but that it will occur is certain. So don’t lose out on all the joys of anticipation as the time gets nearer. Any kid can tell you — it doesn’t take a wise man to know this — that there can be a whole glorious “month” of excitement and anticipation before the Day, itself, arrives!

We don’t have a clue (despite what the wackos will tell you) about the exact time of the Rapture of the church. But I can say with confidence that we’ve already passed “Thanksgiving.”

“Christmas, Part 2” is the next holiday on the bigger calendar.  So let’s get into it before we’re gone!

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when the starlight met its source

The Word for today:
Numbers 27, 36

For the past couple of days, we have been wondering about Balaam. There is no more bizarre character in scripture. He’s a prophet-for-profit, a religious racketeer, and yet God gives this man of murky morals one of the Bible’s most shimmering and significant visions of the future:

“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.”
(Numbers 24:14-17)

Coming from Pethor on the Euphrates River, Balaam was a rare Gentile (non-Jew) among biblical prophets. Therefore he would continue to fascinate both Hebrew and pagan scholars for centuries. Throughout the “east,” his visions would be ceaselessly pondered and studied.

His prophecy was why Babylonian Magi (“Wise Men”) had known, for centuries, where the great “Light King” would be born.

But how did the Magi know when the time had come to saddle up the camels and gift-wrap the gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

Their answer, again, came from a prophet in “the east.” This prophet was not a Gentile like Balaam, but a Hebrew who had been forced into exile in Babylon. His name was Daniel and he possessed such striking intellectual gifts that he rose to become superintendent in charge of the Babylonian Magi.

Thus the Wise Men of Christmas came to know when the Star would appear by reading (and doing the math) in the 9th chapter of the book written by what amounted to their college’s former president!—

God had, over 17 centuries, managed to arrange the itinerary of these eastern Wise Men through voices available to them in their own libraries. Balaam told them where to look; Daniel told them when to leave.

When they got to Jerusalem, they asked Herod (who thought he was King of the Jews) where the King of the Jews could be found! Herod, of course, was enraged. So, with murderous intent, he summoned the leading Bible experts to tell them where the Christ would be born:

They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ “ (Matthew 2:5-6, quoting Micah 5:2)

So the Magi traveled south for just a few miles until the Star stopped to reflect its Light back to its Source.

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Star and Scepter: a vision of the Light King

The Word for today:
Numbers 25, 26

mark this:
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.
(Numbers 24:17)

We all love the Christmas story—the little town of Bethlehem, the angels we have heard on high, the shepherds who were sore afraid, the stable and the swaddling clothes, the Wise Men and the Christmas Star!

The part I like best is when the Star shines down upon the baby in the manger, putting the spotlight right where it should be:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

But did you know that the Wise Men were not the first to see the Star of Bethlehem? They weren’t even close to being the first, because about 1500 years earlier God had shown the Star to Balaam, the hard-to-classify eastern prophet/profiteer. In those ancient days (that were almost as far removed from the Wise Men as the Wise Men are from us) this is what Balaam had seen:

“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a scepter will rise out of Israel.”
(Numbers 24:14-17)

Balaam, the Gentile diviner who saw the Star and the Scepter (the Light of the World/King of Kings) out of one eye while he saw $$$$$ out of the other eye, would continue to fascinate both Hebrew and pagan scholars for centuries. Throughout the “east,” his vision would be ceaselessly pondered and studied.

But his prophecy only told the Wise Men the place where the great Light King would be born. How, then, did the wise men know the right time to saddle up the camels and gift-wrap the gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

We’ll find out tomorrow. See you then.

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a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

The Word for today:
Numbers 23, 24

Q. Who is the oddest cat in Scripture?

I wouldn’t want to offend anyone (especially Him) but by any standard definition of “odd,” the oddest, hands down, is Jesus. But if you’re looking for the biggest oddball in scripture, then I would have to say Balaam.

And even odder than Balaam himself is his relationship with God. God gives Balaam great prophetic powers. He even gives him the power of the Holy Spirit.

Balaam’s story is invaluable to me, but in an inverse way. It is invaluable because it teaches me how much I have yet to learn about God.

As you read, forget Balaam and read about the character called God (or LORD.) Watch His interaction with Balaam, and then ask yourself how well you know this LORD, this God, who confides in a known religious huckster called Balaam, provides said charlatan with His Holy Spirit, and chooses said swindler to deliver one of the most remarkable prophecies in scripture. Doesn’t God know a better sort to consort with?

My advice to the reader is to read the Balaam chapters twice. (It is not burdensome to do so, for they are highly entertaining!) During the first reading, concentrate on Balaam. During the second reading, concentrate on God, bringing none of your presuppositions to the reading.

Balaam is a mystery, but this God character is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. He will leave you scratching your head, wondering just who does this remind you of? Just who is this God who hangs out with hucksters and swindlers and charlatans and losers and sinners and prophets and tax collectors and prostitutes and Pharisees and Judas and, umhh, me.

Whenever I’ve got God pretty much cornered (in my mind) and confined (to my mind) then I come back here to Numbers 22, 23, and 24. These three chapters wipe all of my smug suppositions and preconceived notions off the slate.

Then, knowing I know next to nothing, I’m in a perfect position to learn.

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