Numbers 22

Chapters twenty-two through twenty-four contain another well-known story from Numbers: the account of Balak and Balaam. 1 In Numbers 21:26 we read that Sihon had defeated Moab. Now that Israel had defeated Sihon, the Moabites were naturally afraid that they could be next, so when Israel journeyed up the eastern border of Moab, Balak, their king, had to do something (Numbers 22:1-14). 2 Allying himself with the Midianites, Balak summoned Balaam, a well-known conjuror from near the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia (Abraham’s homeland). Balak had only one request: curse Israel so Moab could defeat them. Given God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3), Balak’s knowledge of Balaam’s reputation is ironic: “I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed” (Numbers 22:6). Balaam was tempted, but he wisely sought divine counsel. Somehow Jehovah spoke to him and informed him that cursing Israel would be a waste, so he refused and sent the messengers of Balak away empty-handed.

Not one to give up, Balak tried again, promising anything Balaam could wish for (Numbers 22:15-21). This piqued Balaam’s greed, so he asked Jehovah again what he should do. God gave him permission to go, although it was still against his counsel. Additionally, Balaam would be required to say only what God allowed him. In an attempt to teach Balaam the difference between God’s permission and God’s plan, the messenger of Jehovah (the preincarnate Christ) stood in the path with a sword. Although Balaam’s route was blocked, only his donkey could see him; Balaam could not. This cause the donkey to veer off course a couple of times, injuring Balaam, who beat the donkey. Finally, God gave the donkey a voice to speak to Balaam, which finally opened his eyes to the danger he was in. 3 This time Jehovah gave clear permission for Balaam to continue, noting again that he would say nothing that did not come from God. Upon Balaam’s arrival, Balak welcomed him, making sacrifices in Balaam’s honor, probably hoping to appease their gods before the dirty work began.

Notes:

  1. Outside of the Pentateuch, Balaam appears in these passages: Joshua 13:22; 24:9-10; Nehemiah 13:2; Micah 6:5; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14.
  2. Interestingly, the Moabites and Ammonites were relatives to Israel just like the Edomites were. Moab and Ammon (Genesis 19:36-38) were the grandsons of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. This made them third cousins to Jacob’s sons, the patriarchs of Israel.
  3. Constable cites Wiersbe as wondering if spirits had used animals to speak with Balaam before as the reason this did not seem to affect him (Constable, Notes on Numbers, 2016 edition, 88).

1 John 2

Chapter two, beginning with verse three, presents the first of six “by this we [will] know” statements (1 John 2:3, 5; 3:19, 24; 4:13; 5:2) regarding how we know that we know God or are in him. In chapter two we know this “if we keep his commandments…[and] obey his word” (1 John 2:3, 5). Obedience to the Savior (not just obedience to a set of rules) is a clear indication that a person truly knows God, because an unbeliever walks in darkness, not in the light. However, again, 1 John 2:6 encourages that the believer “ought to walk” this way. Those who require the spiritual ideal presented in 1 John to be the continued real experience for all believers at all stages of growth as proof of salvation are misusing the Scriptures. Even as he presented the ideal, John did so with grace and encouragement, knowing that we do not always live up to that standard.

In 1 John 2:7-17 John insisted that believers are to love God and that love should extend to fellow Christians. Not loving (or “hating”) other believers is likened to stumbling and groping around in the dark, because that Christian is not walking in Christ’s light. Jesus himself said, “Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Another proof that a believer does not love God properly is shown in his love for “the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). Because “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), spiritual growth should cause us to love God more while we love this world less. This reflects a worldview based in eternal things rather than temporal things.

Like several other writers before him (Paul, Peter, and Jude), John knew that false teachers are devastating to Christians. Because of how late he wrote (probably in the A.D. 90s), John saw these false teachers no longer just sneaking into the Church (Jude 4) but boldly teaching false doctrine in the Church. He said there were “many” of them (1 John 2:18) who had exerted their influence strongly enough that they had left the Christian fellowship and had drawn others away with them. John insisted that there is one “litmus test” of basic orthodoxy (1 John 2:22; 4:1-3): Jesus is the Christ (recognition of deity) who had come in the flesh (recognition of humanity). Although much other doctrine is important, agreement on nothing else matters if there is disagreement on this point. This was the teaching of Jesus himself, the apostles, and the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27).

Luke 15

Chapter fifteen is probably one of the most well-known chapters in Luke, yet it is also frequently misunderstood. The key to the whole chapter is found in the first three verses. The Jewish religious leaders were unhappy that Jesus spent time with sinners, so Jesus told them a parable. The rest of the chapter is the same parable told three different ways. In this parable:

  • God is portrayed by the shepherd, the woman, and the father
  • The “sinners” are the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son
  • The “non-sinners” are the other sheep, the other coins, and the other son

Notice in these scenarios that the lost items/son were already a part of the group/family but became lost. Something happened so that they had become separated from the group – the sheep left the pasture, the coin left the pouch, the son left the house. Jesus gave this parable to demonstrate to the religious leaders that those “sinners” were still Jews who were born into the promises God made to Israel. However, when he came and offered the Kingdom, not all of them had accepted him, making them “lost” but still sheep, coins, and sons. Ironically, the religious leaders considered themselves to be “in,” yet many of them were just as lost as the sinners they despised, because they were also rejecting Jesus.

This parable is often used today to portray God as looking for unbelievers to be saved. While it is true and can be proved from other Scripture that he wants people saved, unbelievers were never a part of the family from which they could leave. A more accurate principle from this chapter that applies to Christians is that God does not stop “looking” and “waiting” for those who are already part of the family but have wandered away. Sometimes we call these “backslidden Christians.” For those who have not wandered off, we must continue to do the Father’s work cheerfully and celebrate when our wandering brothers and sisters come back, because this makes the Father exceptionally glad (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16; Jude 22-23).