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Bible Insights

When God Calls Us to Act, We Better Act

May We Never Be Lax about Doing the Work of God

The book of Jeremiah contains prophecies about many of the countries that surround God’s people, many countries that tormented them in the past or are tormenting them during Jeremiah’s time. One of these countries is Moab.

Here’s the backstory.

Lot’s oldest daughter has a son. His name is Moab, and he becomes the father of the Moabites. Later it is the Moabites who hire Balaam to curse the people of Israel, but that backfires. Moab does this even though God told Moses to not harass or provoke the people of Moab.

Yet throughout the centuries the people of Moab repeatedly harassed the people of Israel. Along comes Jeremiah who prophesies against Moab. Everyone will come against Moab to destroy her.

Then in the middle of his prophecy, Jeremiah inserts a curious phrase, placing a curse on anyone who is lax in doing God’s work against Moab.

May we never be lax in doing God’s work. Click To Tweet

Don’t Be Lax in Doing God’s Work

Though this curse specifically relates to God’s goal of punishing Moab, I wonder if we can extrapolate a general principle for us today. Specifically, God is not pleased with us if we are lax about doing his work.

May we never displease God. May we never be lax about doing his work. Instead may we diligently do all he calls us to do. He can call us to action through Scripture, the written word of God. And he can call us to action through the Holy Spirit, the spoken word of God.

Though I don’t suspect God will call us to punish another nation, he does call us to promote the kingdom of God, in the spiritual sense. May we hear what he calls us to do, and may we follow through with all diligence.

May we never be lax in doing God’s work.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Jeremiah 46-48, and today’s post is on Jeremiah 48:10.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

What is the Error of Balaam?

We Will Do Well to Consider Balance Error So We Can Avoid It

As mentioned in the book of Jude (Jude 1:11), we’ve covered Cain’s path and Korah’s rebellion. Now we’ll address the error of Balaam.

Frankly, I’m perplexed as to what Balaam’s error was. In reading his story in Numbers, I see a man who affirmed God as “my God,” heard God’s voice, and obeyed God’s instructions. Indeed, Balaam has a better track record than I do.

Balaam Obeyed God

God told Balaam to not go and he stayed. Then God told him to go and he went—but God was angry because he did. Based on this, it wouldn’t be a stretch to conclude that God was bipolar. However, I reject that diagnosis as being inconsistent with God’s character.

Instead we must seek a different explanation.

Don’t Ask God Twice

I wonder if the first time that God said “no” should have been enough. Balaam had no need to ask again—unless he didn’t like the first answer. 

This might be like kids pestering their folks for something. Eventually the parents relent, not because they changed their mind, but because they want to teach their offspring a lesson about making good choices or learn what happens when they select bad paths.

Another consideration is the implication that Balaam was mixing his pursuit of God with divination, a practice the Bible forbids. Is this the error of Balaam?

This is a common practice today, where practitioners cherry-pick the choice parts of various religions or philosophies, forming their own belief system. Is there any expectation that their outcome will be different from Balaam’s? We will do well to consider this.

We need to carefully consider the error of Balaam to make sure we don’t repeat it. Click To Tweet

The End of Balaam

What happens to Balaam after this passage?

We don’t hear about him for a while, but when Joshua leads the people to take the land God promised them, we read that Balaam is among the casualties. We don’t know if he dies in battle or if they executed him later, but the book of Joshua says the Israelites put the sword to Balaam.

It adds that he practiced divination, perhaps explaining the reason for his death (Joshua 13:22).

We need to carefully consider the error of Balaam to make sure we don’t repeat it.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 22-24, and today’s post is on Numbers 22:12.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Prayer Tower: Thoughts about Seeking God in High Places

A Personal Essay About Encountering God, Prayer, and Hiding in a Prayer Tower

The afternoon assignment at a writers retreat is to take a walk and describe our observations. Leaving the rest of the group in search of some needed solitude, I come upon a sign that simply says, “Prayer Tower.” I can’t ignore the opportunity. Suddenly, my journey has added purpose.

I take a sharp left and begin my assent. A few steps, a landing, and then more stairs. Turn right, walk a bit, and climb some more, I wind my way up the hill.

There’s another landing and then a U-turn, followed by more walking and more stairs: fifty steps and counting; soon seventy-five gives way to one hundred.

What will I find? Am I climbing a stairway to heaven? One hundred and sixteen steps later, I reach my destination: a platform, presumably for prayer. A prayer tower. Panting, I pause to catch my breath.

The vista is grand, with the panorama of Lake Michigan, my favorite of the Great Lakes. I look west, with water as far as I can see; the far shore hides behind the horizon’s dip.

A few ships dot the distance before me. An occasional car announces its presence behind me. All around are tree-covered sand dunes, sprinkled with homes and a string of condominiums.

With winter giving way to spring, naked tree branches creak to a brisk breeze. The biting wind tightens the once warm skin of my face. Below me friends walk along the beach, next to the frigid waters with wind-swept waves.

Others, having grown tired or cold, are already retreating, seeking to recapture the warmth of inside.

The sight and sounds of birds, varieties mostly unknown to me, abound, too many to count. Gulls prevail with their plaintive caw, while a diligent woodpecker tap-tap-taps, either searching for food, forming a home, or seeking to attract a mate.

Gray skies, decorated with blustery clouds, complete the picture.

God’s nature surrounds me. His wind pushes against me. Only with commitment to my task do I stand firm against winter’s final onslaught. I stand in awe. I try to pray, but words allude me. Why do I need to climb a prayer tower to pray, anyway?

In the Bible Moses ascends Mount Sinai and God’s glory descends. There he encounters God’s power (Exodus 24:15-18).

Jacob dreams of a stairway connecting earth with heaven. Angels traverse it; God stands at the top. Jacob proclaims this awesome place as God’s house and the gate into heaven (Genesis 28:12-17).

Although encouraging, these verses, do not confirm that I need elevation to better connect with the Almighty.

In a less reassuring instance, Moses—denied entry into the Promised Land because of one act of disobedience—is told to climb mount Nebo. From there he sees in the distance what God is withholding from him. Then he dies (Deuteronomy 32:48-52 and Deuteronomy 34:1-6).

His mountain vantage doesn’t symbolize connection with God as much as punishment for sin and a lost reward.

Other biblical accounts point to elevation as a place of temptation.

From Leviticus to Amos, the “high places” (mentioned 59 times in the NIV) are usually a site for idol worship and heathen practices, providing an ongoing snare to God’s people, repeatedly distracting them from him.

Some kings remove the high places or at least try to diminish their use, only to have a future generation restore them.

The tower of Babel, intended as a monument that reaches up to the heavens isn’t an attempt to connect with God as much as an arrogant tribute to aggrandizement. God quickly ends their brash scheme (Genesis 11:3-9).

I can pray anytime, anywhere, and God hears me just fine. Click To Tweet

Balaam has his issues with altitude, as well. Although God prevents him from cursing Israel when atop various mountain vistas and thereby keeping him from earning the rich rewards he desires (Numbers 22-24), things don’t go well for Balaam.

A sword later ends his life, exacting God’s final punishment (Numbers 31:8). Jude labels this profit motive as the error of Balaam (Jude 1:11).

Jesus likewise encounters temptation in high places, with Satan twice attempting to use an elevated vantage to derail Jesus from his mission. Fortunately for us, Jesus prevails, and the enemy retreats (Luke 4:1-13).

Based on my quick review of what the Bible records about elevated places, it seems a prayer tower may not be the ideal place to connect with God. Yet here it is, and I stand atop it, seeking to do just that.

From my hilltop perspective, I don’t just see nature and friends. I also spot remnants of other activities. Bottles, mostly broken, suggest this place of prayer gives way to revelry in the nighttime hours.

Other trash is more disparaging. I see that SB climbed a tree to carve his “forever” love to ND. I try to not consider the ramifications any further. Suddenly I don’t feel quite so close to God. This prayer tower, this high place is as much hideout as haven.

Although I encounter God in the prayer tower, I pray little. But that’s okay. I can pray anytime, anywhere, and God hears me just fine. After all, he’s always with me (Psalm 73:23).

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Ungodly Men in the Church

The book of Jude—which I’ve blogged about quite a bit—addresses ungodly men in the church, not those outside the church.

Jude’s key passage is verse 11, where he compares ungodly men in the church to Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

Do not control sin, mix different religious ideas, and oppose God’s leaders. Click To Tweet

It’s noteworthy that each of these men has an overlooked connection with God, as do ungodly men in the church. Despite this, it’s their failings for which they are noted. But even in these, we may be looking at things too simplistically. Upon deeper consideration:

These examples give us pause. The ungodly in the church: do not control sin, mix different religious ideas, and oppose God’s leaders.

Given this, we have much to guard against, less we become the very people in the church that Jude warns us against.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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The Fallacy of Syncretism

Although many of the mentions in the Bible of Balaam are negative, in the primary account of him, he seems to basically be a good, God-fearing guy. His issue is syncretism.

Balaam’s issue wasn’t his connection with God, but instead his attempt to meld the God of the Bible with other, contrary beliefs, in this case sorcery and divination. These are incompatible with God.

This practice continues today. It’s called syncretism, the fusion of differing belief systems or an attempt to reconcile religions. Consider:

  • God and Hinduism
  • God and Confucius
  • God and Buddha
  • God and voodoo
  • God and crystals
  • perhaps even God and Yoga
  • or what about God and prosperity?

But God is a jealous God. He doesn’t want to be shared; he doesn’t want his peoples’ attention split between himself and someone or something else. He wants all of us, undivided and undistracted.

It is only human arrogance that suggests otherwise; this is the fallacy of syncretism.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 22-24, and today’s post is on Numbers 24:1.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

More Thoughts on Balaam

In reading the story of Balaam, it is difficult to see what he may have done wrong. Indeed, based on this record alone, he seems like an upstanding guy. Therefore, we can only speculate as to what his error might have been.

However, there are several other references to Balaam in the Bible. These all portray him in a negative light. Consider that Balaam:

  • Practiced divination (and was ultimately killed for doing so).
  • Taught and advised Israel’s enemies on how to distract them from God and sin against him.
  • Was willing to do the wrong thing, as long as there was remuneration.
  • Tried to curse Israel, which God turned it into a blessing. (This would explain why the king gave him three chances to issue a curse and why the king blamed God for Balaam not receiving his promised reward).

This certainly provides a different view of Balaam. Apparently he wasn’t so good after all. As such, he exemplifies an ungodly man within the church, just as Jude said.

[Numbers 22-24, Joshua 13:22, Revelation 2:14, Numbers 31:16, 2 Peter 2:15, Joshua 24:9-10, Deuteronomy 23:4-5]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Cain, Balaam, and Korah

In Jude’s brief exposition of ungodly people in the church, he evokes three Old Testament characters: Cain, Balaam, and Korah. Cain, we know to be a murderer; Balaam, greedy; and Korah, rebellious. 

However, it is simplistic to see them merely as evil men, for they also had an air of godliness to them, seeking God or having a connection to him.

It is astonishing, but each of these men did things that were seemingly right and godly. Despite that, the results of their actions went badly awry. The outcome renders them as emblematic of ungodly people in the church.

As we study what they did, we might find that we may be a lot closer to falling into their errors than we would normally dare to think possible.

Carefully consider then, the lives of Cain, Balaam, and Korah.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is from Philemon and Jude, and today’s post is on Jude 1:11.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Biblical References in Jude

As covered a few weeks ago, the book of Jude contains three cryptic references to ancient non-biblical texts. In addition, Jude also includes references to biblical accounts.

The first is in verse 6, where Jude mentions angels who abandoned their role and their home. This is likely a nod to Genesis 6:1-4, which talks about the son’s of God marrying the daughters of man. That is a bit perplexing itself, but at least it is the Bible.

Alternately, some scholars think Jude is referring to an ancient non-biblical text, The Book of Enoch. I opt for Genesis 6.

Another non-biblical reference is found in verse 17-18. Here Jude cites other apostles who warn that in the last days there will be scoffers who follow ungodly desires.

Although the New Testament of the Bible did not exist at the time of Jude’s writing, he may have been privy to Paul’s and Peter’s letters or more likely, he simply heard them—or heard of them—issuing this warning.

Jude’s words are recorded almost verbatim by Peter in 2 Peter 3:3, as well as being alluded to in 2 Peter 2:1-3. Likewise, Paul, in his letters to Timothy, covers this theme in 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, and 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

Last, and perhaps most significant, reference to CainBalaam, and, Korah, which I will address in future posts.

Jude was certainly well-read and well-informed, peppering his letters with many references and illustrations. Though they would have been helpful to his audience then, that is not so much the case today. Even so, Jude’s central warning to guard against ungodly people in the church is well founded—and timeless.

[Jude 1:6, Genesis 6:1-4, Jude 1:17-18, 2 Peter 3:32 Peter 2:1-3, Timothy references]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.