Category: Bible Study

Balak and Balaam: The Bible Characters

Balak and Balaam: The Bible Characters

in Bible Study on August 24, 2020

If you have ever scanned through Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Asia in Rv 2-3, you may have come across these confusing words spoken to the Church in Pergamum in Rv 2:14;

Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.

Who are these characters Balaam and Balak? These historical figures did not exist at the time of Revelation’s writing, but actually lived around 1500 years prior. Let’s take a look at their story in Numbers.

Who were Balak and Balaam?

Balak and Balaam are the historical characters.

In Numbers 22, we see that Balak is the son of Zippor, the king over the gentile nation of Moab.

At this point in time, the Israelites had fled slavery in Egypt and moved through many territories in their journey through the desert to reach the Promised Land. All the while, totally defeating the foreign gentiles that lived in these territories along the way. In this chapter, they had just camped in the plains of Moabs after defeating the King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan in Numbers 21.

Balak and the Moabites, reasonably so, are terrified of these Hebrews. As any responsible prince would do, Balak sends messengers to a sorcerer, Balaam, to place a curse on these threatening people of Israel. Interestingly, although Balaam is a gentile sorcerer, he speaks with the God of Israel.

Balaam’s Talking Donkey

Hebrews are considered as the threatening people of Israel. So Balak tries to curse them.

God comes to Balaam to tell him not put a curse on the Israelites, and so at first Balaam dismisses Balak’s request. However Balak persists, and God allows Balaam to go with them, but instructs Balaam to only do what He tells him.

When Balaam is on his way to Moab, an angel with a sword blocks the road. Balaam’s trusty steed, a donkey, can see the angel and continuously moves off the road. However, Balaam cannot see this holy roadblock and beats his donkey three times in confusion and frustration. Finally the Lord saves the poor donkey from animal abuse and opens her mouth to rebuke her owner! After that, God opens Balaam’s eyes to see the angel, who reminds Balaam once again to go with the Balak’s men but only do what God says.

Balaam’s Failed Curses

When Balam and Balak meet, Balaam utters five oracles from God, however, each time instead of cursing the Israelites, he blesses them instead. The oracles praise Israel and its people, prophesies of a heroic ruler and the destruction of Israel’s enemies. While Balak gets angrier each time Balaam blesses the people, Balaam reminds him that he can only do what the Lord tells him. After that each of the men went their separate ways.

The Enticing Moabite Women

At some point, Israeli men had relationships with Moabit women.

It seems like Balaam kept his word to God, and did the right thing in a tough situation. And the Israelites looked as though set up for success in their next campaign against Moab. But for some reason, the events turned south.

In Numbers 25, we see that the Israeli men started engaging in relations with the Moabite women, who also goaded them into worshipping and sacrificing to their Moabite gods. Again, the Israelites broke the First Commandment of the Ten; “do not worship other gods before me.” The worst offense occurred when an Israelite man brought a Midianite woman home to his family while the whole assembly was weeping because of this very situation. Imagine how that ‘first time meeting the parents’ went.

However, did this sexual immorality between the Moabite and Midianite women and Israeli men simply result from the irrationality of star-crossed lovers…the origin of the age-old Romeo and Juliet arc? No. It was all according to a plan.

Balaam’s Plot against Israel

After the Israelites reconciled with God once again, God told them to take vengeance on the Midianites. One may read with surprise that, in Num 31:8, Balaam was killed along with Midianites five kings. What happened?

As we read on, we see that God asks why the Midianite women were spared, when they followed Balaam’s advice to turn the Israelites away from Him. Thus we can conclude that while Balaam at first blessed the Israelites, he ultimately taught Balak the way to curse the Israelites, as mentioned in our first reference, Rv 2:14; to have the women seduce the Israelite men.

As such, before praising the name of Balaam and naming your next child after him, an important takeaway from this story is to always understand the context of the Bible, and to read the whole story. Would we have came to the conclusion that Balaam, in fact, was a man who opposed God instead of obeyed Him? Not if we fell asleep from Numbers 26-30, which recorded the account of the census and a repetition of the laws.

A question still remains; why would Jesus warn the early Christian church of Pergamum, established a millennia and a half later, about the teachings of Balaam, a man long dead? We must conclude that there is a deeper meaning in this letter than meets the eye, and in all the seven letters to all these seven churches in Rv 2-3 as well. Together let’s pray for God’s will in our lives to reveal to us the true understanding of Revelation, the promise that has been left to believers today.

Story of Rahab: Lessons Learned

Story of Rahab: Lessons Learned

in Bible Study on August 21, 2020

Who is Rahab in the Bible?

Though the story of Rahab and the two spies may not be as well-known as the other stories about the Israelites’ journey to Canaan, it still plays a significant role in determining the victory of the chosen people in conquering the promised land. Moreover, through this story, we’re also able to take away many great lessons about faith that are applicable to our lives today.

The story of Rahab (Jos 2) takes place during the time when Joshua was the leader of the Israelites. During this time, Joshua sent out two spies to explore the city of Jericho, the first city in Canaan that the Israelites planned to conquer. So the two spies went out and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab.

Knowing that the Israelites were spying out his land, the king of Jericho requested Rahab to turn in the men. However, instead of obeying the king, Rahab hid the two spies under the flax on her roof, and lied that these men already left and she had no idea where they went.

Risking her life

Story of Rahab teaches lot of important lessons that enhances our learning through the historic time.

As for the reason why she was willing to risk her life to do such a thing, Rahab explained in her conversation with the two spies:

“We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.”

Just as she wished, the men agreed to repay her kindness by sparing her family’s life when the Israelites took over Jericho. As a sign of their promise, they gave her a red cord, instructed her to tie it to her window, so that the Israelite soldiers would be able to see it and not harm the people inside the house.

It turns out that the Israelites were able to take over the city of Jericho later on, and all of the people inside the city were killed. However, because in the story of Rahab, he had previously helped the two spies, her whole family was saved and included among the Israelite community at that time.

God Always Fulfills His Promises

Conquering and fighting over the land is not a common event, but god's own play.

The Israelites conquering the promised land is not a random event that just so happened to take place, but it was all part of God’s covenant with His people since the time of Abraham.

In Gn 22:17, God promised Abraham that his descendants will be “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. [They] will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through [them] all nations on earth will be blessed.” God granted these blessings to Abraham and his descendants because Abraham had obeyed His commands and kept His laws faithfully (Gn 22:18, Gn 26:5.)

The cascade of events that follows serves to make this promise a reality. Though it took over 400 years between the time of Abraham to the time of Moses and Joshua when the Israelites finally stepped foot on the promised land, God never forgot a single word he spoke to Abraham.

Just as He had promised, God guided the Israelites and helped them gain victory in all the battles they took part in. If it wasn’t because of God’s guidance, such a small and weak group of people would never have been able to defeat such powerful nations.

God, Joshua and the Promised Land

God, Joshua and the Promised Land

in Bible Study on July 3, 2020

Background of Joshua

Joshua was born during a time in biblical history when God’s people were enslaved in Egypt under Pharaoh. He was a slave until he and the Israelites were set free and guided out by Moses. Thus, he shared in all the events that took place in Egypt including the 10 plagues, the Passover, and the parting of the Red Sea. After Moses’ death, he leads the Israelites into the Promised Land.

As God Guided the Israelites

Joshua helped lead the Israelites to victory in their first battle against the Amalekites right after they had passed through the Red Sea. This was the beginning of his faithfulness and obedience to God and Moses, God’s chosen messenger. Joshua also shared in the events that took place when the Israelites were in the desert on the way to the Promised Land, Canaan. Along with the Israelites J ate the manna that came from heaven, drank the water from the rock, was guided by the clouds by day and the fiery pillars by night.

joshua promised land

Joshua Remained Obedient to God

However, J did not take part in the worship of the golden calf. While the Israelites were creating the idol he diligently waited for Moses to descend from Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments. Furthermore, Joshua would stay outside a tent known as the “tent of meeting” where Moses would meet with God while the rest of the Israelites stayed outside their own tents to watch the event. He was still outside the “tent of meeting” even after Moses had left. The Israelites faced the greatest challenge of their lives as they prepared to finally enter the promised land.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9, NIV