The Preacher’s Three Forbidden Words

There are three words that a preacher, or anyone who is sharing the message of Jesus Christ, should never use. First of all words are very powerful things. We know this because Jesus Christ is the Word. The Apostle John states this unequivocally right off the bat in his gospel. John 1:1  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is a phenomenal statement. Largely because the first words of the Bible make it clear that God spoke and all creation came into existence. It came into existence by God speaking the Word. The word is Jesus. Words are a fertile force of creation and communication.

That is why when people are speaking with one another the words used should be chosen with some foresight and not haphazardly. Use the wrong words and one’s communication can be harmful. Or in the very least confounding. The point of communication is to project ideas. If one merely babbles there is not much likelihood of understanding.

So, what are the three words that should absolutely not be used when sharing the good news of Jesus Christ? Let me state it like this: I will speak three sentences and you tell me the words to which I refer. Listen to them with a feeling projecting excitement.

“In Luke 7:14-15 Jesus comes across a funeral procession, a mother is going to bury her only son and Jesus stops and raises the young man from the dead. Isn’t that just incredible?”

“In John chapter 3 Jesus is taking with Nicodemus and tells him that ‘you must be born again.’ What a fantastic concept for this Jewish ruler to comprehend.”

“In Mark 4:37 Jesus is with His disciples in a boat crossing a lake and a storm developed and threatens to capsize them and Jesus speaks and the wind and the waves cease. Wow, isn’t that just unbelievable!”

I hear these kinds of statements with alarming frequency. A preacher I sat under for some years, who frankly, I feel was a gifted expositor of the Scriptures, but never-the-less, often used the word “unbelievable” which seemed to me to be completely contradictory to the message he was attempting to convey. If you want someone to be convinced of the message you are promoting you don’t then say it is unbelievable, do you? Neither do you tell the listener, “hey, these thing I’m telling you are incredible”, and expect to encourage belief?

The thing is, all three of these words have a seriously negative connotation.

Incredible means “not credible” or inconceivable, preposterous, ridiculous.

Unbelievable means “not to be believed, implausible, impossible, improbable, inconceivable.”

The word at the root of Fantastic is “fantasy”, i.e. strange, imaginary!

They all have at their root a concept based in the irrational and the made-up.

Sure, the colloquial usage of language in our so-called “modern era” can dictate that all three of these words, incredible, unbelievable, and fantastic, are often use as a sense of wonder or amazement. One hears TV news readers and commentators use them an awful lot! But my contention is that when the message of salvation is being discussed and you are attempting to impart some life-altering truth, any hint that the things you are saying are really some far-fetched, bizarre concept will impede and sabotage your goal.

I’m just saying there are already tremendous hindrances in the comprehension of the wonderful and awesome message of God’s plan of salvation which required Jesus to obey His Father in heaven to willingly submit to the cross and be tortured and killed as a sacrificial Lamb in order to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind, that this amazing, astonishing, astounding, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, inspiring, magnificent, majestic, miraculous, spectacular, staggering, stunning, wonderful, and wondrous message should not be subverted by using misleading words. I’m not saying that God can’t overcome any such obstacle. It just seems to me that if you are in a position to preach the Word of God and desire people to believe in Jesus Christ to be saved, and to believe that the Scriptures are the real and true Word of God as they indeed claim, you don’t want to contaminate your messages with words like “unbelievable”. Food for thought.

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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A Lasting Legacy of Handel’s Messiah

Two favorite Christmas traditions of mine are 1) read Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis, Easton Press, 1992; and 2) listen to Handel’s Messiah. Neither of which I actually did this past Christmas. Willis’ Doomsday Book is a SciFi, time travel novel involving a history student attending Oxford University around 2050 who wants to travel back in time to explore 14th century English society in the Oxford environs just prior to the local outbreak of the Black Death, which occurred about 1348. And also attend a local celebration of the 1320’s Christmas Eve mass. The tale explores to a marvelous degree what it could have been like to live 700 years ago. My second time reading it was just after the outbreak of Covid-19 in the USA, which added another level of being absorbed into the story.

As for the oratorio of Handel’s Messiah, what can be explained? It is one of the finest works of composition Western Civilization has produced. I indulged my love for this work by buying, first, the book The Making of Handel’s Messiah, by Andrew Gant, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2020. And after finishing that, purchasing the book, George Frideric Handel, by Paul Henry Lang, W.W. Norton & Company, 1966. The former volume is a slim, concise but learned description of the events surrounding the oratorio’s composition. Highly recommended. The second is a scholarly work, more textbook than light reading, but an important description of the man and his times and musical experience.

And so it occurred to me that of all the fame and acclaim Handel’s Messiah has earned since its initial performance in 1742, one of its most important effects concerns Biblical prophesy. Namely the statement Jesus makes as recorded by Matthew, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Mat. 24:14) It struck me that one of most powerful ways the Gospel is preached to the world has been through the performance of the Messiah in the last centuries.

Just take a look at the the libretto of the piece, furnished to Handel by Charles Jennens. Fifty-three sections of text all pulled from the Bible. And all describing the Gospel in detail. The creation of man, his fall from grace which created an unbridgeable chasm between man and God, the effects of sin on all cultures, the solution entailing God incarnate in Jesus Christ who became the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and finally the resurrection of believers to the glory of eternal life.

If this masterpiece did not garner the praise that history has shown it would merely have been relegated to the shelves where millions of other “religious” works have collected dust. But something remarkable occurred with this Handel opus. Not very long after its first public performance, British society started annual performances. The result, if we fast forward to the 21st century, is that every Christmas the Messiah is performed around the world. The ironic thing to me is that the odds are the majority of performers of this piece are not believers! They are simply lovers of music who enjoy playing or singing a most remarkable piece of music, that just so happens describes in detail what the Gospel (and the Christmas season) is really all about. G.F. Handel’s most famous work is being used as an instrument to spread the Word of God among the world. As the prophet Isaiah states in the Spirit, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Is. 55:11)

[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]

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C.S. Lewis and The Temptation of Eve

We read in Genesis of the temptation of Eve and Adam and their failing to obey the one and only rule that God gave them, and we wonder how such a thing could have happened when they had everything they needed. C.S.Lewis has written a parallel in his book Perelandra (1943), the second of the three books in his Space Trilogy. In pages 91 through 99 we read an exchange between the evil one and the innocent and we can see just how the expert at disingenuity and fabrication and lies can deceive so appealingly. I think everyone should read this. I include it below without comment. You’ll make sense of who the characters are easily enough.
“It is a great branching out,” it was saying. “This making of story
or poetry about things that might be but are not. If you shrink back
from it, are you not drawing back from the fruit that is offered you?”
“It is not from the making a story that I shrink back, O Stranger,”
she answered, “but from this one story that you have put into my
head. I can make myself stories about my children or the King. I can
make it that the fish fly and the land beasts swim. But if I try to make
the story about living on Fixed Land I do not know how to make it
about Maleldil. For if I make it that He has changed His command,
that will not go. And if I make it that we are living there against His
command, that is like making the sky all black and the water so that
we cannot drink it and the air so that we cannot breathe it. But also,
I do not see what is the pleasure of trying to make these things.”
“To make you wiser, older,” said Weston’s body.
“Do you know for certain that it will do that?” she asked.
“Yes, for certain,” it replied. ‘That is how the women of my world
have become so great and so beautiful.”
“Do not listen to him,” broke in Ransom; “send him away. Do not
hear what he says, do not think of it.”
She turned to Ransom for the first time. There had been some very
slight change in her face since he had last seen her. It was not sad,
nor deeply bewildered, but the hint of something precarious had
increased. On the other hand she was clearly pleased to see him,
though surprised at his interruption; and her first words revealed
that her failure to greet him at his arrival had resulted from her nev-
er having envisaged the possibility of a conversation between more
than two speakers. And throughout the rest of their talk, her igno-
rance of the technique of general conversation gave a curious and
disquieting quality to the whole scene. She had no notion of how
to glance rapidly from one face to another or to disentangle two
remarks at once. Sometimes she listened wholly to Ransom, some-
times wholly to the other, but never to both.
“Why do you start speaking before this man has finished, Piebald?”
she inquired. “How do they do in your world where you are many
and more than two must often be together? Do they not talk in turns,
or have you an art to understand even when all speak together? I am
not old enough for that.”
“I do not want you to hear him at all,” said Ransom. “He is . . .” and
then he hesitated. ‘Bad’, ‘liar’, ‘enemy’, none of these words would, as
yet, have any meaning for her. Racking his brain he thought of their
previous conversation about the great eldil who had held on to the
old good and refused the new one. Yes; that would be her only ap-
proach to the idea of badness. He was just about to speak but it was
too late. Weston’s voice anticipated him.
“This Piebald,” it said, “does not want you to hear me, because he
wants to keep you young. He does not want you to go on to the new
fruits that you have never tasted before.”
“But how could he want to keep me younger?”
“Have you not seen already,” said Weston’s body, “that Piebald is
one who always shrinks back from the wave that is coming towards
us and would like, if he could, to bring back the wave that is past?
In the very first hour of his talking with you, did he not betray this?
He did not know that all was new since Maleldil became a man and
that now all creatures with reason will be men. You had to teach him
this. And when he had learned it he did not welcome it. He was sor-
ry that there would be no more of the old furry people. He would
bring back that old world if he could. And when you asked him to
teach you Death, he would not. He wanted you to remain young, not
to learn Death. Was it not he who first put into your mind the very
thought that it was possible not to desire the wave that Maleldil was
rolling towards us; to shrink so much that you would cut off your
arms and legs to prevent it coming?”
“You mean he is so young?”
“He is what in my world we call Bad,” said Weston’s body. “One
who rejects the fruit he is given for the sake of the fruit he expected
or the fruit he found last time.”
“We must make him older, then,” said the Lady, and though she
did not look at Ransom, all the Queen and Mother in her were re-
vealed to him and he knew that she wished him, and all things, in-
finitely well. And he — he could do nothing. His weapon had been
knocked out of his hand.
“And will you teach us Death?” said the Lady to Weston’s shape,
where it stood above her.
“Yes,” it said, “it is for this that I came here, that you may have
Death in abundance. But you must be very courageous.”
“Courageous. What is that?”
“It is what makes you to swim on a day when the waves are so
great and swift that something inside you bids you to stay on land.”
“I know. And those are the best days of all for swimming.”
“Yes. But to find Death, and with Death the real oldness and the
strong beauty and the uttermost branching out, you must plunge
into things greater than waves.”
“Go on. Your words are like no other words that I have ever heard.
They are like the bubble breaking on the tree. They make me think
of — of — I do not know what they make me think of.”
“I will speak greater words than these; but I must wait till you are
“Make me older.”
“Lady, Lady,” broke in Ransom, “will not Maleldil make you older in
His own time and His own way, and will not that be far better?” Wes-
ton’s face did not turn in his direction either at this point or at any
other time during the conversation, but his voice, addressed wholly
to the Lady, answered Ransom’s interruption.
“You see?” it said. “He himself, though he did not mean nor wish
to do so, made you see a few days ago that Maleldil is beginning to
teach you to walk by yourself, without holding you by the hand. That
was the first branching out. When you came to know that, you were
becoming really old. And since then Maleldil has let you learn much
— not from His own voice, but from mine. You arc becoming your
own. That is what Maleldil wants you to do. That is why He has let
you be separated from the King and even, in a way, from Himself. His
way of making you older is to make you make yourself older. And yet
this Piebald would have you sit still and wait for Maleldil to do it all.”
“What must we do to Piebald to make him older?” said the Lady.
“I do not think you can help him till you are older yourself,” said
the voice of Weston. “You cannot help anyone yet. You are as a tree
without fruit.”
“It is very true,” said the Lady.
“Go on.”
“Then listen,” said Weston’s body. “Have you understood that to
wait for Maleldil’s voice when Maleldil wishes you to walk on your
own is a kind of disobedience?”
“I think I have.”
“The wrong kind of obeying itself can be a disobeying.”
The Lady thought for a few moments and then clapped her hands.
“I see,” she said, “I see! Oh, how old you make me. Before now I have
chased a beast for mirth. And it has understood and run away from
me. If it had stood still and let me catch it, that would have been a
sort of obeying, but not the best sort.”
“You understand very well. When you are fully grown you will be
even wiser and more beautiful than the women of my own world.
And you see that it might be so with Maleldil’s biddings.”
“I think I do not see quite clearly.”
“Are you certain that He really wishes to be always obeyed?”
“How can we not obey what we love?”
“The beast that ran away loved you.”
“I wonder,” said the Lady, “if that is the same. The beast knows
very well when I mean it to run away and when I want it to come
to me. But Maleldil has never said to us that any word or work of
His was a jest. How could our Beloved need to jest or frolic as we
do? He is all a burning joy and a strength. It is like thinking that He
needed sleep or food.”
“No, it would not be a jest. That is only a thing like it, not the thing
itself. But could the taking away of your hand from His — the full
growing up — the walking in your own way — could that ever be
perfect unless you had, if only once, seemed to disobey Him?”
“How could one seem to disobey?”
“By doing what He only seemed to forbid. There might be a com-
manding which He wished you to break.”
“But if He told us we were to break it, then it would be no com-
mand. And if He did not, how should we know?”
“How wise you are growing, beautiful one,” said Weston’s mouth.
“No. If He told you to break what He commanded, it would be no
true command, as you have seen. For you are right. He makes no
jests. A real disobeying, a real branching out, this is what He secretly
longs for: secretly, because to tell you would spoil all.”
“I begin to wonder,” said the Lady after a pause, “whether you are
so much older than I. Surely what you are saying is like fruit with no
taste! How can I step out of His will save into something that cannot
be wished? Shall I start trying not to love Him — or the King — or
the beasts? It would be like trying to walk on water or swim through
islands. Shall I try not to sleep or to drink or to laugh? I thought your
words had a meaning. But now it seems they have none. To walk out
of His will is to walk into nowhere.”
“That is true of all His commands except one.”
“But can that one be different?”
“Nay, you see of yourself that it is different. These other commands
of His — to love, to sleep, to fill this world with your children —
you see for yourself that they are good. And they are the same in all
worlds. But the command against living on the Fixed Island is not
so. You have already learned that He gave no such command to my
world. And you cannot see where the goodness of it is. No wonder.
If it were really good, must He not have commanded it to all worlds
alike? For how could Maleldil not command what was good? There
is no good in it. Maleldil. Himself is showing you that, this moment,
through your own reason. It is mere command. It is forbidding for
the mere sake of forbidding.”
“But why?”
“In order that you may break it. What other reason can there be?
It is not good. It is not the same for other worlds. It stands between
you and all settled life, all command of your own days. Is not Maleldil
showing you as plainly as He can that it was set up as a test, as a
great wave you have to go over, that you may become really old, re-
ally separate from Him.”
“But if this concerns me so deeply, why does He put none of this
into my mind? It is all coming from you. Stranger. There is no whis-
per, even, of the Voice saying Yes to your words.”
“But do you not see that there cannot be? He longs — oh, how
greatly He longs to see His creature become fully itself, to stand up
in its own reason and its own courage even against Him. But how
can He tell it to do this? That would spoil all. Whatever it did after
that would only be one more step taken with Him. This is the one
thing of all the things He desires in which He must have no finger.
Do you think He is not weary of seeing nothing but Himself in all
that He has made? If that contented Him, why should He create at
all? To find the Other — the thing whose will is no longer His, that
is Maleldil’s desire.”
“If I could but know this—”
“He must not tell you. He cannot tell you. The nearest He can
come to telling you is to let some other creature tell it for Him. And
behold. He has done so. Is it for nothing, or without His will, that I
have journeyed through Deep Heaven to teach you what He would
have you know but must not teach you Himself?”
“Lady,” said Ransom, “if I speak, will you hear me?”
“Gladly, Piebald.”
“This man has said that the law against living on the Fixed Island
is different from the other Laws, because it is not the same for all
worlds and because we cannot see the goodness in it. And so far he
says well. But then he says that it is thus different in order that you
may disobey it. But there might be another reason.”
“Say it. Piebald.”
“I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might
be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him
is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content
with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not
only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obey-
ing unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the
only reason? When we spoke last you said that if you told the beasts
to walk on their heads, they would delight to do so. So I know that
you understand well what I am saying.”
“Oh, brave Piebald,” said the Green Lady, “this is the best you have
said yet. This makes me older far: yet it does not feel like the oldness
this other is giving me. Oh, how well I see it! We cannot walk out of
Maleldil’s will: but He has given us a way to walk out of our will. And
there could be no such way except a command like this. Out of our
own will. It is like passing out through the world’s roof into Deep
Heaven. All beyond is Love Himself. I knew there was joy in looking
upon the Fixed Island and laying down all thought of ever living
there, but I did not till now understand.” Her face was radiant as she
spoke, but then a shade of bewilderment crossed it.
“Piebald,” she said, “if you are so young, as this other says, how do
you know these things?”
“He says I am young, but I say not.” The voice of Weston’s face
spoke suddenly, and it was louder and deeper than before and less
like Weston’s voice. “I am older than he,” it said, “and he dare not
deny it. Before the mothers of the mothers of his mother were con-
ceived, I was already older than he could reckon. I have been with
Maleldil in Deep Heaven where he never came and heard the eter-
nal councils. And in the order of creation I am greater than he, and
before me he is of no account. Is it not so?” The corpse-like face did
not even now turn towards him, but the speaker and the Lady both
seemed to wait for Ransom to reply. The falsehood which sprang to
his mind died on his lips. In that air, even when truth seemed fatal,
only truth would serve. Licking his lips and choking down a feeling
of nausea, he answered:
“In our world to be older is not always to be wiser.”
“Look on him,” said Weston’s body to the Lady, “consider how
white his cheeks have turned and how his forehead is wet. You have
not seen such things before: you will see them more often hereafter.
It is what happens — it is the beginning of what happens — to little
creatures when they set themselves against great ones.”
An exquisite thrill of fear travelled along Ransom’s spine. What
saved him was the face of the Lady. Untouched by the evil so close
to her, removed as it were ten years’ journey deep within the region
of her own innocence, and by that innocence at once so protected
and so endangered, she looked up at the standing Death above her,
puzzled indeed, but not beyond the bounds of cheerful curiosity,
and said: “But he was right. Stranger, about this forbidding. It is you
who need to be made older. Can you not see?”
“I have always seen the whole whereof he sees but the half. It is
most true that Maleldil has given you a way of walking out of your
own will — but out of your deepest will.”
“And what is that?”
“Your deepest will, at present, is to obey Him — to be always as
you are now, only His beast or His very young child. The way out
of that is hard. It was made hard that only the very great, the very
wise, the very courageous should dare to walk in it, to go on — on
out of this smallness in which you now live through the dark wave
of His forbidding, into the real life. Deep Life, with all its joy and
splendour and hardness.”
“Listen, Lady,” said Ransom. “There is something he is not telling
you. All this that we are now talking has been talked before. The
thing he wants you to try has been tried before. Long ago, when our
world began, there was only one man and one woman in it, as you
and the King are in this. And there once before he stood, as he stands
now, talking to the woman. He had found her alone as he has found
you alone. And she listened, and did the thing Maleldil had forbidden
her to do. But no joy and splendour came of it. What came of it I
cannot tell you because you have no image of it in your mind. But all
love was troubled and made cold, and Maleldil’s voice became hard
to hear so that wisdom grew little among them; and the woman was
against the man and the mother against the child; and when they
looked to eat there was no fruit on their trees, and hunting for food
took all their time, so that their life became narrower, not wider.”
“He has hidden the half of what happened,” said Weston’s corpse-
like mouth. “Hardness came out of it but also splendour. They made
with their own hands mountains higher than your Fixed Island. They
made for themselves Floating Islands greater than yours which they
could move at will through the ocean faster than any bird can fly.
Because there was not always food enough, a woman could give the
only fruit to her child or her husband and eat death instead — could
give them all, as you in your little narrow life of playing and kissing
and riding fishes have never done, nor shall do till you break the
commandment. Because knowledge was harder to find, those few
who found it became beautiful and excelled their fellows as you ex-
cel the beasts; and thousands were striving for their love.”
“I think I will go to sleep now,” said the Lady quite suddenly. Up to
this point she had been listening to Weston’s body with open mouth
and wide eyes, but as he spoke of the women with the thousands of
lovers she yawned, with the unconcealed and unpremeditated yawn
of a young cat.
“Not yet,” said the other. “There is more. He has not told you
that it was this breaking of the commandment which brought
Maleldil to our world and because of which He was made man. He
dare not deny it.”
“Do you say this. Piebald?” asked the Lady.
Ransom was sitting with his fingers locked so tightly that his
knuckles were white. The unfairness of it all was wounding him like
barbed wire. Unfair … . unfair. How could Maleldil expect him to
fight against this, to fight with every weapon taken from him, forbid –
den to lie and yet brought to places where truth seemed fatal? It
was unfair! A sudden impulse of hot rebellion arose in him. A second
later, doubt, like a huge wave, came breaking over him. How if the
enemy were right after all? Felix peccatum Adae. Even the Church
would tell him that good came of disobedience in the end. Yes, and
it was true too that he. Ransom, was a timid creature, a man who
shrank back from new and hard things. On which side, after all, did
the temptation lie? Progress passed before his eyes in a great mo-
mentary vision: cities, armies, tall ships, and libraries and fame, and
the grandeur of poetry spurting like a fountain out of the labours
and ambitions of men. Who could be certain that Creative Evolu-
tion was not the deepest truth? From all sorts of secret crannies in
his own mind whose very existence he had never before suspected,
something wild and heady and delicious began to rise, to pour itself
towards the shape of Weston. ‘It is a spirit, it is a spirit,’ said this inner
voice, ‘and you are only a man. It goes on from century to century.
You are only a man.’
“Do you say this. Piebald?” asked the Lady a second time. The spell
was broken.
“I will tell you what I say,” answered Ransom, jumping to his feet.
“Of course good came of it. Is Maleldil a beast that we can stop His
path, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whatever you do. He will
make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you
had obeyed Him. That is lost for ever. The first King and first Mother
of our world did the forbidden thing, and He brought good of it in
the end. But what they did was not good, and what they lost we
have not seen. And there were some to whom no good came nor
ever will come.” He turned to the body of Weston. “You,” he said, “tell
her all. What good came to you? Do you rejoice that Maleldil became
a man? Tell her of your joys, and of what profit you had when you
made Maleldil and death acquainted.”
In the moment that followed this speech two things happened
that were utterly unlike terrestrial experience. The body that had
been Weston’s threw up its head and opened its mouth and gave
a long melancholy howl like a dog; and the Lady lay down, wholly
unconcerned, and closed her eyes and was instantly asleep.

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Balaam the Seer Sees The Star of Bethlehem

Numbers 24:1-2 and 15-25
“24:2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him.
24:16 “The oracle of him who hears the words of God, And knows the knowledge of the Most High, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered.
24:17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.
24:18 “Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly.
24:19 “One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.”
24:20 And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first of the nations, But his end shall be destruction.”
24:21 And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, “Your dwelling place is enduring, And your nest is set in the cliff.
24:22 “Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; How long will Asshur keep you captive?”
24:23 Then he took up his discourse and said, “Alas, who can live except God has ordained it?
24:24 “But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, And they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber; So they also will come to destruction.”
24:25 Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way.”
quote per NASB 1995

I was just reading in the book of Numbers, chapter 24 about the heathen seer/prophet/wizard, Balaam, whom Balak, king of Moab, hired to curse Israel just prior to Joshua entering the Promised Land to conquer the nations dwelling there. And the commentary I’m using to accompany my reading, Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1, The Pentateuch 1, has a marvelous treatise on the fourth and final prophesy Balaam gives. I’ve attached a copy of the commentary in full below for your pleasure, and so you don’t have to scour the web to find it. It’s a marvelous read. Note: If the Hebrew letters don’t display correctly below in this blog you can download the font “SBL Hebrew” (labeled True Type Font file, v1.56a Build 016, updated 12/15/2010 which is the first one listed), from Also, the Greek font is here: if you need it.

The pagan prophet Balaam was from Assyria, and was supposedly of first class quality when it came to his “seer-ship.” He didn’t work cheaply but must have furnished very good results in his “occultist arts.” And he apparently did have his standards, when God initially told him not to accept the contract from the king of Moab, he acquiesced without a murmer. At least the first and second and third time the Moabite envoys negotiated with him. But finally on their fourth meeting God “relented” on the condition he would speak only what God told him. And just in case on the trip to Moab he had any second thoughts about not making this a lucrative venture by saying whatever he wanted God had Balaam’s donkey talk to him 2. But I’ll let you read all about it below. It is amazing who God can use to accomplish His mission, even a heathen prophet who “believed” in all the gods of the surrounding nations. Keil has some great insights concerning this episode.

However I’m most interested in Balaak’s fourth prophesy which, under compulsion, the vision he described to king Balak about Moab’s future, including a star that would come from Jacob. The message was a foretelling of the future, not only of his own (Balak’s) nation, but of the unavoidable outcome of any nation that sought Israel’s demise, including the destruction of the prophet’s own people! What caught my eye was the insight of a particular aspect of the seer’s vision [which, by the way, was obtained through the direct input of God Himself, (see verse 2.), and that is the reference to a star. Is it the Star of Bethlehem? Here’s the passage followed by the commentary. Read for yourself:

v17 “I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near;
A star shall come forth from Jacob,
A scepter shall rise from Israel,
And shall crush through the forehead of Moab,
And tear down all the sons of Sheth.
v18 “And Edom shall be a possession,
Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession,
While Israel performs valiantly.
v19 “And one from Jacob shall have dominion,
And will make the survivor perish from the city.” quote per LBS

And it’s not intuitively clear but a possible reference to this star is to the one the wise-men saw and followed to the crib of the baby Jesus. So it is amazing that couched inside a series of prophesies that king Balak was hoping would be curses used protect his kingdom from being overrun by Israel would actually be a forth-telling of the overcoming of God’s people and His plan to crush all pagan nations and bless His chosen people, Israel, and the Church, fourteen hundred years before it would occur.

If you have any interest I think you’ll find this comment by CF Keil (pronounced Kyle) a very interesting read.

Who says the Old Testament is boring???

The commentary:
Num. 24:15-24.
Balaam’s fourth and last prophecy is distinguished from the previous ones by the fact that, according to the announcement in v. 14, it is occupied exclusively with the future, and foretells the victorious supremacy of Israel over all its foes, and the destruction of all the powers of the world. This prophecy is divided into four different prophecies by the fourfold repetition of the words, “he took up his parable” (vv. 15, 20, 21, and 23). The first of these refers to the two nations that were related to Israel, viz., Edom and Moab (vv. 17-19); the second to Amalek, the arch-enemy of Israel (v. 20); the third to the Kenites, who were allied to Israel (vv. 21 and 22); and the fourth proclaims the overthrow of the great powers of the world (vv. 23 and 24). — The introduction in vv. 15 and 16 is the same as that of the previous prophecy in vv. 3 and 4, except that the words, “he which knew the knowledge of the Most High,” are added to the expression, “he that heard the words of God,” to show that Balaam possessed the knowledge of the Most High, i.e., that the word of God about to be announced had already been communicated to him, and was not made known to him now for the first time; though without implying that he had received the divine revelation about to be uttered at the same time as those which he had uttered before.

Num. 24:17.
The prophecy itself commences with a picture from the “end of the days,” which rises up before the mental eye of the seer.

“I see Him, yet not now; I behold Him, but not nigh. A star appears out of Jacob, and a sceptre rises out of Israel, and dashes Moab in pieces on both sides, and destroys all the sons of confusion.”

The suffixes to אֶרְאֶנּוּ and אֲשׁוּרֶנּוּ refer to the star which is mentioned afterwards, and which Balaam sees in spirit, but “not now,” i.e., not as having already appeared, and “not nigh,” i.e., not to appear immediately, but to come forth out of Israel in the far distant future. “A star is so natural an image and symbol of imperial greatness and splendour, that it has been employed in this sense in almost every nation. And the fact that this figure and symbol are so natural, may serve to explain the belief of the ancient world, that the birth and accession of great kings was announced by the appearance of stars” (Hengstenberg, who cites Justini hist. xxxvii. 2; Plinii h. n. ii. 23; Sueton. Jul. Caes. c. 78; and Dio Cass. xlv. p. 273). If, however, there could be any doubt that the rising star represented the appearance of a glorious ruler or king, it would be entirely removed by the parallel, “a sceptre arises out of Israel.” The sceptre, which was introduced as a symbol of dominion even in Jacob’s blessing (Gen. 49:10), is employed here as the figurative representation and symbol of the future ruler in Israel. This ruler would destroy all the enemies of Israel. Moab and (v. 18) Edom are the first of these that are mentioned, viz., the two nations that were related to Israel by descent, but had risen up in hostility against it at that time. Moab stands in the foremost rank, not merely because Balaam was about to announce to the king of Moab what Israel would do to his people in the future, but also because the hostility of the heathen to the people of God had appeared most strongly in Balak’s desire to curse the Israelites. פַּאֲתי מוֹאָב , “the two corners or sides of Moab,” equivalent to Moab on both sides, from one end to the other. For קַרְקַר , the inf. Pilp. of קוּר or קִיר , the meaning to destroy is fully established by the parallel מָחַץ , and by Isa. 22: 5, whatever may be thought of its etymology and primary meaning. And neither the Samaritan text nor the passage in Jeremiah (Jer. 48:45), which is based upon this prophecy, at all warrants an alteration of the reading קַרְקַר into קָדְקֹד (the crown of the head), since Jeremiah almost invariably uses earlier writings in this free manner, viz., by altering the expressions employed, and substituting in the place of unusual words wither more common ones, or such as are similar in sound (cf. Küper, Jerem. libror, ss. interpres atque vindex, pp. xii.ff. and p. 43). —כָּל־בְּני־שׁת does not mean “all the sons of Seth,” i.e., all mankind, as the human race is never called by the name of Seth; and the idea that the ruler to arise out of Israel would destroy all men, would be altogether unsuitable. It signifies rather “all the sons of confusion,” by which, according to the analogy of Jacob and Israel (v. 17), Edom and Seir (v. 18), the Moabites are to be understood as being men of wild, warlike confusion. שׁת is a contraction ofשׁאת (Lam. 3:47), and derived from שׁאָה ; and in Jer. 48:45 it is correctly rendered בּנְּי שׁאוֹן .

In the announcement of destruction which is to fall upon the enemies of Israel through the star and sceptre out of the midst of it, Moab is followed by “its southern neighbour Edom.”

Num. 24:18.
“And Edom becomes a possession, and Seir becomes a possession, its enemies; but Israel acquires power.” Whose possession Edom and Seir are to become, is not expressly stated; but it is evident from the context, and from אֹיְבָיו (its enemies), which is not a genitive dependent upon Seir, but is in apposition to Edom and Seir, just as צָרָיו in v. 8 is in apposition to גּויִם . Edom and Seir were his, i.e., Israel’s enemies; therefore they were to be taken by the ruler who was to arise out of Israel. Edom is the name of the people, Seir of the country, just as in Gen. 32: 4; so that Seir is not to be understood as relating to the prae-Edomitish population of the land, which had been subjugated by the descendants of Esau, and had lost all its independence a long time before. In Moses’ days the Israelites were not allowed to fight with the Edomites, even when they refused to allow them to pass peaceably through their territory (see Num. 20:21), but were commanded to leave them in their possessions as a brother nation (Deut. 2: 4, 5). In the future, however, their relation to one another was to be a very different one; because the hostility of Edom, already in existence, grew more and more into obstinate and daring enmity, which broke up all the ties of affection that Israel was to regard as holy, and thus brought about the destruction of the Edomites. — The fulfilment of this prophecy commenced with the subjugation of the Edomites by David (2Sa. 8:14; 1Ki. 11:15, 16; 1Ch. 18:12, 13), but it will not be completed till “the end of the days,” when all the enemies of God and His Church will be made the footstool of Christ (Psa. 110: 1ff.). That David did not complete the subjugation of Edom is evident, on the one hand, from the fact that the Edomites revolted again under Solomon, though without success (1Ki. 11:14ff.); that they shook off the yoke imposed upon them under Joram (2Ki. 8:20); and notwithstanding their defeat by Amaziah (2Ki. 14: 7; 2Ch. 25:11) and Uzziah (2Ki. 14:22; 2Ch. 26: 2), invaded Judah a second time under Ahaz (2Ch. 28:17), and afterwards availed themselves of every opportunity to manifest their hostility to the kingdom of Judah and the Jews generally, — as for example at the conquest of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (Eze. 35:15; 36: 5; Oba. 1:10 and 13), and in the wars between the Maccabees and the Syrians (1 Macc. 5: 3, 65; 2 Macc. 10:15; 12:38ff.), — until they were eventually conquered by John Hyrcanus in the year B.C. 129, and compelled to submit to circumcision, and incorporated in the Jewish state (Josephus, Ant. xiii. 9, 1, xv. 7, 9; Wars of the Jews, iv. 5, 5). But notwithstanding this, they got the government over the Jews into their own hands through Antipater and Herod (Josephus, Ant. xiv. 8, 5), and only disappeared from the stage of history with the destruction of the Jewish state by the Romans. On the other hand, the declarations of the prophets (Am. 9:12; Oba. 1:17ff.), which foretell, with an unmistakeable allusion to this prophecy, the possession of the remnant of Edom by the kingdom of Israel, and the announcements in Isa. 34 and 63: 1-6, Jer. 49: 7ff., Eze. 25:12ff. and 35, comp. with Psa. 137: 7 and Lam. 4:21, 22, prove still more clearly that Edom, as the leading foe of the kingdom of God, will only be utterly destroyed when the victory of the latter over the hostile power of the world has been fully and finally secured. — Whilst Edom falls, Israel will acquire power. עשׂה חַיִל , to acquire ability or power (Deut. 8:17, 18; Rut. 4:11), not merely to show itself brave or strong. It is rendered correctly by Onkelos, “prosperabitur in opibus;” and Jonathan, “praevalebunt in opibus et possidebunt eos.”

Num. 24:19.
“And a ruler shall come out of Jacob, and destroy what is left out of cities.” The subject toירְדְּ is indefinite, and to be supplied from the verb itself. We have to think of the ruler foretold as star and sceptre. The abbreviated form וירְדְּ is not used for the future ירְדֶּה, but is jussive in its force. One out of Jacob shall rule. מעִיר is employed in a collected and general sense, as in Psa. 72:16. Out of every city in which there is a remnant of Edom, it shall be destroyed. שׂרִיד is equivalent to שׁארִית אֱדוֹם (Am. 9:12). The explanation, “destroy the remnant out of the city, namely, out of the holy city of Jerusalem” (Ewald and Baur), is forced, and cannot be sustained from the parallelism.

Num. 24:20.
The second saying in this prophecy relates to the Amalekites. Balaam sees them, not with the eyes of his body, but in a state of ecstasy, like the star out of Jacob. “Beginning of the heathen is Amalek, and its end is destruction.” Amalek is called the beginning of the nations, not “as belonging to the most distinguished and foremost of the nations in age, power, and celebrity” (Knobel), — for in all these respects this Bedouin tribe, which descended from a grandson of Esau, was surpassed by many other nations, — but as the first heathen nation which opened the conflict of the heathen nations against Israel as the people of God (see at Ex. 17: 8ff.). As its beginning had been enmity against Israel, its end would be “even to the perishing” (עדי אֹבד), i.e., reaching the position of one who was perishing, falling into destruction, which commenced under Saul and was completed under Hezekiah (see p. 208).

Num. 24:21, 22.
The third saying relates to the Kenites, whose origin is involved in obscurity (see at Gen. 15:19), as there are no other Kenites mentioned in the whole of the Old Testament, with the exception of Gen. 15:19, than the Kenites who went to Canaan with Hobab the brother-in- law of Moses (Num. 10:29ff.: see Jud. 1:16; 4:11; 1Sa. 15: 6; 27:10; 30:29); so that there are not sufficient grounds for the distinction between Canaanitish and Midianitish Kenites, as Michaelis, Hengstenberg, and others suppose. The hypothesis that Balaam is speaking of Canaanitish Kenites, or of the Kenites as representatives of the Canaanites, is as unfounded as the hypothesis that by the Kenites we are to understand the Midianites, or that the Kenites mentioned here and in Gen. 15:19 are a branch of the supposed aboriginal Amalekites (Ewald). The saying concerning the Kenites runs thus: “Durable is thy dwelling-place, and thy nest laid upon the rock; for should Kain be destroyed until Asshur shall carry thee captive?” This saying “applies to friends and not to foes of Israel” (v. Hofmann), so that it is perfectly applicable to the Kenites, who were friendly with Israel. The antithetical association of the Amalekites and Kenites answers perfectly to the attitude assumed at Horeb towards Israel, on the one hand by the Amalekites, and on the other hand by the Kenites, in the person of Jethro the leader of their tribe (see Ex. 17: 8ff., 18, and p. 375). The dwelling- place of the Kenites was of lasting duration, because its nest was laid upon a rock (שׂים is a passive participle, as in 2Sa. 13:32, and Oba. 1: 4). This description of the dwelling-place of the Kenites cannot be taken literally, because it cannot be shown that either the Kenites or the Midianites dwelt in inaccessible mountains, as the Edomites are said to have done in Oba. 1: 3, 4; Jer. 49:16. The words are to be interpreted figuratively, and in all probability the figure is taken from the rocky mountains of Horeb, in the neighbourhood of which the Kenites led a nomade life before their association with Israel (see at Ex. 3: 1). As v. Hofmann correctly observes: “Kain, which had left its inaccessible mountain home in Horeb, enclosed as it was by the desert, to join a people who were only wandering in search of a home, by that very act really placed its rest upon a still safer rock.” This is sustained in v. 22 by the statement that Kain would not be given up to destruction till Asshur carried it away into captivity. כִּי אִם does not mean “nevertheless.” It signifies “unless” after a negative clause, whether the negation be expressed directly by לא , or indirectly by a question; and “only”, where it is not preceded by either a direct or an indirect negation, as in Gen. 40:14; Job. 42: 8. The latter meaning, however, is not applicable here, because it is unsuitable to the עד־מָה (until) which follows. Consequently אִם can only be understood in the sense of “is it that,” as in 1Ki. 1:27, Isa. 29:16, Job. 31:16, etc., and as introducing an indirect query in a negative sense: “For is it (the case) that Kain shall fall into destruction until…?” — equivalent to “Kain shall not be exterminated until Asshur shall carry him away into captivity;” Kain will only be overthrown by the Assyrian imperial power. Kain, the tribe-father, is used poetically for the Kenite, the tribe of which he was the founder. בָּער , to exterminate, the sense in which it frequently occurs, as in Deut. 13: 6; 17: 7, etc. (cf. 2Sa. 4:11; 1Ki. 22:47). — For the fulfilment of this prophecy we are not to look merely to the fact that one branch of the Kenites, which separated itself, according to Jud. 4:11, from its comrades in the south of Judah, and settled in Naphtali near Kadesh, was probably carried away into captivity by Tiglath-Pileser along with the population of Galilee (2Ki. 15:29); but the name Asshur, as the name of the first great kingdom of the world, which rose up from the east against the theocracy, is employed, as we may clearly see from v. 24, to designate all the powers of the world which took their rise in Asshur, and proceeded forth from it (see also Ezr. 6:22, where the Persian king is still called king of Asshur or Assyria). Balaam did not foretell that this worldly power would oppress Israel also, and lead it into captivity, because the oppression of the Israelites was simply a transitory judgment, which served to refine the nation of God and not to destroy it, and which was even appointed according to the counsel of God to open and prepare the way for the conquest of the kingdoms of the world by the kingdom of God. To the Kenites only did the captivity become a judgment of destruction; because, although on terms of friendship with the people of Israel, and outwardly associated with them, yet, as is clearly shown by 1Sa. 15: 6, they never entered inwardly into fellowship with Israel and Jehovah’s covenant of grace, but sought to maintain their own independence side by side with Israel, and thus forfeited the blessing of God which rested upon Israel.

Num. 24:23, 24.
The fourth saying applies to Asshur, and is introduced by an exclamation of woe: “Woe! who will live, when God sets this! and ships (come) from the side of Chittim, and press Asshur, and press Eber, and he also perishes.” The words “Woe, who will live,” point to the fearfulness of the following judgment, which went deep to the heart of the seer, because it would fall upon the sons of his own people (see at Num. 22: 5). The meaning is, “Who will preserve his life in the universal catastrophe that is coming?” (Hengstenberg). מִשֻּׂמוֹ , either “since the setting of it,” equivalent to “from the time when God sets (determines) this” (ὅταν θῇ ταῦτα ὁ θεός, quando faciet ista Deus; LXX, Vulg.), or “on account of the setting of it,” i.e., because God determines this. שׂוּם, to set, applied to that which God establishes, ordains, or brings to pass, as in Isa. 44: 7; Hab. 1:12. The suffix in שׂוּמוֹ is not to be referred to Asshur, as Knobel supposes, because the prophecy relates not to Asshur “as the mighty power by which everything was crushed and overthrown,” but to a power that would come from the far west and crush Asshur itself. The suffix refers rather to the substance of the prophecy that follows, and is to be understood in a neuter sense. אל is “God,” and not an abbreviation of אלֶּה , which is always written with the article in the Pentateuch (הָאל, Gen. 19: 8, 25; 26: 3, 4; Lev. 18:27; Deut. 4:42; 7:22; 19:11), and only occurs once without the article, viz., in 1Ch. 20: 8. צִים , from צִי (Isa. 33:21), signifies ships, like צִיִּים in the passage in Dan. 11:30, which is founded upon the prophecy before us. מִיַּד , from the side, as in Ex. 2: 5, Deut. 2:37, etc. כִּתִּים is Cyprus with the capital Citium (see at Gen. 10: 4), which is mentioned as intervening between Greece and Phoenicia, and the principal station for the maritime commerce of Phoenicia, so that all the fleets passing from the west to the east necessarily took Cyprus in their way (Isa. 23: 1). The nations that would come across the sea from the side of Cyprus to humble Asshur, are not mentioned by name, because this lay beyond the range of Balaam’s vision. He simply gives utterance to the thought, “A power comes from Chittim over the sea, to which Asshur and Eber, the eastern and the western Shem, will both succumb” (v. Hofmann). Eber neither refers to the Israelites merely as Hebrews (LXX, Vulg.), nor to the races beyond the Euphrates, as Onkelos and others suppose, but, like “all the sons of Eber” in Gen. 10:21, to the posterity of Abraham who descended from Eber through Peleg, and also to the descendants of Eber through Joktan: so that Asshur, as the representative of the Shemites who dwelt in the far east, included Elam within itself; whilst Eber, on the other hand, represented the western Shemites, the peoples that sprang from Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram (Gen. 10:21). “And he also shall perish for ever:” these words cannot relate to Asshur and Eber, for their fate is already announced in the word ענּוּ (afflict, press), but only to the new western power that was to come over the sea, and to which the others were to succumb. “Whatever powers might rise up in the world of peoples, the heathen prophet of Jehovah sees them all fall, one through another, and one after another; for at last he loses in the distance the power to discern whence it is that the last which he sees rise up is to receive its fatal blow” (v. Hofmann, p. 520). The overthrow of this last power of the world, concerning which the prophet Daniel was the fist to receive and proclaim new revelations, belongs to “the end of the days,” in which the star out of Jacob is to rise upon Israel as a “bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16).

Now if according to this the fact is firmly established, that in this last prophecy of Balaam, “the judgment of history even upon the imperial powers of the West, and the final victory of the King of the kingdom of God were proclaimed, though in fading outlines, more than a thousand years before the events themselves,” as Tholuck has expressed it in his Propheten und ihre Weissagung; the announcement of the star out of Jacob, and the sceptre out of Israel, i.e., of the King and Ruler of the kingdom of God, who was to dash Moab to pieces and take possession of Edom, cannot have received its complete fulfilment in the victories of David over these enemies of Israel; but will only be fully accomplished in the future overthrow of all the enemies of the kingdom of God. By the “end of days,” both here and everywhere else, we are to understand the Messianic era, and that not merely at its commencement, but in its entire development, until the final completion of the kingdom of God at the return of our Lord to judgment. In the “star out of Jacob,” Balaam beholds not David as the one king of Israel, but the Messiah, in whom the royalty of Israel promised to the patriarchs (Gen. 17: 6, 16; 35:11) attains its fullest realization. The star and sceptre are symbols not of “Israel’s royalty personified” (Hengstenberg), but of the real King in a concrete form, as He was to arise out of Israel at a future day. It is true that Israel received the promised King in David, who conquered and subjugated the Moabites, Edomites, and other neighbouring nations that were hostile to Israel. But in the person of David and his rule the kingly government of Israel was only realized in its first and imperfect beginnings. Its completion was not attained till the coming of the second David (Hos. 3: 5; Jer. 30: 9; Eze. 34:24; 37:24, 25), the Messiah Himself, who breaks in pieces all the enemies of Israel, and founds an everlasting kingdom, to which all the kingdoms and powers of this world are to be brought into subjection (2Sa. 7:12-16; Psa. 2, 72, and 110).

If, however, the star out of Jacob first rose upon the world in Christ, the star which showed the wise men from the east the way to the new-born “King of the Jews,” and went before them, till it stood above the manger at Bethlehem (Mat. 2: 1-11), is intimately related to our prophecy. Only we must not understand the allusion as being so direct, that Balaam beheld the very star which appeared to the wise men, and made known to them the birth of the Saviour of the world. The star of the wise men was rather an embodiment of the star seen by Balaam, which announced to them the fulfilment of Balaam’s prophecy, — a visible sign by which God revealed to them the fact, that the appearance of the star which Balaam beheld in the far distant future had been realized at Bethlehem in the birth of Christ, the King of the Jews. — The “wise men from the east,” who had been made acquainted with the revelations of God to Israel by the Jews of the diaspora, might feel themselves specially attracted in their search for the salvation of the world by the predictions of Balaam, from the fact that this seer belonged to their own country, and came “out of the mountains of the east” (Num. 23: 7); so that they made his sayings the centre of their expectations of salvation, and were also conducted through them to the Saviour of all nations by means of supernatural illumination. “God unfolded to their minds, which were already filled with a longing for the ‘star out of Jacob’ foretold by Balaam, the meaning of the star which proclaimed the fulfilment of Balaam’s prophecy; He revealed to them, that is to say, the fact that it announced the birth of the ‘King of the Jews.’ And just as Balaam had joyously exclaimed, ‘I see Him,’ and ‘I behold Him,’ they also could say, ‘We have seen His star’” (Hengstenberg).

If, in conclusion, we compare Balaam’s prophecy of the star that would come out of Jacob, and the sceptre that would rise out of Israel, with the prediction of the patriarch Jacob, of the sceptre that should not depart from Judah, till the Shiloh came whom the nations would obey (Gen. 49:10), it is easy to observe that Balaam not only foretold more clearly the attitude of Israel to the nations of the world, and the victory of the kingdom of God over every hostile kingdom of the world; but that he also proclaimed the Bringer of Peace expected by Jacob at the end of the days to be a mighty ruler, whose sceptre would break in pieces and destroy all the enemies of the nation of God. The tribes of Israel stood before the mental eye of the patriarch in their full development into the nation in which all the families of the earth were to be blessed. From this point of view, the salvation that was to blossom in the future for the children of Israel culminated in the peaceful kingdom of the Shiloh, in whom the dominion of the victorious lion out of Judah was to attain its fullest perfection. But the eye of Balaam, the seer, which had been opened by the Spirit of God, beheld the nation of Israel encamped, according to its tribes, in the face of its foes, the nations of this world. They were endeavouring to destroy Israel; but according to the counsel of the Almighty God and Lord of the whole world, in their warfare against the nation that was blessed of Jehovah, they were to succumb one after the other, and be destroyed by the king that was to arise out of Israel. This determinate counsel of the living God was to be proclaimed by Balaam, the heathen seer out of Mesopotamia the centre of the national development of the ancient world: and, first of all, to the existing representatives of the nations of the world that were hostile to Israel, that they might see what would at all times tend to their peace — might see, that is to say, that in their hostility to Israel they were rebelling against the Almighty God of heaven and earth, and that they would assuredly perish in the conflict, since life and salvation were only to be found with the people of Israel, whom God had blessed. And even though Balaam had to make known the purpose of the Lord concerning His people primarily, and in fact solely, to the Moabites and their neighbours, who were like-minded with them, his announcement was also intended for Israel itself, and was to be a pledge to the congregation of Israel for all time of the certain fulfilment of the promises of God; and so to fill them with strength and courage, that in all their conflicts with the powers of this world, they should rely upon the Lord their God with the firmest confidence of faith, should strive with unswerving fidelity after the end of their divine calling, and should build up the kingdom of God on earth, which is to outlast all the kingdoms of the world. — In what manner the Israelites became acquainted with the prophecies of Balaam, so that Moses could incorporate them into the Thorah, we are nowhere told, but we can infer it with
tolerable certainty from the subsequent fate of Balaam himself.

1 this passage is in the Keil and Delitsch Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1, The Pentateuch, the Book of Numbers, page 191ff. This passage can be located on p. 1220 in the pdf file that can be downloaded here. There is no copyright as the work is in the public domain.

2 Regarding the fact that Balaam’s donkey rebuking the prophet consider Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees when they complained that His followers were praising His entry into Jerusalem (Luke:19:38-40)

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Korah’s Rebellion & Trump’s Insurrection

Thoughts on Numbers Chapter 16

While reading the Book of Numbers chapter 16 (I have the full text shown below) accompanied by a commentary detailing the events of Korah’s rebellion, I came upon this passage in the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament1, the Book of Numbers:

The leader was Korah; and the rebels are called in consequence “Korah’s company” ( Numbers 16:5, Numbers 16:6; Numbers 26:9; Numbers 27:3). He laid claim to the high-priesthood, or at least to an equality with Aaron (Num_16:17). Among his associates were the Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, who, no doubt, were unable to get over the fact that the birthright had been taken away from their ancestor, and with it the head ship of the house of Israel (i.e., of the whole nation). Apparently their present intention was to seize upon the government of the nation under a self-elected high priest, and to force Moses and Aaron out of the post assigned to them by God, – that is to say, to overthrow the constitution which God had given to His people.2

and I was jolted by the comparison between Korah’s rebellion and the American insurrection on January 6th, 2021 at the U.S Capital. Truly there is nothing new under the sun, Ecclesiastes 1:9.

The pride and gall of Korah and those 250 souls he inspired to follow him in his revolt against the leadership of Moses and the high priesthood of Aaron is really quite breathtaking. Not being satisfied with the honor he and his family were given, that is, the responsibility of the service of the Tabernacle he fostered an atmosphere of perceived injustice targeted at Moses and Aaron, whom God Himself had appointed the political and spiritual leaders of this new nation, Israel. He also unjustly accused Moses of being proud and lording his stature over everyone, when indeed, he was an extremely humble man, who on many occasions interceded with the Lord in protecting his sinful and rebellious people so that God would not wipe them out and make a new nation from Moses. It takes a humble and caring person to say no to being the father of a nation and pleading for his nation.

Here are four correlations that I could find between the insurrection of “Korah and his company” and the insurrection instigated by current ex-President Trump after he lost the presidential election of 2020. An insurrection the direct and immediate consequence of which was the storming of the U.S. Capitol attempting to stop the certification of the national election.

1) Both Korah and Trump had delusions of grandeur claiming power they neither had nor were permitted to have, and believed they were, and deserved to be, above the law. It takes a delusional mind to manufacture the belief that one deserves to have his own way in spite of lawful rules and regulations made to facilitate the peaceful transfer of power. But when the rules don’t apply to you because you alone can fix things then you can assume whatever power you desire.

2) Both sought to subvert the law and overturn an election and their government. Behavior belies intent, and if you stoke the flames of discontent, in spite of your advisors confirming you lost the election, and deliberately lie and mislead and use subterfuge to impose your own personal reality on everyone else, you only foster chaos and turmoil. The outcome is always a disaster.

3) Both enlisted the aid of conspirators to help them accomplish their objectives. If you were only a conspiracy of one individual then the movement would die out soon enough. But enlisting the aid of an army of people to plot, plan, scheme, and intimidate to further your objective, then inertia can be a powerful thing. It can foster a mob to attach the institutions you want to bend to your own will and the consequences can be devastating. People can and do die for their unthinking obedience to the autocrat.

4) Both were incapable of accepting the truth of the actual events of their day. Some people are so self-centered and narcissistic that they can see the truth, preferring the lie in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, in spite of all those around you contradicting their vision.

The results of Korah’s attempt to assume the priesthood and claim an office to which he was not appointed or elected was disastrous to his and everyone of his conspirators. When Moses told him and his followers that the ground would open up and swallow them it happened immediately with devastating effect. In the case of the January 6th insurrection the consequences have not been that swift, but justice will be certain, as the number of perpetrators already jailed is large and growing. It’s just a shame one delusional individual should cause such national chaos and turmoil.

Num 16:1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action,
Num 16:2 and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown.
Num 16:3 They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”
Num 16:4 When Moses heard this, he fell on his face;
Num 16:5 and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself.
Num 16:6 “Do this: take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company,
Num 16:7 and put fire in them, and lay incense upon them in the presence of the LORD tomorrow; and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the one who is holy. You have gone far enough, you sons of Levi!”
Num 16:8 Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi,
Num 16:9 is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them;
Num 16:10 and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking for the priesthood also?
Num 16:11 “Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the LORD; but as for Aaron, who is he that you grumble against him?”
Num 16:12 Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, “We will not come up.
Num 16:13 “Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us?
Num 16:14 “Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!”
Num 16:15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not regard their offering! I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them.”
Num 16:16 Moses said to Korah, “You and all your company be present before the LORD tomorrow, both you and they along with Aaron.
Num 16:17 “Each of you take his firepan and put incense on it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty firepans; also you and Aaron shall each bring his firepan.”
Num 16:18 So they each took his own censer and put fire on it, and laid incense on it; and they stood at the doorway of the tent of meeting, with Moses and Aaron.
Num 16:19 Thus Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.
Num 16:20 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,
Num 16:21 “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.”
Num 16:22 But they fell on their faces and said, “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?”
Num 16:23 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 16:24 “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.'”
Num 16:25 Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following him,
Num 16:26 and he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.”
Num 16:27 So they got back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and their sons and their little ones.
Num 16:28 Moses said, “By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing.
Num 16:29 “If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me.
Num 16:30 “But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.”
Num 16:31 As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open;
Num 16:32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions.
Num 16:33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.
Num 16:34 All Israel who were around them fled at their outcry, for they said, “The earth may swallow us up!”
Num 16:35 Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.
Num 16:36 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 16:37 “Say to Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, that he shall take up the censers out of the midst of the blaze, for they are holy; and you scatter the burning coals abroad.
Num 16:38 “As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered sheets for a plating of the altar, since they did present them before the LORD and they are holy; and they shall be for a sign to the sons of Israel.”
Num 16:39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers which the men who were burned had offered, and they hammered them out as a plating for the altar,
Num 16:40 as a reminder to the sons of Israel that no layman who is not of the descendants of Aaron should come near to burn incense before the LORD; so that he will not become like Korah and his company–just as the LORD had spoken to him through Moses.
Num 16:41 But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You are the ones who have caused the death of the LORD’S people.”
Num 16:42 It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared.
Num 16:43 Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting,
Num 16:44 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 16:45 “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” Then they fell on their faces.
Num 16:46 Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun!”
Num 16:47 Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.
Num 16:48 He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked.
Num 16:49 But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah.
Num 16:50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of meeting, for the plague had been checked.

1 this passage can be located on p. 1135 in the pdf file that can be downloaded here. Look for the entry listed as: Keil and Delitzsch – Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1 – Genesis to Deuteronomy (1885).

2 Keil, C.F. and Delitszch, F. Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume I – The Pentateuch (1864–1874; reprint Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), comment on Numbers ch. 16, p.

[Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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