The cause of the Great Apostasy is found in the book of Numbers. Before we get to it, let’s review some history and see a few parallels along the way.
According to Numbers 20, Miriam died in the first month in the Wilderness of Zin. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, this took place on the 10th of Nisan. In addition, the well that was given on account of Miriam’s innocence was hidden and there was no more water to drink.[i] It was about this time, Moses and Aaron did not trust the Lord or cause Him to be regarded as holy before the people by striking the rock in order to bring forth water instead of speaking to the rock as the Lord had commanded.
After water came forth from the rock at Meribah, Moses sought permission from the king of Edom to pass through his country along the King’s Highway but the king refused and threatened to come against them with the sword if they did. Instead of passing through Edom, the Israelites traveled from Kadesh to Mount Hor. Aaron died on Mount Hor and his priestly garments were transferred to his son Eleazar.
As I thought about these things, the Lord showed me that Mary (also known as Miriam), the mother of Jesus was given a son who was/is the ultimate source of living water. Many years later, Jesus stopped to rest at Jacob’s well where he told a Samaritan woman that if she had asked Him, He would have given her living water which could become a spring of water inside her that would well up into eternal life (John 4:5-14). Unfortunately, not everyone trusted in Jesus nor did they regard Him as being holy. Instead, the religious leaders convinced the Romans to strike the shepherd on Nisan 14th and the flock scattered as Jesus had prophesied in Matthew 26:31. After Jesus rose from the dead and eventually ascended to heaven, He began His role as High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.
Back in the wilderness, the king of Arad, the Canaanite who dwelt in the South fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners. Israel vowed to destroy them so the Lord gave the Canaanites into their hands.
The people then journeyed from Mount Hor around the land of Edom by the Way of the Red Sea. The souls of the Israelites were discouraged and they began to complain about the lack of food and water. It was at this time, the Lord sent the fiery serpents among them. Since they confessed their sin, the Lord commanded Moses to erect a serpent on a pole. Moses made a serpent of bronze and raised it up so that those who looked at it could be healed and live.
As we mentioned in a previous post, this was a picture of Christ being lifted up on the cross so that those who put their trust in Him would be healed and have eternal life. This was not the promise of an easy life because believers endured persecution and martyrdom for their faith.
The Israelites continued their journey and camped at Oboth, Ije Abarim, the Valley of Zered, Arnon, and Beer. The Lord gave them water in Beer where they sang for the well to spring up. The Targum indicates the hidden well was restored to them through the merit of Miriam.[ii] They traveled again and went to Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth, and the top of Pisgah. This time, Israel asked Sihon king of the Amorites for permission to pass through his land. He not only denied them permission to pass through his land but also fought against them.
The water that sprang up in Beer can be compared to the Holy Spirit that fills both Jews and Gentiles who are scattered throughout the world when they believe in Jesus. This fulfills what He promised in John 4:14. Being filled with the Spirit doesn’t guarantee an easy life because believers still face persecution and sometimes martyrdom.
As our Old Testament account continues, Israel defeated the Amorites, took possession of their land, and dwelt in their cities. They did the same to Og king of Bashan. Later, the Israelites moved to the plains of Moab. The Moabites were very afraid of the Israelites because of what had happened to the Amorites so their king, Balak the son of Zippor sent messengers with a diviner’s fee to Balaam the son of Beor to come and place a curse on the Israelites because he knew whoever Balaam cursed was cursed and whoever he blessed was blessed. These messengers were elders from Moab and Midian.
Throughout the centuries, anti-Semitism has raised its ugly head. Nations around the world contain people who curse and hate the Jews, some much more than others. Some nations hate the Jews so much they pay huge sums of money for weapons that can be used to destroy them. Perhaps this hate stems from the fear of Balaam’s prophecy, Esau’s relationship with Jacob, Ishmael’s relationship with Isaac, and/or something else. It could be a combination of things. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism takes place despite the blessings of knowledge, inventions, and other wonderful things the Jews have given the world. Nations of the world cry for peace in Israel but some do not really want peace; they want to annihilate them. In the meantime, God continues to bless and protect Israel.
As our story continues in the book of Numbers, the men spent the night at Balaam’s place and that night God told Balaam not to go with these men and not to curse Israel because they are blessed. The next morning Balaam told the men to return home by themselves because God refused to give him permission to go with them. When Balak heard about Balaam’s response, he sent another delegation to request the same thing once again. Balaam allowed them to stay the night and this time God told Balaam he could go if the men come to call him but he could only say what God told him to say. The next morning Balaam got up and went with the princes of Moab. God was angry because Balaam went so the Angel of the Lord became his adversary and stood in his way. Balaam’s donkey saw the Angel of the Lord and tried to avoid Him 3 times but since Balaam didn’t see the Angel of the Lord, he hit his donkey on 3 occasions. Finally, Balaam’s donkey actually had a conversation with Balaam until the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes so he could see the Angel of the Lord. Balaam confessed his sin and offered to turn back; however, the Lord told him to go but only say what He told him to say.
When Balaam met with Balak, he warned him that he could only say what God gave him to say. After offering 7 bulls and 7 rams, Balaam went to a desolate height where God spoke to him. He looked out over the people from the hills and basically said Israel would be innumerable and that he wanted his death to be that of the righteous and like Israel’s.
Balaam offered another 7 bulls and 7 rams on the top of Pisgah. The Lord commanded Balaam to bless Israel. Balaam said the shout of a King will be among Israel and He would be as strong as a wild ox. He also said Israel will arise like a lioness, devour its prey, and drink the blood of the slain before it lies down again.
Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor and offered another 7 bulls and 7 rams. He didn’t use sorcery as before. The Spirit of God came on him and re-emphasized that the tents of Israel would be beautiful and numerous, his king will be higher than Agag and his kingdom will be exalted. Balaam said He will be brought out of Egypt, have the strength of a wild ox, consume the nations, destroy his enemies, and lie down like a lion. Finally he added, “Blessed is he who blesses you, And cursed is he who curses you (Num. 24:9).”
This made Balak angry but Balaam advised him concerning what Israel will do to his people in the last days. Balaam prophesied about the coming of the Messiah and the fate of Israel’s enemies. As a child, Jesus came out of Egypt but He will eventually return at the sound of a trumpet and with a shout (1 Thess. 4:16). Israel will be innumerable and strong as a wild ox. Note this description is similar to the blessing given to Joseph in Deuteronomy 33:16-17. In addition, Jesus is described as the lion of the tribe of Judah who will destroy Israel’s enemies before He sits back down to reign (Rev. 5:5).
The book of Numbers says Israel stayed in Acacia Grove and began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. This was not Israel’s idea. This was Balaam’s idea. The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan reveals Balaam’s advice to Balak, “And now, behold, I return to go to my people. Come, I will give thee counsel: Go, furnish tavern houses, and employ seductive women to sell food and drinks cheaply, and to bring this people together to eat and drink, and commit whoredom with them, that they may deny their God; then in a brief time will they be delivered into thy hand, and many of them fall. Nevertheless, after this they will still have dominion over thy people at the end of the days.”[iii]
This is how Israel was joined with Baal of Peor. The Lord responded by commanding Moses to hang the offending leaders of the people out in the sun. So Moses told the judges of Israel to kill his men who had committed idolatry with Baal of Peor. A plague had already started among the children of Israel and was stopped when Eleazar’s son Phinehas was zealous for the Lord and thrust a javelin through an Israelite man and Midianite women who had gone into the man’s tent. There were 24,000 who died in that plague. Only those who survived this plague finally entered the Promised Land.
The formula for the Great Apostasy is Balaam’s advice to Balak—idolatry and sexual immorality. Basically, it’s assimilation with the world. Remember, these were the people who had been bitten by the serpents in the wilderness. They had looked to the bronze serpent on the pole and received new life. They were what we would classify as believers in Christ today. The only problem was that they embraced the doctrine of Balaam—assimilated with the world and it cost them their lives (2 Peter 2:15).
Believe it or not, the Great Apostasy is veiled in love for a false god and immoral relationships. These will result in Jesus denying He knew us and telling us to go away because we were workers of lawlessness (Matt. 7:23).
How can this be possible? I’ve give two examples:
- In the name of love, tolerance, and education for Muslims, the Koran is actually being read along with the Bible in some so-called Christian churches.
- In the name of love and tolerance, laypersons and church leaders openly live immoral sexual lifestyles as described in Leviticus 18 without being disciplined. They are no different than non-believers. They are like the people of Sodom.
Listen, God has always balanced love with judgment. He does not overlook sin. His commands have not changed. No one can serve two masters; everyone must choose one or the other. There are no exceptions. We must be zealous for the Lord like Phinehas and stop wickedness from entering our lives. If we don’t, we will experience the final plagues of Revelation.
Be careful what you do out of love for others. You have to know where to draw the line between right and wrong. If you want to make it to the Promised Land, you can’t assimilate with the world. Remember, some doctrines will lead you straight to hell. Just because something sounds reasonable doesn’t make it right or acceptable to God. You have to know God’s commands and not overlook them because you want to show love to the sinner.
Don’t forget, when anyone is called out of an immoral lifestyle and comes to Christ, that person must forsake their sins of the flesh, make new relationships, and obey God. It’s not always easy but it must be done. Jesus’ sacrifice is not a license to sin; He will not be mocked!
Please, reject the doctrine of Balaam and come out of Babylon before it’s too late! In addition, never curse Israel; always bless Israel.
[i] Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Numbers 19-22 http://targum.info/pj/pjnum19-22.htm
[iii] Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Numbers 22-25 http://targum.info/pj/pjnum22-25.htm