The Case of Balaam

Brethren Lipscomb and Sewell: In Numbers 22:20-22 we read, “And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do. And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him.”

Now, if the above is true, what assurance have we of being blessed in doing what God tells us to do? You may say that he did something that God did not tell him to do, but it seems that God’s anger was kindled for the simple act of his going. Please answer in the Gospel Advocate.


This case of Balaam is precisely a similar one to that of the Israelites desiring a king to rule over them in the days of Samuel, the prophet, as recorded in I Samuel 8. Here they wished something contrary to the provisions he had made. He decreed they should have it as a punishment for dissatisfaction with his will. He gave the king, accompanied with the warning as to the evils that should follow.

Balaam gave a sort of obedience to God, but would not accept God’s decree as a finality, and showed his anxiety to go contrary to God’s will by coming to God to see if he would not change this decision. God, provoked at the disposition to rebel and the seeking God to change his mind and decree, did change it, and gave the command – or, rather, permission – for him to go. He did it under circumstances that Balaam ought to have understood that it was left him to rebel against God if he desired. And the going now against the refusal of God was an indication of his anxiety to go contrary to the word of God. When he did this, God’s anger was kindled against him.

It is a principle clearly laid down in the Bible that when men do not wish to obey God’s commands out of pure reverence for his authority, God permits them to go the way they love. They usually satisfy their consciences and think they do God’s service; yet the course they follow only leads to their destruction as a punishment for dissatisfaction with his will. Here he told Balaam not to go. Balaam returned to him, asking if he might not go, or to see if he would not change his mind. God, provoked at this dissatisfaction, told him to go; but when he went, God’s anger was kindled against him to his destruction.

The only difference between this case and that in I Samuel 8 is, here the permission to go, contrary to the expressed will of God, is given without the warning of the results, as was in that case. The reason of this difference may be found in the fact that Balaam was a prophet and less excusable in his course than these uninspired people. It is an admonition to us that we should take God at his word without preferences of our own. If we desire other ways, he will let us follow them to our ruin.

David Lipscomb


The Place of the Golden Altar

Brother Lipscomb: Where was the God-appointed place for the golden altar of incense — in the holy place or the most holy? Breth­ren are on both sides. Please give reasons for apparent discrepancies in the Bible on this.

The place appointed for the altar of incense, or the golden altar, was in the holy place, beside the veil that leads into the most holy. The most holy was the dwelling place of God. The incense arising from the altar without the most holy passed through the veil and entered the most holy as incense to God. In Ex. 30:6-7 the order is given: “And thou shalt put it before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee. And Aaron shall burn thereon incense of sweet spices: every morning, when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn it.” In Ex. 40: 26-27 he repeats the statement that he placed them as he was commanded: “And he put the golden altar in the tent of meeting before the veil: and he burnt thereon incense of sweet spices; as Jehovah commanded Moses.” Because the incense arising from this altar reached God in the most holy place, it is sometimes spoken of as though it belonged to the most holy place. It was placed in the holy place beside the veil that enters the most holy, that the incense might, like the prayers of the saints, pass through the veil to the presence of God.

A perversion of one of these figures is seen in the pictures intended to represent the cherubim — a couple of winged women squatting with their faces opposite each other. If one will read the description of the cherubim as given in 1 Kings 6:23-28 and 2 Chron. 3:10-14, he will find that they were images ten feet high, reaching the ceiling above, the wings extended, touching each other in the cen­ter and the walls on each side. They looked toward each other. I used to know a Methodist preacher who insisted that Methodists should keep up the primitive and approved style of kneeling in prayer. In kneeling, many of them squatted to keep their knees out of the dirt. This preacher got to see who kneeled and who squatted, and reproved the latter as following a custom nowhere approved by God.

David Lipscomb

Adventists and the Children of Israel

Brother Sewell: As one of our sisters has turned Adventist and has some of the members bothered, I would like a full explanation of the following passages of scripture: Ex. 31: 16, 17; Matt. 5: 19; Rom. 14: 5, 6. Who are meant by the “children of Israel” in the passage first named? What “commandments” is Jesus speaking of in the second passage?

The children of Israel were the Jewish people, the posterity of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. In this particular passage it meant the children of Israel that had come out of Egypt under Moses as their leader.

The Sabbath day, as one of the Ten Commandments, had but recently been given to the Jewish people. The verses you mention show that the Sabbath day was given to the Jews only. The Gentile world never had any share in it. In the first of Genesis, where the seventh day is first mentioned, it says that God rested that day. He had finished the work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh. But he did not require men to rest on that day then. To show that the Sabbath belonged to the Jews only, the passage you name uses this language: “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever.” These verses show beyond a peradventure that the Sabbath day was given to the Jews, and to them only; and when it says it would be a sign between Jehovah and the children of Israel forever, the “forever” means to the end of the Jewish covenant, the law of Moses, which really did end. Hence, when Jesus died on the cross, the law of Moses, the Jewish covenant, was taken out of the way, and with it the Sabbath day. This is shown in the following passage: “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” (Col. 2:14.) The word handwriting especially takes in the Ten Commandments, as they were the handwriting of God, and the Sabbath day was the fourth command of the ten. Therefore the Sabbath day was, without any doubt, done away.

In verse 16 of the same chapter Paul says: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.” This shows that the whole affair of the law was done away, Sabbath day and all. Hence the seventh-day claim is without foundation. The seventh-day Sabbath never did belong to the Gentiles, and it was taken from the Jews when Jesus died; and so it is out of date entirely now, as is the whole of the law of Moses. Matt. 5:19 simply has reference to the commands of the law of Moses, which law was still in force when Christ used that language; but when he died on the cross, some three years later, the law was taken away.

The other passage (Rom. 14:5, 6) has reference either to the Jewish Christians, who wanted to keep up the holy days of the law, such as the Sabbath day, or it refers to some sort of superstition among Gentile Christians there, either one of which would cause confusion and division without profit, and they better not have divisions over the opinions of men. All ideas of holy days, then, except the first day of the week, were merely the opinions of men not involving any divine authority. There is not a particle of divine authority to keep the seventh-day Sabbath since the abolition of the old covenant and the establishment of the new.

The Two Sons of Abraham

Brother Sewell: Please write up the two sons of Abraham – one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

The passage is this: “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Gal. 4:21-26.)

This is the history of the wife of Abraham – Sarah, or “Sarai” until the Lord ordered it changed to “Sarah.” Sarah had no child till she was quite old, far beyond the natural age of becoming a mother. When she had apparently despaired of ever being a mother, she gave her maid to Abraham to wife, and she became the mother of Ishmael. It was foretold by an angel to his mother before he was born that he would be a wild man, that his hand would be against every man and every man’s hand would be against him. This prediction turned out to be literally true after he grew to manhood. He and his mother remained in the house of Abraham till Isaac was born and the time for his weaning had come. They had some sort of feast on that occasion, and Sarah saw Ishmael mocking at her son Isaac; and she at once decreed that he and his mother must leave at once, and so they did. From this time we have but few items of history of Ishmael. He married an Egyptian woman, had twelve sons, and the family drifted into Arabia and led a roving, wild sort of life. The Ishmaelites bob up occasionally in Bible history for a long time, but they never accomplish much in the world’s history. But this family, Hagar and her offspring, became a sort of type – Hagar, a type of the Jewish covenant, the law of Moses; and her posterity, a sort of type of the Jewish people under that covenant. This is what Paul means in the passage as part of his allegory: That Hagar represents the covenant that was established at Mount Sinai, “which gendereth to bondage … and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.” Her children represent in figure the Jewish people, which were under the law of Moses, which Paul calls a “yoke of bondage,” and the Jewish people are trying to hold on to that same yoke of bondage to this day. This is the typical meaning of the bondmaid and her son. But there is much greater importance attached to the other side of the allegory. Sarah lived on till she was quite old, when, in fulfillment of the promise of God through an angel, she bore a son in her old age. This is what is meant by Isaac’s being a child of promise, while Ishmael was born after the flesh–simply a natural, ordinary birth. Sarah was a type, or representative, of the new covenant of Christianity, and her posterity through Isaac were typical of Christians, Abraham’s spiritual posterity. So Sarah represents the church of God, the “Jerusalem which is above,” which “is free,” and “which is the mother of us all.” This is a beautiful figure, and in reality, represents in figure most of the history of the whole Bible and of the whole world to the end of time, when run out to its full meaning; for the spiritual seed of Abraham includes all Christians, both Jewish and Gentile, till the end of time. Paul used this figure in an effort to impress the Jewish Christians of Galatia with the folly and awful danger of turning back to the law of Moses, which had been set aside and which could save no one. He showed that if they undertook to keep the law they would lose all interest, all the benefits that belong to the new and everlasting covenant through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Elisha G. Sewell

The Promise to Abraham

Please give us an article in the Gospel Advocate on the promises made to Abraham – whether they have been fulfilled or not; or do we, as Christians, look for those promises yet to be fulfilled? In Gen. 13:14, 15, God said to Abraham: “Look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it.” Then in Acts 7:5 it is said that he did not inherit it. Why I want your views on this is that the Adventists are creating great excitement in this country among the brethren.

When people will not know and practice the word of God, they will be carried off by some delusion or other. God will send a delusion upon those who stubbornly reject his word. The people of this country and age do not know what the Bible teaches; hence they cannot believe or practice it. We think likely Adventism is as harmless a delusion of a religious character as can afflict them.

The promise to Abraham was: “In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall poses the gate of his enemies; and in, thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” It is an indefinite question to ask if that promise has been fulfilled. There are so many items in the blessing that were not all to be accomplished at one time that the same answer will not answer for all.

The first promise, “I will bless thee,” certainly was fulfilled; the second, “In multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore,” was fulfilled. Their numbers increased beyond computation almost. They were given the mastery over their enemies, or possessed the gates of their enemies, until by disobedience they forfeited this power. Through Abraham the promised seed has come – Christ Jesus, our Lord. In him the blessing for all nations is provided. All nations who have received him have received the promised blessing, but the enjoyment of it depends upon our accepting that blessing and appropriating it through compliance with the conditions connected with the giving of it. The condition of enjoying the blessing through Christ is trust in him that leads to a full acceptance of Christ as the Ruler and Lord of all. No nation, as a whole, has accepted him thus. Some have wholly rejected him. They wholly fail of the blessing through this rejection. Only individuals of other nations and families accept him. To the extent that they receive and obey him, to that extent they have received the blessing. The blessings through Abraham have been provided and given to the world. The enjoyment of those blessings is only partial. The Jews have forfeited the blessings they once enjoyed. The Gentiles have only partially accepted the blessings, so to a very limited extent enjoy them. The blessings through Abraham have all been provided by God and placed in reach of man. Man enjoys them just to the extent that he receives and obeys Christ.

David Lipscomb

Why was Able accepted and not Cain?

Please explain why Abel’s offering was accepted and Cain’s rejected.

In general terms, it was because Abel’s offering pleased the Lord and Cain’s did not. Abel’s pleased him because it was according to his will and Cain’s was not. Did they know this will that is, had God given commandment concerning these offerings? It is nowhere said he had; yet it is hardly reasonable that God placed a penalty on a course without giving man warning of the evil he would incur. We think it not probable that man would have brought an offering without a command from God. If he commanded the offering, he doubtless gave commands as to the kind of offering that would please him. The reason the lamb was pleasing to God was because without the shedding of blood there was no remission.