Once Is Enough

Often, debaters of scriptural issues like to play the card that “The Bible only says, (fill in the blank) three times”. Or “God only addressed this subject once in Scripture”, trying to undermine a teaching that they either do not like or want to deemphasize.

One glaring example of this is a premise upon which Rob Bell wrote his book Love Wins touting a universalist salvation position (everyone will ultimately be saved). In his book he states that the word for “Hell” (gehenna in Greek) is only found in the NT six times. This is supposed to mean that orthodox Christianity has made far more of Hell than God does. This of course does not count the times “Hades” is used and another word “Tartarus” is used. Nor does it take into consideration the many times descriptions of eternal punishment are found in Scripture where none of those words is used.  When polemists use this tack, I like to say, “How many times does God have to say something before it is true?”  Balaam thought, “At least more than once.” But he was wrong.

The account of Balaam in Numbers 22 and 23 is passing strange.  Israel, during their wilderness wanderings had just defeated the Amorites and king Balak of Moab was fearful they were next.  And so, he tried to hire the local “diviner” (prophet) named Balaam.  They wanted to hire him to curse Israel for them. 

Well, it seems God, in his sovereignty, revealed himself to Balaam and told Balaam not to curse the people because they were blessed of God.  So, Balaam returned that message to Balak.  Undaunted, Balak raised the ante with a bigger offer and enticed Balaam to return and ask God again on a question upon which God had already spoken.  This time God said, go with them.  So, Balaam went with them.  Then we are told that God was angry with him because he went (Num. 22:1-22). Now, that seems odd to us.  God tells him to go and then is angry when he goes.  Why?

It seems God is willing to let people do what they want to do even though he has told them not to.  This was true with Abraham and the other patriarchs pertaining to their practice of fleeing down to Egypt rather than to stay in the land God had promised to them whenever the going got tough.  Abraham did it when he faced a famine in Canaan.  Instead of trusting God to provide in the place to which God’s will had sent him, he fled to Egypt.  And he got in trouble down there, came back with a handmaiden named Hagar, who ultimately became the woman that begot Ishmael.  Ishmael you might remember was the son of the flesh while Isaac was the son of the Promise.  Those two were always in conflict and still are today as Ishmael became the father of the Arab peoples and Isaac carried the Jewish lineage.  The Arabs and Jews still battle one another today.  If you want to blame someone for today’s conflict in the Middle East, blame Abraham and his little jaunt into Egypt.  In Gen. 26, when Isaac faces a famine, he wants to go down to Egypt and God strictly forbids him and tells him to stay in the land.  Finally, another famine causes Jacob’s family to resort to Egypt.  By now, God has sovereignly directed Joseph there through his brothers’ treachery and God tells Jacob to not fear going down to Egypt.

Why the change?  Why does God now tell them to go to Egypt and has provided for them to become a large nation down there?  It is because God is willing to allow people to do things even though he has already told them not to. By the way… Jacob’s family did go down to Egypt, remember?  And they stayed there 400 years as slaves under harsh bondage.  How’d that work out for them? While it was all within the sovereign plan of God, their going was “allowed”, only after they had shown a penchant for relying on Egypt rather than God.

God has told us how he wants us to live.  Yet, he allows us to disobey him if we determine to do so.  But when we do, he will be displeased, and the consequences may not be good.  God wants us to know that he only expects to tell us once and then when we determine to disobey him, he says, “Go ahead… but it’s not going fun.”

Often people will say, “You know, I’ve prayed about (insert something about which God has clearly spoken) and I have peace that it is alright so I’m going to do it.”  Yep, of course you have peace.  If you ask God for permission to do something he has already spoken against he may say, “Go ahead… but you are not going to like what may come of it.”

What God wants from us is to do his will as he has revealed it in his Word…nothing more…nothing less…but nothing else. We don’t need to pray about things upon which God has already spoken, even if only once. We simply need to obey.


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