How much do you hunger for the spiritual buffet of God's Word, the Bible?
When supper is on, few people have to be coaxed to the table! Besides simply partaking of the life-giving sustenance that food provides, it's enjoyable to eat a delectable, sumptuous meal. And yet, speaking of the life-giving spiritual buffet that God makes available to humans through His law and way of life, God says: "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: 'I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider.' Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward" (Isa. 1:2-4). Notice the striking comparison! Even the donkey, which many people consider to be a stubborn or stupid animal, knows where its nourishment comes from. But God's nation had turned its back on the very source for its existence!
"Where there is no vision..."
Israel could not find its master's crib! Just how ignorant should we consider the poor donkey, after all? God reveals to us that "Where there is no vision [revealed perception], the people perish" (Prov. 29:18, Authorized Version). Humanity today possess God's Word in writing, the Bible. That book contains the keys that, if kept, would produce fantastic blessings beyond people's wildest imaginations. Yet few understand God's Word — few, indeed, even try to! That is not the case for true Christians, God's called and chosen people. We know God has opened our minds to understand His holy truth, and He expects us to be sufficiently grateful to study His words of life! Out of the Bible we can consume spiritual nutrition that will stabilize and sustain the weakest of souls through the tempestuous times ahead — and those times surely are coming. To whom do you go when confronted with a fiery trial? Do you stumble on blindly, wondering how such a thing could happen to you, and become more and more confused and disillusioned? Do you find yourself turning to this world for solace? Or do you, as God encourages, turn to Him and His revealed truth for answers, encouragement and confidence? God's words, found in our Bibles, are like golden kernels of grain teeming with extremely nutritious, mouthwatering values. When "eaten" (and we have to, after all, "hunger and thirst for righteousness" — Matthew 5:6), these kernels supercharge us with satisfying spiritual energy. This is the highest form of energizing that humans can enjoy (John 6:57, 63). The covers of your Bible are like crib sides holding those life-giving grains of goodness. God wants us, then, to turn to His crib for daily sustenance. This world will not. The world is blinded to God's truth, though millions may have Bibles (albeit many covered with dust) in their homes. We dare not be of that number — we dare not be like blinded modern-day Israel and the world at large. Of course, God desires that Israel and all mankind come to know Him (Rom. 11:25-28, I Tim. 2:4). And, thankfully, all will in due time, according to the schedule ordained by God (Isa. 29:18). But for our day, God has allowed Satan to keep the world blinded to its incredible human potential (Matt. 13:10-17), although He has revealed it to us for His holy purpose. We are called to a great commission, to publish and broadcast God's good news to an apathetic, dying world. Qualifying for salvation requires that we be involved in fulfilling this commission (Ezek. 3:17-21, Mal. 4:5-6, Matt. 28:18-20). And we must know where our master's crib is, and be partaking of it regularly and in sufficient quantities!
The apostle Peter illuminated an Old Testament example that will help us see why we must dine daily from our master's spiritual crib. Peter wrote of wicked people who "have forsaken the right way [they had followed it once!] and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man's voice restrained the madness of the prophet" (II Pet. 2:15-16). Balaam can be seen as a type of blinded Israel and this world, in terms of spiritual malnutrition and starvation. He, at best, fed on the corncobs or chaff. He made his own decision. And his example was recorded for our admonition today (I Cor. 10:11). Numbers 22 finds Old Testament Israel still in their wanderings, not having entered into the promised land. Balak, king of the nation of Moab, was justifiably nervous; he knew of Israel's previous conquests. So Balak opted to hire a diviner, Balaam, to pronounce a curse on Israel and relieve him of his problem. Balaam was a pagan high priest, the head of the false religious system of his day. He offered a mixture of paganistic ritual with a touch of true, though blurred, knowledge of the true God. He was a "prophet for profit," as it were, and was willing to commercialize his office. Reasoning humanly, he concluded that God must curse Israel, since the nation had evil in it. "So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the diviner's fee in their hand, and they came to Balaam and spoke to him the words of Balak. And he said to them, 'Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.'... And God said to Balaam, 'You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed'" (Num. 22:7-8, 12). Balaam, who claimed to be a servant of the true God, should already have known that what he was doing was sin. But instead, he received the messengers and asked God what he should do! When God stated that he should not go, he refused the king's bribe, only to be presented with another. He failed this test, too, however. God had already made it clear that Balaam should not go with the men to curse Israel. But Balaam, who wanted his own way instead of God's, asked again! This time God said He would allow him to go if the men came back once again. But rather than wait for the men, Balaam took the initiative and went on his own, apparently even rising very early in the morning (verses 15-21). "Then God's anger was aroused because he went, and the Angel of the Lord took His stand in the way as an adversary against him. And he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. Now the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand, and the donkey turned aside out of the way and went into the field. So Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back onto the road" (verses 22-23).
Who's the real donkey?
God has an enlightening lesson for us here. Though God is patient, when He counsels us to do or not do a thing, He means what He says. Had Balaam been feeding from the true master's crib, we would not have this account, nor would we read of his demise. God instructed Balaam not to go with the king's aides because Israel's future was planned by God. The story continues with Balaam's donkey twice more attempting to preserve both their lives, and Balaam striking the animal. Finally God caused the donkey to speak. It asked, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" (verse 28). Doesn't this strike you as a little strange? After all, a beast of burden doesn't speak every day, let alone reason. Stranger still, though, is that Balaam didn't even question this unique phenomenon! Instead, he retorted in a spoiled way: "Because you have abused me. I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you!" (verse 29). Odd way to put it, one might think, seeing God's angel had his sword drawn to kill Balaam! Balaam's donkey had steered his master correctly. It was Balaam, the stubborn, two-legged donkey, who was the less pliable, the less wise, the less obedient. And then God opened the blinded eyes of the defunct diviner. What an awesome revelation! There before him stood the mighty, resplendent angel of the Lord, sword drawn, ready to end Balaam's life. The angel said: "The donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live" (verse 33). The whole point is that Balaam did not learn — he did not repent. First God compelled him to prophesy blessing on Israel (Num. 24). Finally God avenged Himself and Israel by taking Balaam's life (Num. 31:1-8).
What we are to live by
Jesus, while correcting Satan during the greatest battle ever fought, focused our obligation to Him by stating, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). And why not? After all, we are made incomplete. Man needs God's Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:9-14). In this life, we are susceptible to Satan's broadcasting, to do evil that leads to death. Before conversion we were servants to unrighteousness, but are now servants of God (Eph. 2:1-6). So we must avoid Satan's corncobs and chaff, the lighter and fluffier "passing pleasures of sin" (Gal. 3:1, 1 John 2:15-17, Heb. 11:25). God has given us the bread of His life, His words to guide and sustain us. He desires us to feed on His provender.
The Bible you read and study is your master's crib! It contains the words leading to eternal life, provided you obey them. Though the golden grains of life are both free and plentiful, they'll be of no use to us until we decide to ingest them, helping us to walk after the Spirit (Rom. 6:17, 8:1). We must feed from God's crib while there's time. Christ warned, "The night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). Satan's wrath will be great upon this earth (Rev. 12:12, Amos 8:11-12). This will be a time of such great trouble that if God would not send Jesus Christ to intervene in man's affairs, no flesh would be saved alive (Matt. 24:21-22). This horrible period in world history will reach into the lives of every man, woman and child on earth (Luke 21:25-26, Rev. 6:3- II, Rev. 3:10). That means we dare not waste one precious minute.
Study to survive
Jesus Christ exhorts us to study to survive: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15). Christ warns: "Evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood [Paul was here speaking to Timothy] you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God [that's you and me] may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every work" (II Tim. 3:13-17). Yes, the apostle Paul was exhorting the evangelist Timothy to study to be able to survive. But God uses this same exhortation for us "on whom the ends of the ages have come" (I Cor. 10:11). We are the elect of God. He has opened our eyes to see and our eyes to hear, and He expects that we heed what we see and what we hear from Him. We know who our master is. We know what constitutes His spiritual crib. We know our master will never hinder our dining freely from His provender. Who, then, can stop us from spiritual maturation? God won't. Satan can't. Only you and 1 can stop our rapid and healthy growth "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). So God lovingly and mercifully instructs us, with all mankind: "'Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together,' says the Lord, 'though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword'; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken" (Isa. 1:16-20). Time is short. Don't be like Balaam. Eat daily from your master's crib, and reap everlasting life!