After the Israelites defeated the king of Sihon and Og the king of Bashan, Balak the king of Moab devised a plot to keep the Israelites from entering his territory. Balak offered Balaam, a well-known false prophet, fees to pronounce a curse on the Israelites so that they would be powerless to overtake him (Numbers 22:6-7). Balak’s plan backfired and instead of cursing the people of Israel, Balaam blessed the Israelites four times (Numbers 23-24), but that was not the end of the story. Numbers 25:1-3 tells us, “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” The Hebrew word that is translated whore, zanah (zaw-nawˊ) means “to commit adultery,” but in this instance it is being used figuratively to refer to “the Jewish people being regarded as the spouse of Jehovah” (H2181). Deuteronomy explains from God’s perspective what was going on when Balak tried to curse the Israelites. Numbers 23:3-6 states:
“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever.” (Deuteronomy 23:3-6)
It says in Deuteronomy 23:5 that the LORD God was in love with the people of Israel in the same way that a man and a woman have a strong emotional attachment to each other (H157). The LORD protected the Israelites from Balaam because of his deep affection for them. When the Israelites participated in the sacrifices to the Moabite gods and bowed down to worship them, they were in essence disassociating themselves from the God that had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and who had provided for all their needs throughout their 40 years of wandering in the desert.
It says in Numbers 25:3, “So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor.” The Hebrew word that is translated yoked, tsamad (tsaw-madˊ) has to do with being like-minded, two or more people thinking the same way about things. The Moabites likely had a mental framework that excluded God’s existence, but it wasn’t obvious to the Israelites. In the book of Revelation, John was instructed to write letters to the seven churches that pointed out the things that each of them was doing right and the things that they were doing wrong. In his letter to the church in Pergamum, the Lord told John to write, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14). The Greek word that is translated stumbling block, maʿaqash (mah-ak-awshˊ) means “a crook (in a road). Maʿaqash is derived from the word ʿaqash (aw-kashˊ) which means “to knot or distort; figuratively to pervert” (H6140). One way of looking at what was going on between the Israelites and the Moabites was that their practices of making sacrifices seemed to be so similar that the Israelites might have thought it didn’t matter if they did it one way or the other. The problem was that the Moabites were sacrificing to a different god. The Moabites were pledging their allegiance to Baal of Peor and the Israelites by participating in their sacrifices were doing the same (Numbers 25:5).
Numbers 25:18 indicates that the Israelites had been harassed by the Moabites with their wiles and that they had been beguiled by them in the matter of Baal of Peor. Wiles are methods of deceit that are intended to defraud someone (H5231/5230). The Apostle Paul talks about the wiles of the devil in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul told the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11, NKJV). The Greek word that is translated stand, histemi (hisˊtay-mee) means to stand fast against an enemy, but it is also used metaphorically “to impute, e.g., sin unto someone’ (G2476). In Acts 7:30 the dying martyr Stephen used the word histemi when he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” In that sense, standing against the wiles of the devil might mean that we don’t let the devil’s false accusations stop us from doing God’s will. Jesus was constantly bombarded with false accusations by the Jewish leaders who wanted to put a stop to his ministry. On one occasion, after Jesus healed a man that had been an invalid for 38 years, “the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed and walk”’…And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:10-11, 16).
The Jews tried to discredit Jesus by shifting the focus of peoples’ attention from the fact that Jesus was doing miracles to the fact that he was doing them on the Sabbath. Jesus countered the Jews argument against him with this statement:
“I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21-24)
On the surface of things it seemed as if the Jews were in the right and Jesus was in the wrong, but Jesus pointed out that appearances can be deceiving. The Greek word that is translated right in John 7:24, dikaios (dikˊ-ah-yos) has to do with being impartial. Dikaios is used “especially of those whose hearts are right with God” and of things being just as they should be (G1342).
It is clear that the Jews weren’t able to discriminate between good and evil because they didn’t even realize that Jesus was their Messiah. It says in John 7:5, “For not even his brothers believed in him. John tells us, “There was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews” (John 7:12-13, NKJV). Some of the Jews thought that Jesus was deceiving the people, but the opposite was actually true. The Greek word planao (plan-ahˊ-o) is used with the definite article in Revelation 12:9 as a title of the Devil, “the Deceiver” (G4105). Planao appears throughout the New Testament in connection with the devils activities. Jesus warned his disciples, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5, NKJV). Jesus went on to say about the end times, “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:11-14, NKJV) and later, “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, NKJV). The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).
John’s first epistle states about Christ, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:7-8). Jesus’ question to the Jews pointed out the obvious discrepancy between their behavior and their espoused beliefs. He asked them, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” (John 7:19). The Jews intended to murder Jesus and yet they proclaimed, “You have a demon!” (John 7:20). The Jewish authorities’ hypocrisy was evident to everyone and yet the people justified their doubts about Jesus’ deity based on facts about his human birth. They posed the question, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?” and then, answered themselves, “But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” (John 7:20-21). The people were confused because they weren’t looking at things from a spiritual perspective.
Paul explained the lost state of the unsaved in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul said:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.(Ephesians 2:1-3)
Paul described unbelievers as being dead in trespasses and sins, “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). The picture Paul presented was one of involuntary cooperation. Unsaved people are dead spiritually and yet they are subject to Satan’s influence. Satan’s ultimate goal is to use deception to keep people under his control until it’s too late for them escape eternal punishment. Paul told believers:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Ephesians 4:17-19)
The Greek word that is translated darkened in Ephesians 4:18, skotizo (skot-idˊ-zo) means “to obscure” (G4654) and is derived from the word skotos (skotˊ-os) which is “spoken figuratively of moral darkness, the absence of spiritual light and truth, including the idea of sinfulness and consequent calamity” (G4655).
Jesus battled against the deceptive forces at work in the Jews minds by teaching them the spiritual truths that govern the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount began with the key principles of spiritual life, what we know today as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Jesus also compared the ways of the world with the ways of his kingdom in order to show the stark contrast between saved and unsaved individuals. Jesus stated:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus’ declaration that we must be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect was meant to point out that the standard for Christian living is not obedience to the Ten Commandments, but complete surrender to God’s will through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus illustrated this point when he said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
Jesus’ reference to the Holy Spirit caused a division among the people. John 7:40-47 states:
When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?
The lines that were being drawn between the Jewish religious leaders and followers of Christ made it difficult for anyone associated with the Pharisees to make a profession of faith. Nicodemus, who came to Jesus at night to find out how he could be born again (John 3:1-21), was unwilling to openly declare his faith (John 7:50-52). “When Nicodemus urged the other Pharisees to consider Christ’s words before determining whether he spoke the truth, they sought to discredit him” (note on John 7:52).
Paul talked about the deceitfulness of sin being the root cause of the Jews unbelief. Paul said:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12-19)
In a very simplistic sense, unbelief is merely a rejection of the truth, but what is really at work in the hearts of unbelievers is an unconscious choice to believe Satan’s lies. Satan’s deception cannot prevent a person from becoming a believer, but it does provide him with an alternate choice. The Holy Spirit’s instruction, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15) implies that unbelief is a decision to not listen to the voice of God.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul expressed his concern about them getting caught up in the deceptive practices of religion. Paul wrote:
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. (Galatians 4:8-11)
Paul went on to remind the Galatians that the central and perhaps only principle they really needed to focus on in order to live a godly life was God’s law of reciprocity. Paul said:
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)
Paul admonished the Galatians to not be deceived, suggesting that what he was about to say to them would be disputed by the three satanic forces that work against our belief in Christ: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus indicated that we must give the Holy Spirit free reign in our hearts and lives so that we are not taken in by Satan’s deception, (John 7:38-39).