The Old Testament prophets were considered to be inspired spokesmen for God. “Moses was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 34:10) and the example for all later prophets. He displayed every aspect of a true prophet, both in his call, his work, his faithfulness, and, at times, his doubts. Only Abraham is called a prophet before Moses (Genesis 20:7)” (H5030). A prophet was someone “who was raised up by God and, as such, could only proclaim that which the Lord gave him to say. A prophet could not contradict the Law of the Lord or speak from his own mind or heart.” When Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam and asked him to curse the people of Israel, Balaam refused to do it (Numbers 22:14). “Balaam lived a long distance away from Moab, yet he must have been quite famous for Balak to have known of him and have sent for him. Archeological evidence from Deir Alla indicates that Balaam was highly regarded by pagans five hundred years after his death. His activity is described as divination and sorcery (Numbers 22:7, cf. Numbers 23:23; 24:1)” (note on Numbers 22:5). The fact that Balaam was known as a false prophet, a sorcerer if you will, didn’t stop him from being under God’s authority and control. After Balaam refused to go with the elders of Moab, Numbers 22:15-21 states:
Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’” But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.
God allowed Balaam to go with the princes of Moab, but he also made it clear that Balaam had to obey his instructions. Balaam referred to the LORD as “my God” (Numbers 22:18) even though he was not an Israelite and had not been called to be a prophet. Balaam told Balak the king of Moab, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Numbers 22:38).
Balak’s attempt to get Balaam to curse the people of Israel was driven by fear (Numbers 22:3) and the hope that he could stop God’s chosen people from overtaking the land of Moab (Numbers 22:6). After Balaam delivered his first discourse, Balak realized his plan wasn’t working. “And Balak said to Balaam, ‘What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.’ And he answered and said, ‘Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth’” (Numbers 23:11-12). Balaam’s second discourse made it even clearer that Balak’s attempts to curse the Israelites were futile. Balaam stated:
Rise, Balak, and hear;
give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Behold, I received a command to bless:
he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
and the shout of a king is among them.
God brings them out of Egypt
and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
‘What has God wrought!’
Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up
and as a lion it lifts itself;
it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
and drunk the blood of the slain.” (Numbers 23:18-24)
Balaam indicated that there was no enchantment or magic spell that would work against the descendants of Jacob and Balak’s attempts to use divination against them were useless (Numbers 23:23). The reason Balaam gave for Israel’s special treatment was that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). Balaam also specified that God’s word was linked to his covenant with Jacob and he could not revoke it (Numbers 23:20).
The Hebrew word qesem (kehˊ-sem), which is translated divination in Numbers 23:23 describes the cultic practice of foreign nations that was prohibited in Israel (Deuteronomy 18:10) and was considered a great sin. “False prophets used divination to prophecy in God’s name, but God identified them as false (Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 13:6); and pledged to remove such practices from Israel (Ezekiel 13:23)” (H7081). One of the last mentions of divination in the Old Testament appears in Zechariah 10 which deals with the restoration of Judah and Israel and makes mention of God’s concern for his people. Zechariah 10:2-5 states:
For the household gods utter nonsense,
and the diviners see lies;
they tell false dreams
and give empty consolation.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.
“My anger is hot against the shepherds,
and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah,
and will make them like his majestic steed in battle.
From him shall come the cornerstone,
from him the tent peg,
from him the battle bow,
from him every ruler—all of them together.
They shall be like mighty men in battle,
trampling the foe in the mud of the streets;
they shall fight because the Lord is with them,
and they shall put to shame the riders on horses.
In this passage, Jesus is referred to as the cornerstone. After he told the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33-40), in which the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived that Jesus was talking about them (Matthew 21:45), Jesus asked the Jews in the temple that had gathered to listen to him:
“Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:42-44).
John’s gospel opens with a description of Jesus as “the Word” (John 1:1). John said, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). John went on to say, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). John connected the Word of God to God’s creative acts and said, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). The Greek word that is translated known, exogeomai (ex-ayg-ehˊ-om-ahee) means “to consider out (aloud)” and also “to bring out or lead out, to take the lead, be the leader” (G1834). One of the primary reasons Jesus came into the world was to make God known and he did it in a way that had never been done before. Hebrews 1:1-4 states:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
The phrase “exact imprint” (Hebrews 1:3) refers to the representation of God’s nature being stamped on Jesus as if it was being permanently engraved on a stone. With respect to the Ten Commandments which were written on stone tablets with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18), you might say that Jesus was the embodiment of the Ten Commandments in that through Jesus, the words that God wrote were being brought to life, enacted by way of Jesus’ sinless human nature.
Jesus’ encounter with an invalid man at the pool of Bethesda illustrates the effect that God’s word has on sinners. Jesus began by posing the question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The King James Version of the Bible translates Jesus’ question “Wilt thou be made whole?” This suggests that one of the effects of sin is that it makes us to feel like there is something missing in our lives. Jesus wanted to know if the man had a desire for his life to get better. That might seem like a stupid question except that the man’s response showed that he didn’t believe it was possible for him to do what was necessary for his healing to take place (John 5:7). Jesus then commanded the man, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). The Greek words that are translated get up, egeiro (eg-iˊ-ro); take up, airo (ahˊ-ee-ro); and walk, peripateo (per-ee-pat-ehˊ-o) all have a spiritual connotation that indicate Jesus was expecting the man to acknowledge his divine authority. John 5:9 states, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” Later, when Jesus encountered the man a second time, he told him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ statement made it clear that doing what God tells us to can restore us to health, but we must change our behavior if we want to avoid getting into trouble in the first place.
When the Jews criticized Jesus for healing the invalid man on the Sabbath, Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working. This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18). Jesus’ equality with God was evident in both his actions and the things that he said. In the Old Testament, when a prophet spoke on behalf of God, he would typically preface his statement with “thus says the Lord” (Isaiah 7:7), but Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus talked as if he was God, as when he commanded the man he healed, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ comment about the ongoing work of God (John 5:17) had to do with God’s plan of salvation, which had yet to be completed. Jesus indicated that his ministry was a part of God’s plan of salvation and that the things he was doing, like healing the invalid man, were connected to what God wanted to accomplish. Jesus went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Even though Jesus was equal with God, he said that he couldn’t do anything of his own accord, meaning that he could not act independently and decide on his own what he should do in any given situation. In that sense, Jesus was merely God’s representative on earth. The Greek word poieo (poy-ehˊ-o) is used four times in John 5:19 to emphasize the importance of action in the spiritual realm. Poieo is “spoken of any external act as manifested in the production of something tangible, corporeal, obvious to the senses, i.e. completed action” (G4160). Jesus said, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). The word sees in this verse refers to spiritual perception and suggests that Jesus had to rely on spiritual discernment in order to carry out his assignment of dying for the sins of the world. The phrase can do nothing means that Jesus in an absolute sense had no power of his own to rely on. Jesus could only do that which he was able to discern through spiritual perception was the will of his Father. Jesus spoke of himself as being sent by his Father (John 5:23). The Greek word that is translated sent, pempo (pemˊ-po) means to dispatch “especially on a temporary errand” (G3992) and does not necessarily denote any official capacity or authoritative sending. Jesus came into the world as a servant (Matthew 20:28) and as a human was limited in his ability to do things, just as we are.
Jesus told the Jews:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:25-27)
Jesus indicated that he had been given authority to execute judgment. An example of Jesus exercising this authority is given in Matthew 9:1-8 where it states:
And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
Jesus used the authority that he had been given to execute judgment to forgive the sins of people that were suffering from various illnesses and physical defects. Also, Jesus gave his disciples the ability to do the same. Matthew 10:1 states, “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”
Jesus explained to the Jews that he was been given the power to release people from the penalty of their sins because he wasn’t doing it for his own benefit. Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). And then, Jesus went on to say, “For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus wanted to make sure that the Jews understood that it wasn’t because he was a nice guy that he was going around forgiving peoples’ sins. God wanted his people to be healthy and happy. The Apostle Peter wrote in his second epistle, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The problem that the Jews had with God’s plan of salvation was not that his grace was sufficient to remove their sins, but that God’s grace was capable of getting rid of the sins of everyone. Peter said that God is not willing that any should perish and that all would repent of their sins. Jesus made God’s will perfectly clear to the Jews during his ministry by associating with the outcasts of society and by becoming the friend of tax collectors and sinners.