In Numbers 22, Balak, king of the Moabites, sent men to hire Balaam to curse Israel. Their first attempt failed, so Balak tried again, sending more numerous and honorable princes than the first. Hear Balaam’s answer to the men: “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more” (Numbers 22:18). Although Balaam has greed in his heart (Jude 11) and eventually counsels the women of Moab to harlotry with Israel (Numbers 25; 31:16), his words are spot on – “I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.”
His words resound with the principle stressed throughout Scripture in both the old law of Moses and in the gospel of Christ. Hear Moses: “Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2). Now hear the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:6: “Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.” Paul had shown in chapter 1 that the wisdom of men stood in contrast to the gospel he preached. And in chapter 2, the gospel that he and the other apostles received by inspiration and then taught were the very words which the Holy Spirit teaches. In chapter 3, Paul makes it clear that both he and Apollos are simply ministers of the gospel. Now in 4:6 he wants them to stay within the confines of what has been revealed and written – that is Scripture, including the gospel – and not go after human wisdom.
So what? You and I have no right to add to or take away from the Scriptures, and that’s true even with things that can be difficult to swallow. Consider just two examples upon which men are divided.
Will a man be saved if he believes but is not baptized? No, because Jesus said he who believes and is baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16). You and I have no right to change that truth.
Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason? Jesus said no, and he gave only one exception (Matthew 19:1-9). You and I have no right to add another exception nor to take that one away. But men do, and they do so to their own peril.
Perhaps these truths upset some, and they alarmingly respond, “You mean to tell me…?” But we must make no apology for what the Scriptures teach. Do we fish for an answer in the Bible that will satisfy us or someone else, or do we have the attitude that is expressed in the words “What the Lord says, that I must speak” (Numbers 24:13)?