Food Sacrificed to Idols and the Sexual Immorality of Idolatry

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 foods sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.”

Revelation 2:14

Sometimes we do not grasp all that is being said to the seven churches in the book of Revelation because we do not study the Old Testament enough to understand the depth of the references. What are the teachings of Balaam? Who is Balak? The book of Revelation is referring to future events, so we should pay attention to these matters. The warning given here in the opening quote also comes with consequences.

Rev 2:16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

This warning to repent is to the church, and likely the church today. If we do not repent of these things that we probably don’t fully understand, we are going to be at war with the Messiah when He comes.

It gets worse though. This next type of church tolerates Jezebel and they will be thrown into a sick bed and into great tribulation. Who is Jezebel, and how is she relevant today? He says He is giving each according to their works, but I thought salvation didn’t involve anything more than inviting Jesus into our heart and carrying on with life as normal? What does works have to do with anything?

Rev 2:18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
Rev 2:19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
Rev 2:20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
Rev 2:21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.
Rev 2:22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works,
Rev 2:23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart,
and I will give to each of you according to your works.

There is a warning to another church to repent, and admiration for hating the ways of the Nicolaitans. What did they do? Shouldn’t we be concerned we are not doing the same thing? Again, there apparently are works we should be doing.

Rev 2:5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Rev 2:6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

The first church we looked at was guilty of the same thing as the Nicolaitans.

Rev 2:15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

We need to find out more about Balaam, Balak, Jezebel, and the Nicolaitans in order to ensure we are not engaging in the same sorts of things they were.

Balaam was a prophet who was hired by an enemy of Israel to curse Israel. If we read in the book of Jasher, we see he was in Egypt. After Moses and Aaron visited the Pharaoh for the first time, Paraoh sent for Balaam. The following is from Jasher 79:27-31:

  1. And when they had gone Pharaoh sent for Balaam the magician and to Jannes and Jambres his sons, and to all the magicians and conjurors and counsellors which belonged to the king, and they all came and sat before the king.
  2. And the king told them all the words which Moses and his brother Aaron had spoken to him, and the magicians said to the king, But how came the men to thee, on account of the lions which were confined at the gate?
  3. And the king said, Because they lifted up their rod against the lions and loosed them, and came to me, and the lions also rejoiced at them as a dog rejoices to meet his master.
  4. And Balaam the son of Beor the magician answered the king, saying, These are none else than magicians like ourselves.
  5. Now therefore send for them, and let them come and we will try them, and the king did so.

Paul must have read this passage in Jasher as well because he refers to Balaam’s sons, Jannes and Jambres, who are not mentioned anywhere else in the sixty-six book Bible.

2Ti 3:8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.

Many people have never heard of the book of Jasher, or simply don’t like it. We can pick up some more information about Balaam in the sixty-six book Bible as well.

Num 22:1 Then the people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho.
Num 22:2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
Num 22:3 And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel.
Num 22:4 And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time,
Num 22:5 sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me.
Num 22:6 Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

Balak wanted Balaam to curse the people of Israel. Balaam couldn’t do it and actually ended up blessing them instead. This doesn’t sound too bad so far, but Balaam was a prophet for hire. The details are not clear, but we get some more of the story later in scripture.

Num 25:1 When Israel dwelled in Shittim, the people began to prostitute themselves with the daughters of Moab.
Num 25:2 And they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and worshiped their gods.
Num 25:3 So Israel was joined together to Baal Peor, and Yahweh became angry with Israel.
Num 25:4 Yahweh said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and kill them before the sun, so the fierce anger of Yahweh will turn from Israel.”
Num 25:5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill his men who are joined together with Baal Peor.”
Num 25:6 And behold, a man from the Israelites came and brought to his brothers a Midianite woman before the eyes of Moses and before the eyes of all of the community of the Israelites, and they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of assembly.
Num 25:7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest saw, he got up from the midst of the community and took a spear in his hand.
Num 25:8 He went after the man of Israel into the woman’s section of the tent, and he drove the two of them, the man of Israel and the woman, into her belly. And the plague among the Israelites stopped.
Num 25:9 The ones who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.

Here we see the people of Israel began mingling with the people of Moab. They were celebrating the feasts of the Moab’s god, Baal Peor, and “prostituting” with Moab’s daughters. Balak was unsuccessful in getting Israel cursed by Balaam, yet Balak was able to figure out how to get Yahweh himself to curse them. We read latter that Balaam advised Balak how to do this.

Num 31:16 Behold, these women caused the Israelites, by the word of Balaam, to be in apostasy against Yahweh in the matter of Peor, so that the plague was among the community of Yahweh.

Balaam knew the only way to bring a curse to Israel was to get them to break the commandments Yahweh had given them. He was able to get the women of Moab to seduce the Israelite men to come party with them at their feasts to Baal, the sun god.

The prophet Micah recounts these events:

Mic 6:5 O my people, remember what Balak the king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, so that you might know the righteous acts of Yahweh.”

The story of Balaam seems so obscure and hard to piece together, yet Jesus is telling the church through the Apostle John that they are guilty of the same sorts of acts. If they don’t repent they will experience the wrath of God! What exactly did Balaam do? He taught Balak to put a stumbling block in front of the children of Israel that caused them to blend their worship to the sun god Baal Peor. Balaam knew if they could cause the children of Israel to partake in festivals of other gods, they would bring the curse of the law of God upon themselves. These festivals are being celebrated today during the winter solstice, spring time feasts and in some churches throughout the whole year. It is the same thing. The idolatry of adultery with other gods. We are supposed to be in covenant with Yahweh. When we break that covenant it diminishes the work Jesus came to do, which was to make a way to allow us to come back into covenant with God.

Jezebel also brought Baal worship to Israel. She was married to Ahab.

1Ki 16:29 Now Ahab son of Omri became king over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah. Ahab son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years.
1Ki 16:30 But Ahab son of Omri did evil in the eyes of Yahweh more than all who were before him.
1Ki 16:31 If it wasn’t enough that he went after the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he also took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal the king of the Sidonians. He went and served Baal and bowed down to him.
1Ki 16:32 And he built an altar to Baal in the house of Baal which he had built in Samaria.
1Ki 16:33 Ahab also made the sacred pole, and he continued to provoke Yahweh the God of Israel more than all the kings of Israel who were before him.

The sacred pole was the Ashera tree or groves. Trees and pillars, like obelisks, are very important in Baal worship. Jezebel was responsible for many things the reader will have to research for themselves. Elijah sums up the sins of Ahab and Jezebel:

1Ki 18:17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is this you who throws Israel into confusion?”
1Ki 18:18 He said, “I did not throw Israel into confusion; rather you and the house of your father have by forsaking the commands of Yahweh when you went after the Baals!
1Ki 18:19 So then, send word and assemble all of Israel to me on Mount Carmel, with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at the table of Jezebel.”

Jezebel, much like Balaam, caused Israel to forsake the commandments of Yahweh and get involved with the things of other gods: Ashera and Baal, the queen of heaven and sun god. Jesus, or by His Hebrew name, Yeshua, or salvation, warned the church not to do what Balaam and Jezebel did. Are there any in the church today that “forsake the commandments of Yahweh, and go after the Baals”? What would forsaking the commandments of Yahweh look like today? The same as it looked in the times of Balaam and Jezebel. Yeshua says to repent or be put into tribulation and a sick bed. This is serious business. What would “going after the Baals” look like today? Are there feasts around the winter solstice, or other pagan feast days? Below is a calendar of Baal type Sabbaths and feasts:

Feasts and Sabbaths of Baal

These are the same times that were celebrated in all the nations throughout history. The dates are still celebrated today under different names. Christianity “Christianized” these dates throughout church history with special church services like Christ’s Mass and various days dedicated to saints. For example, Samhain starts the eve before November first and is known as hallow’s eve, or Halloween.

Finally, we have to look at the Nicolaitans. Unfortunately there is not very much information about this group of people. One view maintains that the Nicolaitans were lawless, not regarding the commandments of Yahweh. In Acts, the council gives the new converts the starting point of following Yahweh, followed by “for Moses is taught in all the synagogues”, implying they can start with the basics then learn more of the milk Moses taught.

Act 15:14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
Act 15:15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
Act 15:16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:
Act 15:17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.
Act 15:18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
Act 15:19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
Act 15:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
Act 15:21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

These items to abstain from were woven into the fabric of the surrounding cultures’ religions with temple prostitutes and sacrifices to Baal type gods. The implication is that these new converts would learn the instructions of Yahweh at the synagogues when they attended on the Sabbath day. It is thought that the Nicolaitans still engaged in these sort of practices or approved of such things. The following is from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

The problem underlying the Nicolaitan controversy, though so little direct mention is made of it in Scripture, was in reality most important, and concerned the whole relation of Christianity to paganism and its usages. The Nicolaitans disobeyed the command issued to the Gentile churches, by the apostolic council held at Jerusalem in 49-50 AD, that they should refrain from the eating of “things sacrificed to idols” (Act 15:29). Such a restriction, though seemingly hard, in that it prevented the Christian communities from joining in public festivals, and so brought upon them suspicion and dislike, was yet necessary to prevent a return to a pagan laxity of morals. To this danger the Nicolaitans were themselves a glaring witness, and therefore John was justified in condemning them. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul gives warning against the same evil practices, basing his arguments on consideration for the weaker brethren (compare 1Co 8:1-13).

It comes down to pagan blending again, which breaks some very serious commands that Yahweh gave to people who choose to follow Him. This is why Yeshua (Jesus) gives such a dire warning for people to repent from these practices or be destroyed at His coming.

Deu 12:29 “When Yahweh your God has cut off the nations whom you are about to go to, to dispossess them before you, and you have dispossessed them, and you live in their land,
Deu 12:30 take care so that you are not ensnared into imitating them after their being destroyed from before you, and so that you not enquire concerning their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods, and thus I myself want to do also.’
Deu 12:31 You must not do so toward Yahweh your God, because of every detestable thing they have done for their gods Yahweh hates, for even their sons and their daughters they would burn in the fire to their gods.
Deu 12:32 All of the things that I am commanding you, you must diligently observe; you shall not add to it, and you shall not take away from it.”

Celebrating feasts of other gods is likened to sexual immorality. Often Israel is compared to a whore by Yahweh.

Hos 2:6 Therefore, Look! I am going to hedge her path with thorns, and I will build a stone wall, a stone wall against her, and she will not find her paths.
Hos 2:7 Then she will pursue her lovers, but she will not overtake them; she will seek them and not find them; and she will say, “I will go and return to my first husband because it was better for me then than now.”
Hos 2:8 But she did not know that it was I who gave her grain, new wine, and oil, and who gave her silver in abundance, and gold which they made into a Baal.
Hos 2:9 Therefore I will take again my grain in its time, and my wine in its season; and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness.
Hos 2:10 And now I will uncover her nakedness before the eyes of her lovers, and no one will rescue her from my hand.
Hos 2:11 And I will put an end to all her mirth, her festivals, her new moons, and her Sabbaths, and all her appointed festivals;
Hos 2:12 and I will lay waste to her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, “They are my payment for prostitution, which my lovers gave to me.” I will make them a forest, and the wild animals of the field will devour them.
Hos 2:13 I will punish her for the days of the Baals, to whom she burns incense, and she decked herself with her ornamental ring and jewelry, and she went after her lovers, and forgot me—a declaration of Yahweh.

The celebrations of the nations’ gods are still evident today walking through any department store during one of the seasons of these festivals. The early believers struggled with these issues as well: “Such a restriction, though seemingly hard, in that it prevented the Christian communities from joining in public festivals, and so brought upon them suspicion and dislike”. These warnings to the churches are still relevant today. “Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works”.

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