Not all preconceived notions are dangerous.
Some are. Some are very dark, hateful, judgemental ideas that are made without all the information. It could be caused by a single bad experience, secondhand information, or misinformation. Wherever it stems from, some preconceived notions are terrible, destructive ideas that only serve to tear down.
I discovered this week that I have had a preconceived notion, a preformulated idea about a piece of Scripture. I wasn’t wrong about my idea. I wasn’t distorting the Bible, but I was completely unaware, completely blinded to something that was there.
After I show it to you, you’ll most likely realize you did the same thing. We all have some preconceived notions about Scripture and need to be more aware of that.
“Then he spoke his message:
“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,
the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,
the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a sceptre will rise out of Israel.
He will crush the foreheads of Moab,
the skulls ofall the people of Sheth.”
MY PRECONCEIVED NOTION
Whenever I’ve read this passage, and yes, I have read through Numbers before, I have come to one conclusion.
This passage is about Jesus.
The prophet Balaam, hired to curse the nation of Israel, couldn’t do it. Instead, the Lord prompted him to speak words of life and promise. And in doing so, I thought, was speaking specifically about Jesus.
Jesus would be the star out of Jacob. It made sense. There would be a star that gave direction to the Magi so they could offer his worship (Matthew 2).
Jesus would be the sceptre to rise out of Israel. It made sense. While He didn’t come as a king or ruler on this earth, Jesus was, is, and forever will be the ruler over all things, sitting at the right hand of the Father (Revelation 1:4-6).
But is that it?
While I’m not wrong with that idea (and neither are you if you agree), that isn’t what the Israelites would have understood upon hearing or reading that passage from Numbers.
They would have had a very different understanding. Not a wrong understanding, but one that most Christians wouldn’t have thought of. Something that shows us just how powerful our preconceived notions are.
WHAT WE HAVE MISSED
From the pages of F.F. Bruce’s Jesus & Christian Origins Outside The New Testament, I discovered a different interpretation of the Numbers passage. It was held by a particular group of Jews, though possibly not exclusively.
While discussing this groups understanding of Messiah, and the criteria of, Bruce said this.
“The first [proof-text to validate their understanding of Messiah] is the Deuteronomy passage about the prophet like Moses with some associated passages; the second is Balaam’s oracle about the victorious ‘star out of Jacob’ and ‘sceptre of out Israel’ in Numbers 24:14-17, which originally referred to King David and so is appropriately reapplied to ‘great David’s greater son’...”
As soon as I read that, I put the book down. It wasn’t something I was reading for. It isn’t even what the book is about, but I was dumbfounded by what Bruce had said.
Balaam’s prophecy was about David…not initially Jesus.
It isn’t that the prophecy doesn’t apply to Jesus. It does. And this particular group of Jews, one that never came in contact with Jesus, totally believed that the Messiah, or one of the Messiahs, would fulfill this prophecy. But Jesus was not the first answer to “Who is this prophecy about?”
21st century Christians, while we are right in our conclusions, our preconceived notion of Balaam’s prophecy, we are also blinded by it.
We need to be aware. We need to consider the fact that our preconceived notion may not be right, or may not be the first right answer to questions from the Bible.
We aren’t necessarily wrong, but we may be overlooking interesting and important truth because we are “sure” we know the right answer.
As we read the Bible, we should feel free to ask what else could the Scripture be saying. How else could this be understood, by the original audience, by the first generation after that, or even the people that lived in the days of Jesus? There may be things that we are missing.
Beware of your own preconceived notions.
This article first appeared on Christian Thought Sandbox.