And Balaam said to Balak, "Stand beside your
burnt offering, and I will go. Perhaps the LORD will come to meet me,
and whatever he shows me I will tell you." (Bemidbar/Numbers 23:3;
of the main purposes behind consumer and trademark law is the avoidance
of brand confusion. I don't know what it is like in your part of the
world, but where I live the government has regulations in place to
prevent individuals and companies from leveraging the popularity of
competing brands. When a brand is already well-known and trusted, people
more quickly notice it. The laws against trademark infringement are not
simply because of ownership issues, but due to a desire on the part of
our legislators to protect consumers. For example, Time, the weekly news
magazine, is a very well-known brand that has been in existence for over
ninety years. As far as I can tell, more than once, other periodicals
have attempted to implement thin red borders on their covers similar to
the one used by Time since 1927. Courts have determined that the newer
magazines could not use the red border design element because it creates
confusion for customers due to an illegitimate association with Time.
The Bible makes a brand claim, so to speak, with regard to the God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Bible clearly asserts that he is the
original God-the one and only Creator, Wonder Worker, Redeemer, and
Savior. Among his trademarked products is the universe, including Planet
Earth and all its vegetation, animals, and humans. He is the sole
inventor, designer and implementer of every physical and spiritual
property, known and unknown. Everything everywhere has been brought to
you by the God of Israel. All other claims by any other entity, real or
false, are guilty of infringement.
However, God doesn't seem to be interested in applying the principles
of consumer law to himself or his products. It's not that he is okay
with infringement. Doesn't he say, "You shall not take the name of
the LORD your God in vain" (Shemot/Exodus 20:27: ESV)? Yet, he has
allowed misrepresentation of his name to occur time and time again.
This week's parasha (weekly Torah reading portion), is one of the
most confusing uses of God's brand in the whole Bible. King Balak of
Moab, a territory in the vicinity of the Promised Land, was so
intimidated by the people of Israel that he hired a diviner, by the name
of Balaam (Hebrew: Bilam) to curse them. At first glance it seems that
Balaam truly represented God. But what really happened was that God
didn't allow Balaam to have his way. His favorable use of God's name
occurred in spite of himself. Later on this same man will cause great
damage to Israel through the use of sexual immorality (see Bemidbar/Numbers
So while how Balaam spoke about God in this Torah section doesn't
appear to infringe on God's brand (God saw to that), unless we read
Balaam in his full biblical context, we might easily regard his
illegitimate methods as acceptable.
Just because something is reported in the Bible doesn't mean that it
is endorsed by God. God did not reveal himself in Scripture in such a
way that always makes right or wrong immediately obvious. Unlike our
consumer laws, he allows the misuse of his brand. This means that if we
don't take care in how we read the Bible, we will get confused.
Years ago, I took a biblical Hebrew course at Regent College in
Vancouver with renowned scholar Dr. Bruce Waltke. I'll never forget the
time he said something to the extent of (this is not a direct quote):
"The Bible is a sensitive book for sensitive readers. It doesn't
build walls around itself to protect itself. If people want to abuse it,
they can. But for the sensitive reader, it is a book of life." Dr.
Waltke's comments are insightful. Superficial and selective reading of
Scripture can easily result in great misunderstanding. It is relatively
simple to misquote and misuse it for your own purposes. But it is its
lack of protective barriers that enables God's written Word to
powerfully impact our lives. God purposely allowed the possibility of
brand confusion to occur, so that we can know him with a genuineness and
intimacy that protective legislation would obscure.
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