Blessed, though Undeserving
Text: Num 22:21-38
Theme: God blesses us in spite of our disobedience.
Image: talking donkey
Message: be encouraged, God is blessing you
Blessed, though Undeserving
This may seem strange to our modern conception of warfare, but it is the custom in many pagan cultures to hire someone to curse their enemy for them. This even happened in the Burmese war; the Burmese hired sorcerers to speak curses against the British, hoping that then they would be able to defeat them. These pagan cultures think that if the gods are unhappy with their enemies, if those other people are cursed, then they might be weak enough to defeat. In this story Balak, King of Moab, contracts Balaam, the most fearsome sorcerer around to curse the Israelites. The Moabites had no idea that God had commanded the Israelites not to touch them (Deut 2:5-6), they had seen what the Israelites had done to the other nations they had opposed. The Moabites were scared of being wiped out just like the Amorites had been. The people of Moab looked out on the gathered army of Israel, and they shook in their sandals.
When Balak sent to Balaam he had supreme confidence in Balaam's abilities. He says, “for I know that whoever you bless will be blessed, and whoever you curse will be cursed.” The act of sending for Balaam to curse Israel, puts God's covenant promises to the test. God promised Abraham that he would bless his descendants and that “whoever curses them I will curse, and whoever blesses them I will bless.” This passage outlines a direct test of God's covenant with his people, by a human king.
God instructs him not to go, yet allows him to go.
Balak sends an envoy to Balaam to try to hire him for this job. Balaam, realising that the best way to curse a people is through their own God, decides to inquire of Yahweh. That evening, Yahweh meets with this pagan sorcerer. He tells him, “You are not to go with them. You are not to curse this people, because they are blessed.” When Balaam got up in the morning, he told those who had come to get him, “Go back home, Yahweh has refused me to go with you.” He does not tell them that he has been instructed not to curse the people, nor has he told them that the Israelites are blessed. He simply says he is not allowed to go with them.
When Balak receives the message from Balaam, he assumes Balaam is stalling for more money. This prompts him to send another envoy to Balaam, this time more honourable and numerous than the first. It was commonly held that pagan prophets could bend the will of their god, thus Balaam must simply be refusing on principle. He promises Balaam, “I will give you great honour, whatever you say, I will do.” Balaam answered his envoy, “If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go against the word of Yahweh.” And so he inquires of the Lord again. But he already knows the answer. Yahweh told him not to curse the people. Balaam is hoping that he will be able to change the will of God. He is hoping that he could get permission to do what he wants to do. He tells Balak's envoy to spend the night so he might see “what more the Lord will say to him.”
What more could God say? He told him not to curse them, he told him that the people are blessed, he told him not to go. Does God change his mind? No, he doesn't. What more, then, could he say? Well, all Balaam wants is approval for a plan he has already put in place. He wants to go to Balak. All this pious talk is really a cover up for his true motives. He mentions wages and rewards numerous times, and it is an attempt to get more. The apostle Peter says that “Balaam son of Beor, loved the wages of wickedness.” (2 Pt 2:15) Balaam loved the money that he got from his job as a sorcerer. He knew that Balak would give him a large reward, and he wanted it. He wanted it so badly he could taste it. He has set his heart toward it. Because he did that, because he wanted it that badly, God gave him over to the desires of his heart. He allowed Balaam to go with the princes from Moab. God allowed Balaam to go against his will.
God instructs us not to sin, yet allows us to.
God allows us to go against his will too. We heard from God's will earlier in the service. We know what God's will for our lives is. We know we are not supposed to set out hearts on anything other than God, yet all we seem to think about is money. We know we are to keep the Sabbath day holy, yet all we can think about is the glistening snow outside. We know we are to honour our father and mother, yet we do things which cause them pain and grief. We know we are not supposed to murder, yet we sometimes wish people would die. We know we are not supposed to commit adultery, yet we forget that whoever looks at another person lustfully has already committed adultery in their hearts. We know we are not supposed to steal, and yet we rig a business deal so that we get more than our fair share. We know we are not supposed to lie, yet often we do it because it is easier or because it will avoid embarrassment. We know we are not supposed to covet, yet we want to have the best crop, or the best vehicle, or the best vacation, or the best ... you fill in the blank.
God has commanded us to follow these instructions, yet he also allows us to break them. When we are younger our parents give us a list of rules to follow. As we get older we begin to test the boundaries. One of my friends in High School rang home some Saturday night to ask if he could go to a party. He knew he was not supposed to stay out late on Saturday night because of church the next day. His parents said, “No”. He kept begging however, hoping they would change their minds. Finally his Dad said, “Look, I can't stop you from going. If you want to go so badly, then go. You know we have said you cannot go, but if you chose to break the rules, we cannot stop you.” So he went, thinking that was that. As the night wore on, he began to feel really guilty, and he did not stay at the party long. He still had to face the consequences when he got home. He had made a decision to go against the will of his parents, and he had disappointed them. He never told me what his punishment was, but he was never really the same after that weekend.
Well, God does the same thing my friend's parents did. He gives our wills over to the desires of the flesh, and in so doing we bring upon ourselves our punishment, and we disappoint our father in heaven who has given everything so that we could be his. He has expressed his will to us, but he does not force us to follow it.
God opposes him in the road to make his warning clear.
God did not force Balaam to follow his will either. He did not force him to stay in Pethor, but allows him to go with the envoy. “You can go,” he says. “But do only what I tell you to do.” That is like my friend's parents saying, “I cannot stop you from going, but I have told you not to.” So Balaam gets up in the morning, saddles his donkey and heads off down the road with two of his servants, going against God's command, and making him angry. It is a pleasantly cool morning, a good time to be travelling. Balam is calmly riding his donkey down the path, when suddenly she bolts off the path into the neighbouring field, taking off at a run. He does all he can to hold on to her, and is extremely angry. He gets off her back and he begins to kick her mercilessly. He beats her to turn her back into the road, swearing all the while. He gets her back on the road, and mounts her again. For the first few miles he is a bit cautious, and makes sure he has a good hold of the saddle so he will not fall off if she bolts again. The area he is passing through now it beautiful. There are vineyards all around him. He can smell the damp earth as he rides and the warm air begins to relax him. Then, as he is passing between two vineyard walls, the stupid donkey pushes hard up against one side, crushing his foot against the rough stone. Balaam is angry again, and he struck her hard on the head to teach her a lesson. “Stupid donkey,” he says. “Why would you do that? Now my sandals are torn, and my foot is all scraped up. Thanks a lot.”
As they pass out of the more fertile area into a place that is more mountainous, Balaam becomes a bit nervous. There isn't much room for fooling around up here. There are narrow paths along steep cliffs, and tight passageways that barely fit a donkey and its rider. As they come near to one of these passages, the donkey simply lays down underneath Balaam. Now he looks like a complete idiot, sitting on top of a donkey who is lying on the ground in the middle of the road. “That's it!” he says as he scrambles to his feet. “This time you are going to get it.” He picks up a stick and starts to beat the living daylights out of her. “Stupid, bloody, donkey,” he says between swings. But then something strange happens, the donkey turns her head, looks him in the eyes, and speaks to him. “What have I done to you, that you have hit me these three times?” Incensed with rage he answers her without thinking, “Because you have made a complete fool of me. If I had a sword in my hand right now, I would kill you.” She answers him, “But I am your donkey, do I always treat you this way?” Starting to gain his senses back, Balaam stumbles backward and says, “No.” Quite a sight that would have been, Balaam, the almighty sorcerer standing dumbfounded in the middle of the road, made a fool by his own donkey.
Then Balaam's eyes are opened, and he sees the angel of the Lord standing in road to oppose him. The angel tells him how the donkey saved his life. And warns him not to say anything except what the angel tells him to. God has humbled Balaam. He had touted himself as the great prophet of Yahweh. With all his pious talk he had claimed to be a true follower of God. But he had set his heart on other things. He had decided to go against the will of God, and so God turned him over to it. God was going to get his work done through Balaam, and he made this abundantly clear.
God uses Balaam to bless the Israelites, in spite of their failure to follow him.
Thoroughly humbled from his encounter with God in the road, he meets with Balak, the King of Moab. Balak chides him a bit for putting him off. Balaam assures Balak that he cannot say anything but the word the Lord puts in his mouth. Balak is eager to get going, and so the very next day he brings him up to the high places of Baal, where he can see a part of the people. Here they offer sacrifices, and Balaam utters his oracle. Balak is on pins and needles. He cannot wait to here the curses Balaam will pronounce upon his enemies. He is wringing his hands in anticipation. As Balak listens, though, he does not like what he hears. Balaam is blessing the Israelites, not cursing them. “Whoa, what are you doing?” shouts Balak. “Don't bless them. If you can't curse them from here, then let us go over to another place.”
So Balak and Balaam went to another place. They offered up sacrifices there as well. As Balaam turned away to inquire of the Lord, Balak mutters to himself, “Hopefully the gods here will let Balaam curse the people. Those who ruled the other hill did not, but maybe these will.” Balaam returned with his oracle, and he began to speak. Again Balak's face went pale as he heard the word Balaam was speaking. He was blessing them again. “No, No!” cries Balak. “If you cannot curse them, fine, just don't bless them. Let us go to another place, maybe you can curse them from there.”
So Balaam went up with Balak to another place. From here they could see the whole nation of Israel, camped tribe by tribe. When Balaam saw that it pleased God to bless the Israelites, he did not resort to sorcery, as he normally did, but turned toward the camp and began to speak. Balak could not believe what he was hearing. He had hired Balaam to curse the Israelites, and now he was blessing them a third time! Balaam finished this last oracle regarding the Israelites with the words, “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.” The same words God had spoken to Moses.
God had triumphed. Balak had tried to destroy the Israelites. He had tried to test God's promises to Abraham. He had failed. God had upheld his promise to Abraham, even though the Israelites were not worthy. They had failed time and time again to follow the instructions of the Lord. They had not followed his instructions to enter the land of Canaan, they were too afraid of the giants there. They had grumbled against God and he had sent venomous snakes against them. Even Moses had lost his cool and gone against the command of God. He had been told to speak to the rock at Meribah and water would come out of it. Instead, Moses hit the rock and thus took some of the credit for the water himself. Everyone of the old generation had turned against God. He was raising a new generation in the desert who would be allowed to enter the land of Canaan. Yet in spite of these people failing to follow him, in spite of the spiritual leader he had set over the people turning his back on God, in spite of their transgressing the boundaries of his covenant, God remains true to his promises. In spite of their continual reluctance to follow the instructions of God, he blesses them.
God blesses us, in spite of our failure to follow him.
In spite of our continual reluctance to follow the instructions of God, he blesses us. After Balak had dismissed Balaam for not keeping his end of the bargain, Balaam continued his prophesying. “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Here, God reveals something of his entire plan of salvation. Who is this star out of Jacob? Who is this scepter that shall rise out of Israel? It is Jesus. In Revelation 22:16 Jesus says, “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Jesus is the star of Jacob. Jesus is the heir to David's throne. Jesus carries David's ruling sceptre. Jesus is the offspring of the woman. It is he who crushed the serpent's head.
Jesus is the blessing that has allowed us to be called children of God. Jesus is the one who allowed us gentiles to be a part of the covenant, a part of the chosen people of God. God provided us with the bright morning star. He has given us salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. Even though he had given us over to the desires of our flesh, he has also provided a way out. He has covered the debt created by our disobedience through his atoning sacrifice on the cross, and he has renewed our relationship with him by drawing us to the father in the Holy Spirit.
Even though my friend went against the will of his parents, and went to the party, they did not stop loving him. He had to make restitution, he had to pay for what he had done, in order for them to have a right relationship again. The problem with our sin against God, is that we cannot make restitution. We cannot pay for what we have done. That is why God himself came down. That is why he took upon himself the sin of the world. He paid for what we did, and now we have a renewed relationship with Christ. Even though we stumble and fall, God still blesses us. Even though we go against his will, he leads us, he guides us, he protects us. He has given us the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts. He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us in our walk of sanctification, to tell us when we are doing something wrong, to help us do good, to renew our hearts from the hard, misshapen lump of stone, to one that can love again. Christ has set us free from our bondage to slavery so that we can become what God meant us to be. The Holy Spirit is the blessing of God to help us on our way.
The Israelites constantly fell away from God, yet he blessed them through a pagan sorcerer. We continually sin and go against God's will, yet he continues to bless us with the promise of forgiveness and eternal life.
Let us pray
Father is heaven, we thank you for your steadfast love. We thank you that you keep your promises, and bless us in spite of our undeserving. Lord, fill us with your Spirit so that we may grow into what you intend us to be.