We have had an amazing week of fun learning about God’s love for us at Maker’s Fun Factory. As I reflect upon the week there was one day that really stood out to me and that was Day #3. The Biblical principle for that day is “God is for you” and the Bible study focused on the story of how God used an unexpected woman with a sketchy reputation to spare Joshua and Caleb’s life when everybody was seeking their harm. In the midst of so many people being against them, God showed that He was for them by giving them one special woman to help them escape the grasp of all those who were against them. Throughout the night we intentionally looked for opportunities to reinforce the lesson and I remember when we had one of the groups of kids in Imagination Station how this point really seemed to resonate with some of the children. I didn’t realize how much some of the children just needed to hear that God was for them. In a world filled with so much abandonment, hate, anger and bullying it is refreshing to hear that somebody is actually for you.
It isn’t just children that benefit from hearing that somebody, namely God, is for them. Some of the strongest marriages and relationships I have ever seen are those where two people know that the other person is really for them and on their side. I often encourage young couples to commit to always being the other’s biggest fan and cheerleader. I don’t know about you but I have learned that there is a special source of power, strength, and endurance to handle all sorts of problems, troubles and even unkind people when I know that somebody is genuinely for me. Life is hard, full of trials and troubles and often full of unkind people who will come against you for a variety of reasons or no reason at all. Life is harder still when you don’t feel that anybody is really for you when life seems to be turning against you.
Life is hard, full of trials and troubles and often full of unkind people who will come against you for a variety of reasons or no reason at all. Life is harder still when you don’t feel that anybody is really for you when life seems to be turning against you.
As we continue our journey in this series called Wanderers, we are going ot look at a passage from the Book of Numbers that shows exactly how far God will go to show His people that He is indeed for them even though they have turned against Him so many times.
But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak. When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, on the border formed by the Arnon, at the extremity of the border. And Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?” Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” Then Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. And Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent for Balaam and for the princes who were with him. And in the morning Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal, and from there he saw a fraction of the people.
22:1-21 records how Israel had gained a reputation of military prowess and might due to God’s blessing upon them as seen in the defeat of the Amorite people who had refused a peaceful passage through their land as they followed God’s leading. Israel had set up encampment along the borders of the Moabite people and the King of the Moabites, Balak, was afraid that they were “next on Israel’s list.” Balak fears that his military might is not enough to stand up to Israel’s mass numbers so he begins looking for a weapon of mass destruction that may help him and his army be victorious over Israel. This weapon of mass destruction that Balak was looking for was a curse to be placed upon Israel and he knew exactly where to go in order to get the job done.
Balaam is an intriguing character in this story. It is evident that he has a reputation of one who has success in pronouncing blessings and curses for Balak affirms such when he sends for him saying, “…for I know that those you bless are blessed and those you curse are cursed.” (). This makes us all a little uncomfortable to think about but spiritual warfare is real and there are evil forces at play in the world even today and there are those who are working side by side with evil in a very real way. When Balak’s messengers reach Balaam and inform him that the king of the Moabites would like to pay him for his services, he does something that further muddies the waters regarding who exactly he is. He invokes the name of Israel’s God when he tells Balak’s messengers that he will “inquire of the Lord” as to whether he may curse Israel for the Moabites or not. Some, because of this, have questioned whether Balaam was a pagan or a believer in the One, True God. Based on the fact that the Bible tells us where he is from leads us to think that he is a pagan and not a follower of the One, True God. Why, then, invoke God’s name? I believe that the politician is coming out in Balaam when he invokes the name of the One, True and Living God of Israel. Balaam is wanting to impress Balak’s messengers about the potential of him being able to do as Balak has requested. The messengers did not come empty handed. They came with a fistful of money and Balaam knew this so he immediately claims to have a connection to or relationship with Israel’s God to impress them. Politicians throughout history have used God in this way to impress a certain voting bloc/demographic of our nation. Whether it is invoking His name in a speech, saying a prayer in public, reciting Scripture or making sure that a picture or video is captured of them attending a church service, God’s name has been used by many throughout history to impress others or advance a personal agenda. Balak knew exactly what he was doing when he said what he said.
Balaam inquires of the Lord about whether he could curse Israel or not. Of course God does not allow it because God does not change. In , God pronounced His blessing upon Israel and promised that whoever blesses Israel will be blessed and whoever curses Israel will be cursed. Because God had spoken this, He was not going to grant anybody permission to to such a thing to His beloved people. Amidst this conversation between God and Balaam, God presses upon Balaam to consider who these men are that they would have the right to request such a thing to come upon His people. it wasn’t so much that God did not know the answer to this question. This question was asked of Balaam repeatedly because He knew that Balaam was impressed both by their thought of him in this matter as well as the payment they were offering him for his services. In other words, Balaam was being pressed to make a choice right then and right there as to who he was looking to serve. The One, True and Living God or man and money. Balaam is so infatuated with the potential for financial gain that he does not take God’s “No.” but ends up asking God again for permission. God sets a crossroads before Balaam. He can go with the men if he is so infatuated with financial gain but he would be doing so at the risk of his own life because he would not be able to pronounce the curse that he is being paid for. In other words, Balaam can either refuse the offer turn to God or he can put his own life at risk by going to the king and then facing his wrath by not being able to perform the task he was hired for.
The one that is supposed to be able to see, say and discern that which nobody else can (Seer) cannot see or discern what is going on right before his very eyes. As Balaam traveled to the land of the Moabite to meet with King Balak, he encounters some traveling woes. Apparently he forgot to ask for traveling mercies before he set out because he has some major transportaion issues. On three seperate occassions Balaam’s donkey refuses to continue along the path that he is being led on. The first time she bailed off of the road and took a field. Balaam was frustrated and eventually got the donkey back on the path. The second time the donkey pressed up against a cliff and injured Balaam. Balaam again corrected the donkey and the journey continued. The third time the donkey simply laid down in the road. Balaam cannot take it anymore and begins to beat her with a rod. Out of the clear blue, THE DONKEY BEGINS TO TALK! The donkey actually begins to verbally object to Balaam’s antics and reminds Balaam of how she had been a faith companion and trustworthy transport all these years. In other words, the donkey is saying, “If something is not right don’t immediately blame me! Maybe there is more than meets the eye!” At this point Balaam doesn’t care what the donkey has to offer up as an excuse for her actions. All Balaam is concerned about is his own reputation. The donkey’s actions has embarrassed him in front of these high ranking officials of Moab and he cannot believe that this is happening to him today. Ironically enough, Balaam is concerned about his reputation before these high ranking officials and here he is having a conversation with a donkey!!!! As Balaam was talking with the donkey his eyes are opened and he finally sees what the donkey had been seeing all along…an angel of the Lord preventing passage. Balaam falls down in fearful adoration because he knows that this is not a good thing for him. The angel informs Balaam that the donkey’s actions are all that has spared his very life for he has chosen to pursue evil rather than good. Balaam offers to break the vow he made to Balak’s servants but the angel refuses to take that plea and tells Balaam to continue with them but when he called to speak before King Balaam and his leaders then he is only to say exactly what the angel of the Lord will tell him to say. Ultimately, Balaam is given the floor before King Balak. All are expecting him to curse Israel as he has been well paid to do but instead he reveals that Israel cannot be cursed because God has determined them to be blessed.
BEWARE OF THE POWER OF PRIDE. First, Balaam’s willingness to oppose God’s clearly revealed plan was driven by his own sense of pride. He had a great reputation before the people as one who can see others cannot see and speak blessings and curses that came true. Furthermore, Balaam was only thinking about himself when he saw all that was being offered to him for his services and even though he knew that he could not do what he was being paid to do, he tried to manipulate the situation to the best of his ability so that he could receive the reward even though he could not speak the curse. The height of Balaam’s pride is on display when he reveals that his anger at his donkey is fueled by the fact that the donkey’s lack of obedience made him look like a fool before the high ranking officials of Moab.
DON’T OVERLOOK THE “BUMPS” IN THE ROAD. At first sight, Balaam just thought that his donkey was having a bad day. He did now know that the proverbial bumps in the road that was complicating his trip was more than just his donkey having a bad day. These “bumps in the road” was God causing trouble in order to change Balaam’s direction. In teh same way, sometimes our troubles are the result of living in a broken world and among broken people of which we are. Sometimes, however, our troubles could be God intervening in our lives to reveal to us that we are headed down the wrong path and we need to reconsider some things before Him before we continue on.
GOD IS FOR US! The central lesson behind the story of Balaam is the Lord’s determination to bless his people. No hotshot prophet will be permitted to curse God’s people, no matter how much he wants to, because the Lord has declared them blessed. Instead, his very attempt to curse Israel will itself be turned into another blessing. Israel was most likely unaware of this whole episode at the time when it happened. This is probably just as well, since the news that an international wizard was on his way to place them under a curse might well have sent them into yet another frenzy of worry and grumbling. Yet even had they been aware of it, they need not have worried. The Lord would turn the curse that they feared into a blessing.
The central lesson behind the story of Balaam is the Lord’s determination to bless his people. No hotshot prophet will be permitted to curse God’s people, no matter how much he wants to, because the Lord has declared them blessed. Instead, his very attempt to curse Israel will itself be turned into another blessing. Israel was most likely unaware of this whole episode at the time when it happened. This is probably just as well, since the news that an international wizard was on his way to place them under a curse might well have sent them into yet another frenzy of worry and grumbling. Yet even had they been aware of it, they need not have worried. The Lord would turn the curse that they feared into a blessing.
Isn’t that a lesson we need to internalize as well? There are many dangers in life of which we are not even aware because the Lord extracts their sting before they even reach us. In other cases, though, we become aware of the rise of threatening thunderclouds, triggering panic in our hearts. Something or someone seems poised to ruin our lives once and for all. We need not be so easily afraid. As William Cowper put it in his great hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”:
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
If the Lord has decreed our blessing, then nothing and no one can turn our blessing into a curse.
This reality is the answer to our sinful worries. Why do we fret about so many of life’s problems? As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, the reason we worry is because we have given in to the belief that God loves us less than he loves the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. They do not fret, yet they are constantly fed and clothed by the Lord (, )! Since we have far greater assurances of God’s care for us than any flower or bird ever received, why should we be so concerned about these things? Our worry reveals the fact that we are believing a lie about God, and the answer to our worry is therefore to remind ourselves afresh of the truth about his care for us.
This reality is also the answer to the various idols of our hearts that are continually pulling our strings. Why is it that we are driven by money or the prospect of power and fame? It is because we have begun to seek our blessing in these things. Why is it that we fear people and are so desperately afraid of being excluded from the in-crowd? It is because we are afraid of the curse with which they threaten us. Why is it that the desire for physical attractiveness or intellectual achievement or the need to have a perfect family holds us in its spell? It is because we have come to believe these idols hold sway over our destiny. We have started to believe that real meaning and significance in life is in the hand of our idol to give or to withhold. That is why we are so fearful and depressed, as well as why we are so driven and anxious. If you and I could learn to look to the Lord alone for our blessing and to find our confidence in his settled purpose to bless us, that would cut the strings that bind us under the power of all manner of other things. What peace and assurance would then be ours! If we could only be convinced of the Lord’s power and his purpose to bless us, the engine of our idolatry that drives us constantly into a variety of actual sins would be starved of its fuel.
An Anchor for Your Soul
How can we know for sure that the Lord is determined to bless us and not to curse us? Like Balaam, we too have gone astray perversely, wandering after all kinds of other gods. Why shouldn’t the angel of the Lord be standing in front of us even now with drawn sword in hand, waiting to cut us down? It would certainly be nothing more than we deserve. After all, even our best deeds—our most unselfish actions and kindly words—are often simply offerings to our idols, not acts of obedience to the living God. What shall I say then of my darkest thoughts and deeds? How shall I escape judgment for them? The answer is that if we are Christians, Jesus Christ has taken the curse that was aimed at us for our sin. The angel’s sword has already been plunged into his heart instead of ours. Our perversity earned us death, but Jesus died in our place. Our idolatry earned us permanent separation from God, but Jesus was cut off from the Father for us on the cross. Our sins placed us justly under the Lord’s judgment and curse, but in Christ we receive the blessing that the Lord has promised to all of the spiritual descendants of Abraham. The cross is the surety of the Lord’s unshakable will to bless his people. As Paul put it, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (). For Jesus’ sake, the Lord is determined to bless us, and no one and nothing can ever turn that blessing into a curse.
Sadly, Balaam remained blind to the truth of the Lord’s goodness and grace. Even after his eyes were opened to see the angel of the Lord and he confessed with his lips, “I have sinned” (v. 34), Balaam’s heart was still a long way from true repentance, as his future behavior demonstrated. His words and his actions did not ultimately agree. He had chosen whom he would serve: Balak’s silver and gold, not the Lord. His heart was still captive to his idolatry, and even a face-to-face encounter with the Angel of the Lord did not free him from its chains. At the end of the day his donkey saw the Lord more clearly than he did; the brute beast understood more of God than the professional theologian. As a result, even though the Lord used him to deliver a blessing to his people Israel, Balaam’s own destiny was not ultimately changed from curse to blessing. All that happened was that his appointment with the sword of the Lord’s judgment was delayed. In the end he was killed by the Israelites when they took vengeance on the Midianites for leading them into sin (31:8).
It is still often the case that the Lord reveals himself to the weak and foolish, while remaining hidden from those who possess the wisdom of this world. Those who were blind receive sight, while those who claim to see are left in the dark. As an Old Testament scholar, I regularly meet and listen to men and women whose knowledge of the Bible and the Hebrew language is far in excess of anything I could ever attain. In academic terms they are racehorses, while I am merely a plodding donkey. When I hear their lectures and read their books, I learn many true and insightful things about the Bible; yet when it comes to the gospel they are utterly blind. They cannot see on the pages of Scripture the simplest truths about God. Many five-year-olds have more true Biblical insight into the gospel than they do, because spiritual truths are spiritually discerned, and for all their “wisdom” these people do not have the Holy Spirit to open up their stubborn hearts and blind eyes so they can see the truth that is right in front of them (see ).
Could anything more clearly display God’s sovereignty than that? The supreme blessing in this world is coming to recognize who God is and how to find salvation in his Son. It comes as a free gift to those whose eyes he opens and whose hearts he touches with his grace. The work of his Spirit brings one to faith while another is left in unbelief, not because the one has greater merit than the other, but simply out of unconditional sovereign grace. The Lord chose Israel to be his people and left Balaam to his preferred darkness, though neither had any claim on him. Donkeys like us get to see and know the Lord, while professional prophets remain blind.
What is more, the future of those whom the Lord calls to himself is sure, settled by the unchangeable One and sealed in his blood. God cannot lie, and he cannot change his mind, as Balaam himself would declare (23:19). God has settled his inheritance on us with an oath, so that we may have the certainty of an irrevocable inheritance (). Nothing and no one can separate us from that blessing, either now or in the age to come. Such a hope is a sure anchor for our souls and spiritual food for our hearts.
How then shall we respond? Surely we must burst forth with praise and adoration. Let us give thanks to the Lord for this inexpressible hope! May we rejoice in his favor shown to us! Let us rest in his love and bask in his settled attitude of blessing toward us, for as the psalmist repeatedly reminds us, “His steadfast love endures forever” (for example, ).
Duguid, I. M., & Hughes, R. K. (2006). Numbers: God’s presence in the wilderness (pp. 277–280). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.