The last two Sundays of this month are being spent taking a look at two Old Testament characters that we perhaps know little about or have heard something about and find interesting, at least as it relates to today’s character, Balaam.
Now Balaam’s story begins in chapter 22 of the Old Testament book of Numbers and ends with chapter 24 and our focal text for this morning, recently read by Pastor Regan, is toward the middle of chapter 24 and it really is a wonderful summary of Balaam’s story.
And Balaam makes an interesting statement (actually a question) to his patron, the King of Moab, Balak who became frustrated with Balaam’s inability and unwillingness to curse and use magic on the Israelites, because they thought the Israelites were using some kind of magic to defeat these other nations.
It is found in Numbers 24:12-13:
Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, 13 ‘Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the Lord—and I must say only what the Lord says’?
I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the Lord.
There was a wall, a boundary, that God put up which kept Balaam from doing what Balak wanted Him to do. What was it? Why was it there? What was its purpose?
God put limits on Balaam. He tells Balaam no.
Let’s go the beginning of Balaam’s story, found in Numbers 22 and walk through to the end of chapter 24. I am reading Numbers 22:1-8
Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.
Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.
The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.”
So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak said:
“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”
The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.
“Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will report back to you with the answer the Lord gives me.” So the Moabite officials stayed with him.
Well, we have Balak, scared to death of this new group of people entering his kingdom, and he is seeking ways to defeat them before they wreck havoc on his land and kingdom. And he hires Balaam to do, well, dark magic, on the Israelites because, as one source I read says, they believed that the Israelites were using some kind of magic to be victorious. This is power behind the curse that Balak asked Balaam to put on the Israelites.
Let’s pick back up at verse 9 of Numbers 22
God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”
What would you say if you were Balaam?
Balaam tells Him and God says, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”
God says no.
But think with me about this for a moment:
“Is this before or after Israel’s faith falters and they choose to believe 10 of the 12 spies sent out to survey the land which God had promised them who said, “We can’t take the land. We will lose. Those people are too powerful?”
Balaam comes on the scene afterward.
Would Balaam have been part of the Biblical story if Israel would have believed and obeyed the Lord and taken the land as He promised?
So God tells them in Numbers 14:30 “Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.”
Then in chapter 20, Moses loses his temper and God says to him (verse 12)
“Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
So the Israelites, and now their leader, Moses, are wanderers. Has their faith been weakened? Their lack of faith in the Lord because of their fear and impatience, causes them to wander for 40 more years and for Moses to see the promised land only from a distance. Would they have faced the opposition they ended up facing in the Moabites and other groups, had they not said, “We can’t do it?”
Have you ever felt like Moses and the Israelites? Your fear is bigger than your faith and you don’t push through that fear and trust God? Or, your impatience flares and you lose out on something that maybe God wanted to give you?
The Israelites are now going to wander for another forty years because they refused to believe that God could help them take possession of that which He had promised them and their ancestors.
But God tells Balaam, “you must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”
How can this be true? How can they be blessed when their faith in God faltered and they have been forced to wander around another 40 years and their leader banned from leading them into the promised land?
Think about it…
Balaam obeys God (he has run up against someone more powerful than his curses) and he does not go with them. Another delegation comes and asks again for Balaam to come and do his thing. And God says (Numbers 22:20: “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.”)
So Balaam goes and one of the most interesting and fascinating stories in the entire Bible unfolds. Balaam’s donkey becomes one of God’s messengers! He talks! (And no he is not Dominic the donkey!)
But notice what the story says in verse 22, “But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.” (Kind of like a Damascus Road experience, like Paul had in Acts 9!)
When was the last time God stood astride your path and stopped you from doing something He did not want you to do?
Well, Balaam loses his temper with the donkey not once but three times as the donkey, who sees the angel of God in front of him, refuses to stay on the path! And eventually Balaam’s eyes are opened and he sees what the donkey sees.
Now we read in verse 20 says “But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.”
Why was God angry with Balaam?
What was God angry about?
Was it that Balaam was not seeing what he needed to see? That he wasn’t supposed to go with them at all?
Or was God angry with the situation and with everyone involved, Balaam, Balak, and the Israelites?
I think that we might safely conclude, that God was hoping that Balaam would have learned his lesson the first time. But he didn’t and now God acted again to stop Balaam. So we have this incredible story about a donkey who sees an angel of the Lord and tries to keep his master from getting to where he doesn’t need to go!
Is it another ‘no’ from God?
Eventually, as we continue, Balaam finally sees the angel and we read in Numbers 22:34 “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.” And the angel responds in verse 35 “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.” But in verse 38 he says to Balak “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”
Well, as we walk in to chapter 23, Balaam and Balak make a sacrifice of seven bulls and Balaam says in verse 3 “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.”
So Balaam meets with God and God says, verse 5, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
And it is a word of blessing on the Israelites which makes Balak angry but Balaam says, verse 12 “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”
This scenario is repeated twice and in all three situations, Balaam speaks only blessings and repeats the reality that he will only speak, can only speak and do what the Lord tells him to do!
And finally, this brings us to out main text, which is really a repeat of what Balaam has already said to Balak and in Numbers 24:14 “Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me warn you of what this people will do to your people in days to come.”
And in four final messages, prophetic statements, he indicates defeat for Moab and others and only victory for the Israelites.
God calls Israel blessed even though they are living in limbo for another 40 years because of their lack of faith!
They continue to disobey God, they continue to sin. Just read the opening verses of Numbers 25.
But God does NOT give up on them. They are part of His plan and mission to eventually offer the forgiveness of sin to the entire world, including you and me!
He will not be deterred from His plan of redemption! He uses a Balaam, a donkey, and some stubborn and sinful people to make that happen.
So what does Balaam’s story say to you, to us today?
Let me suggest, that in the early history of Israel, when they could have stepped out on faith and possessed the land which God had promised them and they did not, God called them blessed.
What might that be called?
Grace, is it not?
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Thanks be to God for His great grace.