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Life of Moses

Balaam

Numbers 22 - 24

Lesson audio

(We omit the Scripture for reasons of space, assuming that any reader of this lesson series can find a Bible somewhere about.)

Final Obstacle

The Israelites are at last approaching the Promised Land. It is no surprise, therefore, that Satan will set before them the toughest obstacle. Which is?

The obstacle within

The deadliest opposition to the cause of Christ is always the enemy within. It sometimes comes as a surprise to find that God is worshiped at this time in other nations. In this instance there is a prophet named Balaam from the Moabites. Moab, you may recall, was one of the incestuous sons of Lot. The knowledge of Jehovah was no doubt passed down the generations from this time. But as often enough happens, it has become mixed with the pagan religions around.

Why is this such an obstacle? Think back to the legends of King Arthur, in particular Merlin the Magician. In the earlier versions of the story, Merlin has a choice: remain with Arthur, and watch his magic decline as the church increases, or go with Mordred – so that Merlin’s power would increase in that pagan court.[1] A similar situation confronts Balaam. Balaam is no Merlin.

Ultimately, Balaam will side with Baal and lead some of the Israelites astray.[2] It’s a choice that costs Balaam his life.

A man with two masters…

Thinks he is in control. Balaam practices divination. Roughly speaking, this is like reading tea leaves – a practice which replaces the truth with false confidence in dead, wet agriculture. Despite this, however, Balaam is given prophetic vision from God. Thus Balaam can see himself as being in control; if he doesn’t like what God says, goat entrails might provide a more satisfactory answer.

You can see this in the little episode with the donkey. He is so sure of himself both as prophet and sorcerer that it doesn’t phase him that the donkey talks. That’s a man who thinks he’s in charge

The hireling

Having been given the gift of prophecy, Balaam decides to make it his source of income. We must make a distinction here. It is acceptable (and marked as such in the Scripture) for a man of the Gospel to earn his living at it. But it’s not acceptable if he does so primarily for the money. The laborer is worthy of his hire, but he should not be a hireling.[3]

Oracles

We may now examine the oracles of Balaam. Here are four which seem of interest and profit.

How can I curse

Num 23:8 NIV How can I curse

those whom God has not cursed?

How can I denounce

those whom the LORD has not denounced?

It is a surprising statement from Balaam. The vision he has seen tells him that he cannot go against what God has revealed to him. Divination was under his control; God is not. It is not surprising that he thought he could manipulate God. It’s normal human behavior. How many times have you received a chain letter/e-mail which told you to pray this prayer, pass it on to twenty-seven of your closest friends and thus receive a miracle?

Much of magic concerns the concept of a curse. Indeed, God cursed the ground for Adam’s sin, and witch doctors and shamans ever since have been cursing everything else. Don’t fear the witch doctor; fear the living God.

God is not a man

Num 23:19 NIV God is not a man, that he should lie,

nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Does he speak and then not act?

Does he promise and not fulfill?

Sometimes God’s fulfillment takes a while. As we shall see, one of these prophecies concerns the Christ – who doesn’t arrive for another 1500 years or so. But God is eternal – not affected by time. His character does not change, therefore. He is righteousness eternally – and therefore He cannot lie. He is Almighty, and if He says it’s going to happen, count on it.

A vision from the Almighty

Num 24:4 NIV the oracle of one who hears the words of God,

who sees a vision from the Almighty, [1]

who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:

If you’ve ever wondered just what a vision of God would seem like:

  • It comes with power. “Almighty” in this verse is Shaddai, a word specifically translated that way, not a translation of one of the names of God.
  • It is a vivid experience – power to make you fall prostrate, but with your eyes open.

Something like this must be handled with care – even if the vision is over three thousand years old.

A star will rise

Num 24:17 NIV "I see him, but not now;

I behold him, but not near.

A star will come out of Jacob;

a scepter will rise out of Israel.

He will crush the foreheads of Moab,

the skulls [2] of [3] all the sons of Sheth. [4]

Here is the evidence of it all: Balaam sees the coming of the Christ. The is the point of this entire history, that is, here is God’s point. He tells you that Christ is coming, but only after He has made it clear that:

  • God can’t be manipulated. His purposes cannot be altered.
  • This comes from His eternal nature. In short, this is plan A and there is no plan B.
  • He has the power to bring it to pass.

Lessons for us

All well and good, but what’s the point for us today? The New Testament gives us three passages that warn us about Balaam’s ways.

The way of Balaam

2Pe 2:12-15 NIV But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish. (13) They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you.[5] (14) With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed--an accursed brood! (15) They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.

What’s this about? It refers to those in the church whose ways are blatantly carnal, yet they feel themselves perfectly justified. Peter mentions two sins in particular:

  • Adultery, which is as common as mud in our time.
  • Greed, which is often honored in our time.

The key phrase in this is “loved the wages of wickedness.” What does this mean? Think of a ghetto drug dealer who is proud of himself – after all, he’s driving the Cadillac, right? Things that decent men would be ashamed of, such men are proud of. In the church, too.

The error of Balaam

Jud 1:10-11 NIV Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals--these are the very things that destroy them. (11) Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion.

What does an evil man do when confronted with things spiritual, things he cannot understand? He abuses them. He mocks them. He treats them like a joke. Christians today are familiar with this; almost no part of Christianity has escaped the mockery of the cool. They belittle what they do not understand.

It’s a form of pride. It is a sad thing to be proud of your failings.

The teaching of Balaam

Rev 2:14 NIV Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.

How’s this for a nightmare: you have teachers in the church who are teaching people how to lead others astray. It’s bad to be on Satan’s team to start with – but as a coach?


[1] This is not apparent in the musical version, Camelot. Of course, that version exalts the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere, which ultimately destroys the kingdom.

[2] Numbers 31:16

[3] John 10:11-15

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