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Spiritual Warfare A Loser's Tale

Balaam (Numbers 22)


A man with two masters often thinks he’s in charge

{22:1} Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho. {2} Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, {3} and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites. {4} 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, {5} sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the 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. {6} 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 country. For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed." {7} 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. {8} "Spend the night here," Balaam said to them, "and I will bring you back the answer the LORD gives me." So the Moabite princes stayed with him. {9} God came to Balaam and asked, "Who are these men with you?" {10} Balaam said to God, "Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: {11} 'A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.'" {12} But God said to Balaam, "Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed." {13} The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak's princes, "Go back to your own country, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you." {14} So the Moabite princes returned to Balak and said, "Balaam refused to come with us." {15} Then Balak sent other princes, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. {16} They came to Balaam and said: "This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, {17} because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me." {18} But Balaam answered them, "Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God. {19} Now stay here tonight as the others did, and I will find out what else the LORD will tell me." {20} That night God came to Balaam and said, "Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you." {21} Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. {22} But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. {23} When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road. {24} Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. {25} When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam's foot against it. So he beat her again. {26} Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. {27} When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff. {28} Then the LORD opened the donkey's mouth, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?" {29} Balaam answered the donkey, "You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now." {30} The donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?" "No," he said. {31} Then the LORD opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. {32} The angel of the LORD asked him, "Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. {33} The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her."

{34} Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, "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." {35} The angel of the LORD said to Balaam, "Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you." So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.

{36} When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. {37} Balak said to Balaam, "Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn't you come to

me? Am I really not able to reward you?" {38} "Well, I have come to you now," Balaam replied. "But can I say just anything? I must speak only what God puts in my mouth." {39} Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. {40} Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the princes who were with him. {41} The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he saw part of the people. -- Numbers 22 (NIV)

Character of Balaam and his people, Edom

One of the great curiosities of this passage is this: just how did this guy ever get to be a prophet of God? He isn’t even Jewish (but then, neither was Melchizedek). We need to remember who the Edomites are: the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob, renamed Israel. Balaam, in particular, is the son of the king of Edom. It is interesting to see how this episode helps fulfill a prophecy from the time of Isaac, over 500 years earlier:

{21} Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. {22} The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. {23} The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger." {24} When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. {25} The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. {26} After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. -- Genesis 25:21-26 (NIV)

Esau, or Edom, would come to serve Israel -- and this is the start of the fulfillment of that prophecy. Ultimately, the fate of Esau is prophesied by Obadiah, referring to the Day of the Lord:

{18} The house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; the house of Esau will be stubble, and they will set it on fire and consume it. There will be no survivors from the house of Esau." The LORD has spoken.

-- Obadiah 1:18 (NIV)

So strong was this condemnation -- and the memory of Balaam’s actions for Balak -- that the Moabites were thrown out of the congregation of Israel a thousand years later:

{13:1} On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, {2} because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.)

-- Nehemiah 13:1-2 (NIV)

How then, did the descendants of Esau, the brother of Israel, the very children of Isaac by Rebekah, the children of Abraham, come to such a state?

The Magic of Merlin

Let me take your mind back many years, to the time of young King Arthur of legend. Remember the wizard named Merlin? He’s gone through many characterizations in our literature -- the latest was a fellow named Obi-Wan -- but in the original he was a white wizard; a man who used magic for good. Arthur’s coming poses a real dilemma to Merlin. Does he support the good, Christian king, or the evil, pagan king Mordred? If he supports Mordred, his power will continue to increase. If he supports Arthur, the church will subsume him; he will decrease in power. But Arthur is good and Mordred is evil. Does he make the sacrifice? The glory of the medieval legends is that Arthur chooses the side of righteousness.

We see a similar mixture in Edom’s Balaam. By his inheritance he knows of the Living God. He mixes his prophecy from God with the evils of divination. God tolerated this, as Balaam was in ignorance -- until now. Now comes Israel, with the revelation of the true God. A choice must be made. Like Merlin, he must choose between decreasing in power and increasing in righteousness, or the reverse. He tries to sit on the fence -- but not to decide is to decide, and to decide against righteousness.

Portrait of a Spiritual Loser

Outward Signs

First, let’s look at some signs of a spiritual warfare victim. These are the outward signs; we shall see others:

·         Balaam “blames God” for his refusal to go with Balak’s messengers. This may show his fear of God -- but not the imitation of God. If we are true imitators of our Lord, we don’t have to shift the blame. We become so identified with our Lord that we don’t want to go.

·         Balaam shows his anger, and in particular at a dumb beast. There are two interesting aspects about this:

·         First, he is so angry that when the donkey talks to him, he doesn’t even take the time for a double take. He talks back!

·         Note, however, what a role anger plays in our attempt to cover our own guilt. Balaam is feeling guilty, and somebody (or something) is going to pay!

·         A little later on we will see that Balaam tries to appease God -- he doesn’t resort to sorcery this time. How many times have we said something like, “I’ll give it up just this once to please God -- and then maybe he’ll bless me with...” Are we bargaining with the tax man or sacrificing to the living God?
{24:1} Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times, but turned his face toward the desert. -- Numbers 24:1 (NIV)

·         Note that Balaam (like Peter) gives out with his greatest bravado for God just before he sins.

Note that these are symptoms, not causes. Curing them does not necessarily bring spiritual maturity -- unless the cure is from Christ.

Testing or Tempting the Lord

Do you remember the time of temptation that Jesus endured in the wilderness (Matthew 4, especially verse 6)? At one point Jesus tells Satan that we are not to tempt (or test) the Lord. This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:16. Balaam is an example of why this is a command of the Lord.

·         The first time he is asked, he gets firm direction from the Lord: “Don’t go.” Instead of sending these people packing, they stay the night (perhaps desert courtesy). But something in his answer encourages them to try again.

·         Note that the second time Balaam does not answer immediately. He goes into God again and asks a second time. Had he simply told them off before this, I believe God would have honored this as obedience. Instead, he acts as if

·         God might change his mind, or, more likely

·         under the influence of his good friend and powerful wizard Balaam, he could be persuaded.

This is the testing of God. How does God respond? He permits him to meet the Angel of the Lord. In other words, each time he tests God, God escalates the danger and the consequences.

·         The third time is in the road. The verses make it clear that God by this time is very angry with Balaam. It’s also clear that Balaam doesn’t get it.

Testing the Lord means to assume that He changes as we change; that His purposes and will are not fixed. It is an insult to Him, for it slanders His character. “I AM” has no change of tense.

New Testament Views

The New Testament brings us three views of the prophet Balaam and his problems. They are three things we would do well to avoid:

The Way of Balaam

{12} 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. {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. -- 2 Peter 2:12-15 (NIV)

The last verse is the key: the love of the wages of wickedness. It is not just the money; it is the fact that the money is made in a way that most men, and all honest men, would not stomach. It is the drug dealer who is proud of the fact that his “profession” provides him a Cadillac in the ghetto. He justifies himself on the grounds that he (unlike ordinary men) has the courage to be grossly immoral.

Balaam’s error

{10} 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. -- Jude 1:10-11 (NIV)

Have you ever met someone who “abused what he didn’t understand?” I don’t understand it, so therefore I scorn it? It is a form of pride; if I don’t understand it, how could it be any good? When this is applied to spiritual things, the effect can be deadly.

The Teaching of Balaam

{14} 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. -- Revelation 2:14 (NIV)

This is teaching of the worst sort: teaching someone else to entice yet another. (The passage refers to events further on in Balaam’s life). Balaam taught Balak and his people to lure the Israelite men into the licentious worship of the Baal of Peor (a form of holy orgy, I suppose). It’s bad enough to be on Satan’s team -- but a coach?

Comedy and Tragedy

“Comedy and Tragedy are the same art,” said Aristotle, “and should be written by the same artist.” While this story has a “Mr. Ed” sort of comedy to it, it is ultimately tragic.

Balaam encounters “the angel of the Lord.” He worships this angel, which is usually forbidden by an ordinary angel. Many scholars feel, therefore, that this is a theophany, an appearance of the pre-Incarnate Christ. If so, then Balaam is a picture of modern man.

For modern man is powerful in his own eyes, make no doubt. Indeed, for those who have never heard the Gospel, God may (I said may, not will) treat them as ones in ignorance. But for those who have heard the Gospel, they are faced with Merlin’s choice: to go on, becoming more and more powerful in our own little way -- or to surrender that power, receiving in return the power of God Almighty. The decision is the point of spiritual warfare: do you know who Jesus is-- really?

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