Joshua and Judges: Push to the Promised Land: God sanctifies His people - Balaam. Num 22:1-18

Class Outline:

Title: Joshua and Judges: Push to the Promised Land: God sanctifies His people - Balaam. NUM 22:1-18.  


Announcements/opening prayer:


It seems that Balaam belonged to a family of magicians. His name means devourer. He is from the east and a Midianite. Remember that the Midianites are descended from Abraham and that Moses married a Midianite girl. The ways of Israel, God's covenant with them given to Abraham, their wanderings in the desert, their law was known to the Midianites, as well as the other peoples of the Middle East.


Being a diviner or magician, it was Balaam's business to know all he could about the God of the Hebrews.


Balaam, like all heathens thinks that Jehovah is just another God. He also believes that he can influence any god and even that he can persuade any god to move over to his side.


Those Midianite wanderers of the desert, who were herdsmen and traders, which stretched between Mesopotamia and the dominions of Moab would, like modern Bedouins under similar circumstances, not only know of the existence of a celebrated magician like Balaam, but probably greatly exaggerate his power.


The Midianites do not have the power to attack Israel and so they find an easy alliance with Moab.


Either their own national deities—Chemosh and Baal—had not been sufficiently propitiated by the Amorites and so would require more gifts in order to defeat the God of Israel, or else Jehovah was really stronger than they. In either case Balaam would bring invaluable, and, if he only chose to exert it, sure help.


According to heathen views, a magician had absolute and irresistible power with the gods; power was inherent in him or in the incantations which he used.


What God did for Israel all fell under the category of miracles. God acted independently of man. The works of God did not depend upon man. However, under heathen religion, man can persuade God and the right magician or prophet may even have power over Him.


This basic trait of religion has not gone away. It has only taken a different form.


No prophet of Jehovah would ever have claimed that he had the power to do anything. He could inquire of the Lord but the work was the Lord's.


In the church, that basic premise hasn't changed. We pray, we learn, we apply, we make decisions, but the work, the wisdom, the power, the guidance all belongs to the Lord and it is His will, not our own. It is supernatural but it is not magic. God Himself works through us in grace.


Supposing that Jehovah was really superior to Chemosh and Baal, the king of Moab and his associates would none the less desire the aid of Balaam.


It was a further principle of heathenism, that national deities might be induced to transfer their blessing and protection from one nation to another.


We can see that this very thing was practiced centuries later by the Romans. This is stated around the time of Christ, fourteen centuries later.  


"Verrius Flaccus cites trustworthy authorities to show that it was the custom, at the very beginning of a siege, for the Roman priests to call forth the divinity under whose protection the besieged town was, and to promise him the same or even more splendid worship among the Roman people. Down to the present day this ritual has remained part of the doctrine of the Pontiffs, and it is certain that the reason why the tutelary deity of Rome has been kept a secret is to prevent any enemy from acting in a similar way. There is indeed nobody who does not fear to be spellbound by imprecations." [Pliny's Natural History (28, 4)]


Balaam knew of Abraham, he knew of Jehovah and the covenants, and he knew that as a talented, professional magician he could enter into a professional relationship with Jehovah and persuade Him to curse Israel and bless Moab and Midian, and like most of mankind, his love of money would motivate him to do it.


The question of his status as believer or unbeliever has many on both sides. I personally think that he never was a believer, but I certainly hope he was. His conduct betrays him as an unbeliever. A believer would know that Israel could not be cursed by a pagan king. He would know the Abrahamic covenant and that those who curse Israel will be cursed, not blessed. He would also know the first commandment and would not openly and brazenly violate it as a diviner, if he were a believer. Just because God appears to him and talks to him does not indicate faith, since God did the same to Cain and others. When he addresses God as Jehovah he is simply calling him by name as he would Baal. When he says that Jehovah is my God, it is likely that he means that Jehovah is on his side, which is his clear motivation, and he knows the term as the Jews would say it, "Jehovah Elohym" or the Lord my God. And, when it's all over, he gives advice to the Midianites on how to bring down Israel with harlots.


NUM 31:16 "Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord.


He came to know later, that if one couldn't curse Israel through divination than they could curse themselves through pagan religion.


This is the age old battle plan against all free and blessed peoples and nations. If you can't destroy them from without you slowly destroy them from within.


Now, if Balaam could make the God of Israel one of his patron deities and if he could become one of His prophets to the point where he could influence Jehovah to turn from His purpose regarding Israel, he would become the most powerful magician in the world, as well as the wealthiest.


Like Pharaoh, Balaam stood at a crossroads between life and death. Being truly introduced to Jehovah and His power Balaam could have abandoned his heathen ways and put his faith in Jehovah Elohim as the one true living God, but like Pharaoh after witnessing the ten plagues and the words of Moses, Balaam clung to his heathenism, his heart was hardened, and he met destruction and death.


Relationship with the one true God must be spiritual and not magical. It is not in rites or talismans or incantations, but in faith.


It was in magical propitiation that all the heathen peoples believed, but in the one true God the spiritual relationship is based upon faith in a propitiation that the love of God brought to man, through His own wisdom and power. To attempt a magical relationship with Him is to believe that ritual, sacrifices, offerings, and works propitiate Him. That was the propitiation of heathenism.


In Christianity, the offering and the priest are one and the same, and God is propitiated, and man, who is redeemed and reconciled, has nothing whatsoever to do with it.


This was a clear teaching in the Law as well by means of the Levitical offerings, and so, all believing Jews were aware of it. So then heathenism cannot be in a contract with the kingdom of God. You shall have no other gods before Him.


Knowing the Abrahamic covenant as he would certainly have, Balaam would know that Balak's request to curse Israel ran directly counter to Jehovah's purpose.


GEN 12:2-3

And I will make you a great nation,

And I will bless you,

And make your name great;

And so you shall be a blessing;

And I will bless those who bless you,

And the one who curses you I will curse.

And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."


So then, Balaam knows that he has to use his divining powers to change the mind of Jehovah.


MAL 3:6

"For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. [written a thousand years later]


God will not only not change, which He cannot, but He will actually put the very words of this covenant into Balaam's mouth so that Balak will hear it along with the other Moabites who were there along with those in Israel in the valley who were close enough to hear. Eventually these words would fall upon the ears of all Moab and Israel as they were passed on from person to person, and they are even recorded for us today so that we may hear.


God shouts from the rooftops - My unconditional covenants do not bend, break, or change one bit.


For the CA believer, your eternal life, inheritance, adoption, election, predestination, position in Christ, priesthood, etc. cannot be bent, perverted, broken, or even changed at all.


PRO 8:1-2

Does not wisdom call,

And understanding lift up her voice?

On top of the heights beside the way,

Where the paths meet, she takes her stand;


NUM 22:1 Then the sons of Israel journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan opposite Jericho.


NUM 22:2 Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.


NUM 22:3 So Moab was in great fear because of the people, for they were numerous; and Moab was in dread of the sons of Israel.


Direct fulfillment of the song of Moses sung 40 years prior.


NUM 22:4 And Moab said to the elders of Midian, "Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field." And Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time.


NUM 22:5 So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the River, in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, "Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me.


NUM 22:6 Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed."


Balaam's powers are exaggerated by rumor as being able to bless and curse at will and being able to bend the will of the gods.


NUM 22:7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak's words to him.


Fearful of Israel, both Moab and Midian form a coalition in order to strengthen their chances of defeating her.


NUM 22:8 And he said to them, "Spend the night here, and I will bring word back to you as the Lord [Jehovah] may speak to me." And the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam.


NUM 22:9 Then God came to Balaam and said, "Who are these men with you?"


NUM 22:10 And Balaam said to God, "Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me,


NUM 22:11 'Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt and they cover the surface of the land; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I may be able to fight against them, and drive them out.'"


NUM 22:12 And God said to Balaam, "Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed."


/Balaam likely performed some incantation and ritual and God opened up the dialogue. God reaffirms the unchangeable character of the Abrahamic covenant.\


NUM 22:13 So Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak's leaders, "Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you."


NUM 22:14 And the leaders of Moab arose and went to Balak, and said, "Balaam refused to come with us."


Why did Jehovah appear to him? Why did God condescend to talk to him? We cannot answer the question fully. In questions like this it is dangerous to the truth to conjecture. We can only state what the scripture states and it is best to accept it as just and righteous.


What we know for sure is that Balak has asked for a curse upon God's people. A heathen has demanded a curse of Israel just before Israel crosses the Jordan and take the land and disperse heathens from it. It is clear that God is going to use Balaam to relay His unconditional covenant to both the heathen and Israel.


It was, therefore, really a contest between heathenism and Israel as the people of God, which would exhibit and decide the real relationship between Israel and the heathen world, or in other words, between the Church of God and the kingdoms of this world.


And as formerly God had raised up Pharaoh to be the instru­ment of bringing down the gods of Egypt, so would He now decide this contest through the very man whom Balak had chosen as its champion.


He would use him as a willing instrument, if he yielded, or as an unwilling one, if he rebelled, but in any case as an efficient instrument for carrying out His own purposes.


God will later use Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, a pagan worshipper to His own ends, as He will Alexander and countless others that we don't know of.