Numbers 23—25: Balaam’s Prophecy & Israel’s Sin with Moab

 

You can find a complete audio of this teaching here.

Chapters 23 and 24 of Numbers record four prophesies from the mysterious Balaam under the constraint of God. These prophecies are remarkable for their insight and are indicative of the sovereign control the God of Israel had over the recalcitrant, money-hungry seer.

It is interesting to realize that throughout the whole of the Balaam incident Israel was unaware of anything happening behind the scenes. There was a battle taking place in the unseen, in which the powers of darkness vied with the covenant grace of God to overthrow God’s people and do them tremendous harm, and an instance of how God protected them from hidden dangers and foes. The God of Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, was fulfilling His promised role on their behalf.

God also taught Balak, the king of Moab and Balaam’s employer, about the people of God, Israel. He taught him that they were blessed, that they were walking in purity, that God was with Israel, had brought them out of Egypt, had protected them against all sorcery and divination, and that He would see them through to victory.

Take note, this does not mean that the people of God were sinless, or that God overlooked their sins—we have seen in this ongoing history only too clearly that this is not true—but rather that no sin of theirs could weary His exhaustless mercy, or cause Him to revoke His covenant or His purposes with them. Many times He sorely punished them for their sins, but He never left them or forsook them, for His covenant’s sake.

At the end of chapter 24, we find Balak and Balaam parting ways. We’ll discover in the next chapter more of their covert dealings, but before opening the next chapter, we need to closely examine Balaam’s final prophecy. Here we find the Gospel message clearly proclaimed in prophecy—not just over Israel, but also to Gentile nations. One can only marvel that such clear vision should come so anciently and through such a man as Balaam.

Chapter 25 finds the Israelite men committing sexual immorality and idolatry. These verses occur at the end of the Balaam incident because of a connection with it indicated by Moses in Numbers 31:16 where it is said that the women of Moab “caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident at Peor.” It would seem from this that Balaam, before quitting and leaving the country, had suggested to Balak that if the Israelites could be seduced into the idolatry and impurity of the worship practiced at Baal of Peor by the Moabites, they might even yet come under the curse of the Lord. This evil course was followed: Israel was duly tempted, was corrupted, and in the war that followed, Balaam was slain by the sword (Numbers 31:18).

We learn this from these verses: What an enemy could never accomplish against Israel, Israel did to itself through disobedience. The same principle works among the people of God today. The mightiest attack of Satan against us can never do as much damage as our own sin and rebellion against the Lord.

As we continue in the chapter we encounter a priest named Phinehas. Phinehas was one among those in Israel who would not accept this wholesale rebellion against God. He brought God’s judgment by thrusting through an Israelite man and a Midianite woman with a spear—seemingly, as they were in the midst of immorality. Phinehas was probably not the only one to make such a stand for righteousness. But this was the singular act that stopped the plague God brought against the people. We may think our particular stand for righteousness makes no difference in the awesome tide of sin around us; but God can honor just one righteous act and cause it to make the difference. Phinehas is honored for his passion and obedience.

OBSERVATIONS:

  • We often make spiritual life far more complicated for ourselves than it need have been, and than it was meant to have been.
  • It is impressive and wonderful that so long ago such a clear delineation of the future should be given to man.
  • We may never know just how much harm and injury we may do the work of God—and the people of God—if we are out of joint spiritually, and therefore become the unwitting tool of the devil.

 

 

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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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