Sunday, June 17, 2007

Matt's Messages - Baalam and the Blessing of Israel (Part One)

“Balaam and the Blessing of Israel (Part One)”
Life in the Wilderness
June 17, 2007
Numbers 22:1-38

Last week, I said that this week’s story would include a talking donkey. Something you don’t see or hear about every day!

Well, Nathan Kristofits has asked if there is a donkey will also be an ogre named Shrek?!

And the answer is No. No ogres today. But there is a pagan magician prophet named Baalam.

And chapters 22 through 24 tell the story of “Baalam and the Blessing of Israel.” We’ll only have enough time today to make it through most of chapter 22. So we’ll call this week’s message “Part One.”

“Baalam and the Blessing of Israel: Part One.”

Verse 1 reminds us where the nation of Israel is right now. V.1

“Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.”

They’ve conquered this area. We saw that last week with Sihon king of the Amorites and Og, King of Bashan.

They now possess what we call the Transjordan Territory across the Jordan river from Jericho.

And they are north of what? [When in doubt, say Moab!]

That’s right! Moab.

And who do you think is scared of Israel? Moab!

Why? Because, like we said last week, they have grown so strong and are clearly experiencing the blessing of God. So that’s got the ruler of Moab terrified. V.2

“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.’”

Now, do they have any reason to fear? Not necessarily.

Moab is not the Promised Land. As long as they didn’t attack Israel, Moab didn’t have anything to be afraid of.

But they were afraid. So Balak decided to do something about it.

And what he decided to do set off a chain of events that I can only describe as “a very serious comedy.”

Balak decides that he can’t handle Israel on his own. So he brings in a secret weapon.

He sends for Balaam.

Balak decides to hire a diviner. A pagan magician prophet known for his supposed magical word powers.

Where brute force wouldn’t work, Balak decides to try magic. V.4

“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 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 country. For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed.’”

Balak went for a hired gun. And not just any hired gun but one of the most famous diviners in the ancient world.

Baalam was internationally known for his prophetic powers. There are inscriptions on the walls of an archaeological site dated at least to the seventh century BC in Deir Alla on the Jabbok river that have some of Baalam’s prophecies still on them.

Baalam was considered a Big Gun in the ancient world.

That’s why Balak ends his letter with this (v.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.’”


Balak has faith in Baalam. Do you think he should?

Don’t those last words in the verse sound familiar? And bring you back to a set of promises that a certain God had made that we call the Abrahamic covenant?

Genesis 12, verses 12 and 13. God talking to Abraham: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

What do you think will happen if Baalam tries to curse Israel? We’ll see! V.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. ‘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.”
Now, you might think that Baalam is a follower of the LORD (YHWH) by the way he talks.

But we know that not everyone who talks about God is a true follower of God.

A wise scholar has said that Baalam is a lot like a crooked politician (Duguid, 269-280). He knows what to say to whomever he’s talking to to “sound good.” But that doesn’t mean that he means it.

Probably here, he is saying that he will make contact with the God of Israel to see what he can do about Balak’s Israelite problem.

So they spend the night.

And, surprisingly, God shows up and talks to Baalam. V.9

“God came to Balaam and asked, ‘Who are these men with you?’”

Think He doesn’t know?

This is kind of like God coming to Adam and asking “Where are you? What have you been up to?”

“Balaam said to God, ‘Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: '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.'’ But God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.’”

I have three points about God that I want to make this morning. And this is the first one.


If there is no other lesson that we get from this week and next week’s message, this is the one we need to learn.

God Will Bless His People.

God graciously comes to this pagan magician prophet who has done nothing good to deserve an audience with the King of the Universe and He tells Balaam: “Do not go with these guys. Do not try to put a curse on Israel. It will not work. I will not let you. They are blessed.”

And those whom God says are blessed, are blessed!

God Will Bless His People.

God has said so (Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Genesis 17, Genesis 22, the whole book of Exodus, what we’ve seen so far in Numbers). God has promised to bless Israel, and God is faithful. He will bless them.

He says, “They are blessed.”

What I really like about the Baalam story is that it gives the outside view of what God is doing to and for Israel.

In chapters 1 through 10, Israel was getting ready to march and they looked blessed.

But in chapters 11 through 21, we’ve seen Israel retreat in unbelief, grumble, complain, and receive the heavy discipline of the Lord.

And you begin to wonder if Israel is going to make it.

But here’s the outside view. They can’t not make, ultimately!

“They are blessed.”

God Will Bless His People.

No doubt about it. No ifs, ands, or buts.

God Will Bless His People.

Now, to me, that leads to two important applications.


In the Old Covenant, you came into God’s people through participation with Israel.

In the New Covenant, you come by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Jesus died on the Cross and was a raised to new life to bring people like you and me into a love relationship with God and become God’s own people.

When we turn from our sins and trust in Jesus Christ and His CrossWork, we are not just forgiven and promised eternal life, we are placed into the Body of Christ, the Church, God’s Family, God’s People.

And if we are part of God’s people, then we are blessed. Guaranteed.

God Will Bless His People.

Are sure that you are one of God’s people?

I challenge you to make sure today.

Put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. And you will be blessed.

And then (second application), DON’T BE AFRAID.

Because if you are one of God’s people, then you are blessed.

Don’t be afraid.

I love the fact that Israel probably doesn’t know that all of this drama is going on around them. Israel is thinking manna and supplies and conquering the Promised Land, and they probably aren’t aware that Balak has sent for Baalam.

And that’s probably good, because I can just see Israel getting spooked if they knew what was happening.

But even if they did, they shouldn’t have been afraid, should they?!
“They are blessed.”

Don’t be afraid.

What are you afraid of this week?

As you look at Monday looming in your face, what are you afraid of?

Hear this word: “You are blessed. God will bless His people. Don’t be afraid.”

Now, that blessing won’t always look like we want it to.

It isn’t always health, wealth, prosperity, good looks, and fast cars.

In fact, it often isn’t.

But we have nothing to fear. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

God will bless His people. Their cup will overflow.

Goodness and mercy will follow us all of the days of our lives.

And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Do you believe that? Believe it this week. God is for you. And no one can be against.

You are blessed.

That’s what God told Baalam. Of course, it’s not what Baalam wanted to hear. V.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.’”

Notice that he doesn’t say why! He doesn’t say why he’s not allowed to go back with them. So what do you think they’re going to do? V.14

“So the Moabite princes returned to Balak and said, ‘Balaam refused to come with us.’”

Do you think that Balak is going to give up this easily?

Balak is a patient man. The journey to Pethor was probably about a month long, one way. So this has taken 2 months of Balak’s worrying already.

And Balak is a man of the world. He thinks he knows what Baalam is holding out for: more moolah. So he promises it. V.15

“Then Balak sent other princes, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said: ‘This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.’”

Balak raises the stakes. “Put your price tag on it, Baalam. I’ll meet it.

Come and do your magic.”

Now, what should Baalam say? Before you look at what Baalam does say, think about what he should say.

He should say, “No dice. No way. Head home.

These folks are blessed. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

What you should do is figure out a way to bless them yourselves.

Cursing won’t work. End of story.”

But that’s not what he says. Remember, Baalam is a crooked politician. And even if he sounds good, he’s keeping his options open. V.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. Now stay here tonight as the others did, and I will find out what else the LORD will tell me.’”

I think he’s hoping that the LORD will have changed His mind!

Or that he can talk him into it.

But that leads us to point #2.


Baalam may be able to play games with Moab and Midian and Balak, but He can’t play games with God. V.20

“That night God came (again) to Balaam and said, ‘Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.’”

It kind of looks like God changed His mind! But the important piece hasn’t changed. Balaam is still not allowed to curse Israel.

God has His own reasons for letting Baalam go this time. And they don’t involve cursing Israel.

And God warns Baalam, “Do only what I tell you.”

I can just imagine Baalam’s response to that. “Oh, certainly, LORD. Nothing but what you say.” While in his heart of hearts he’s still hoping to pull one over on Him. V.21

“Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him.”

Did God change His mind? No. Baalam had.

God reads minds! And He knew that Baalam had decided in his heart to disobey the LORD and curse the people of Israel.

Baalam might have gone to bed somewhat obedient, but he got up ready to disobey.

And God will not be manipulated.

Magicians, sorcerers, witches, and diviners think that they can get God to do what they want.

And so do many many people. Even Christians.

If you just pray a certain way.
If you say these certain words.
“Seven Hail Marys and a Prayer of Jabez.”

If you just dress a certain way or give a certain amount... can control God.

Tell God what He wants to hear and He’ll give you what you want to have.

No way.

God will not be manipulated.

God will not be played.

God will not be mocked or tricked or conned.

He knows our hearts.

Just as He is determined to bless His people, He will not let anything manipulate Him into a different course of action.

One of the major underlining themes in the Baalam and the Blessing of God story is that God is in control–not humans. Not us.

God will not be manipulated.

I think the application to that is clear: DON’T PLAY GAMES WITH GOD.

Don’t try to trick Him.

Don’t try to worm your way in and get what you want. It won’t work.

God only plays one way. His way.

Are you trying to get away with something on God right now?

You might not have put it that way when you came in the door today.

If I had come up to you and asked you how your week was, you probably wouldn’t have said, “Well, I’ve been playing games with God this week!”

But that doesn’t mean you haven’t.

He knows.
He knows what you say. And He knows what you do.
And He knows what you’re planning. Better than you do!

Don’t play games with God.

He will not be manipulated.

That’s what the angel of the LORD was sent to show Baalam.

He was standing in the road, ready to kill Baalam.

But Baalam couldn’t see him! Only one character in the whole story could. The donkey. V.22

“...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. 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. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. 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. 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. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff.”

The poor donkey!

She was only trying to help her master.

Are donkeys known for being the brightest animals in the world?

Do donkeys have the high IQs and Phds of the Animal Kingdom?

No. Donkeys are known for being dumb, brutish, ignorant.

But compared to Baalam, this donkey was a genius!

She had eyes to see what was really going on. And Baalam was the really ignorant one.

And here’s where the story really gets funny.

God decides to do something that He didn’t do in the rest of the Bible! He gave the donkey speech. V.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?’ 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.’”

I love it! The “powerful Baalam” is so ignorant and prideful, he doesn’t even realize he’s talking to a donkey!

He says, “If I had a sword, I’d kill you.”

Well, there’s a sword nearby, but it’s not aimed at the donkey!

“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.”

“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.”

All of a sudden, Baalam knows he’s in trouble. This is more than he bargained for!

“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. 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.’ 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.’ 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.”

God will not be manipulated.

He will do what it takes to accomplish His purposes.

He will not be thwarted.

He will thwart those who try to manipulate Him.

I think that Baalam finally has realized what position he is in. And it’s not the driver’s seat. V.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. 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?’ [There’s some real comedic irony in that, too, isn’t there?] ‘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.’”

And we’re going to stop there with the cliffhanger, wondering just what Baalam will say.

We’ll find out next week. If you really want to know, read the next two chapters.

And this is point #3 and last:


Did you notice how it was the LORD who opened Baalam’s eyes?

Without that, Baalam would have never seen the angel of the LORD.

And He also opened the donkey’s tongue.

God can do anything.

He can even stop people whose paths are (v.32) “reckless” before Him.

And He can set them again on the path they should be on.

You don’t want God to oppose you.

You don’t want to be on a reckless path before Him.

You and I need God to open our eyes and loosen our tongues.

How much more should we be willing and obedient emissaries of God!

We aren’t pagan magician prophets or dumb donkeys!

We are children of the living God through faith in Christ Jesus.

He opened our eyes to see the glory of the Gospel. And He must loosen our tongues to speak it to those who need to hear.

Application: DO WHAT GOD SAYS TO DO AND SAY WHAT HE SAYS TO SAY. Willingly. Obediently. Humbly. Not recklessly.

Allow God to open your eyes to spiritual things. And open your mouth to testify to what God has done in your life.

It’s often been joked about this chapter that if God could speak through a donkey, He could speak through you and me.

And that joke is absolutely true!

When we realize that we are God’s people and therefore blessed.
And we realize that God will bless His people and nothing will stand in His way.

Then we don’t have to be afraid.

And we don’t have to run recklessly before Him trying to manipulate Him into doing what we want. He’ll do what is best!

He’ll open our eyes and loosen our tongues.

So that we can say [with much more truth in our hearts, v.38], “I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”

“May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”