April 25, 2010
The Man Paid to Curse Israel
By: Pastor Bill Randles
In part one of this article we looked at the fact that the story of Balaam from the book of Numbers 22-25 has an unappreciated eschatological significance to it. The story is being played out again on the world stage. Once again there is an international unease with the fact that Israel is possessing the land that God gave her, in spite of the hatred and fear of her Middle Eastern neighbors.
The hatred is heightened by the frustrating fact that in spite of five major wars fought against Israel - by overwhelming numerically significant Arab armies - Israel has prevailed in ways that can only be called miraculous.
Therefore the Muslim Arab world has had to seek other ways to prevail; they have been using their wealth and influence as a leverage to hire people to “curse” Israel. They have lobbied the world media, even buying up vast portions of it, they have been successfully using western courtrooms, “lawfare”, and bought sophisticated PR offensives, in an all out attempt to flip the once broad western support for Israel, the only western, democratic, free society in the Middle East.
All of this comes right out of Numbers 22, for the Bible is a prophetic as well as a historical narrative.
WHO WAS BALAAM?
Balaam was a pagan prophet. The Hebrew word to describe his office was not the usual word for a prophet of the true God, Nabi, rather he was a Kosem, a soothsayer. His outlook and worldview was that of a heathen. He knew about, and dealt with national gods.
People like Balaam were consulted because they knew how to appease, consult, influence, and divine the will of the various national deities. The power to influence and at times even control these gods was believed to be inherent in certain men. A seer such as Balaam could conceivably ‘flip’ the allegiance of certain national gods to go against their own people under the right circumstances. This was the pagan logic of hiring Balaam to “curse” Israel!
This also is a very modern aspect to the story. In the mind of the Middle Eastern Muslims, the reason they couldn’t overcome and dispossess the nascent state of Israel after five wars and with overwhelming odds, is religious. Obviously they weren’t sufficiently dedicated to Allah.
To the Muslim world, the Middle Eastern conflict isn’t merely political, nor even a military struggle, it is religious in nature, it is “our God against your God”. I happen to agree with this viewpoint, and I believe scripture bears this out. Psalm 83, which is a prophecy about a soon coming war in the Middle East with Israel and all of her immediate neighbors, ends with the following plea to Jahweh, the Living God,
“Cover their faces with shame so that they seek your name, O Lord. May they be frustrated and terrified, disgraced and doomed forever. May they know, that your name, Yours alone is the Lord, supreme over all the earth.” Psalm 83:17-19
WHAT BALAAM FULLY KNEW
Balaam knew a lot about Jahweh. Like all of the nations round about, he knew about Egypt, forty years earlier and what God had done to Pharaoh. He also knew about the defeat of Sihon and Og, two of the greatest powers of the area around the Promised Land, crushed by the nation of former slaves! Most importantly, it is evident that both he and Balak knew about the Genesis 12:3 promise to Abraham. This is evident in the fact that when Balak sent for Balaam, he flattered him by attributing to Balaam the same power,
“ Come then put a curse on this people for me since they are too numerous for me, perhaps I can defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom thou bless is blest and he whom thou cursest is cursed.” Numbers 22:6
Balak sent a delegation to Balaam, traveling more than 400 miles bearing wealth and the promise of great honor, to see if he would be able by sorcery to flip the allegiance of the God of Israel against his people. The wealth and prestige were tempting to the seer, but to his credit, the pagan actually sought the counsel of Jahweh, and was stunned no doubt to receive a very direct and clear answer from God. The instructions were threefold -
“And God said to Balaam, You shall not go with them; you shall not curse this people, for they are blessed.” Numbers 22:12
Balaam did not relate the whole message of God to the delegation the next morning, only telling them God wouldn’t allow him to go with them. He withheld the other two parts, the commandment of God not to curse Israel and the positive statement of God that Israel was blessed! By holding that information back he successfully kept the door open for further and more generous offers from the Moabites.
This also is being played out in our day, because in the interest of the honor and prestige of being politically correct, modern day Balaams are denying the fact that God has a special place for Israel, and that she is blessed and destined to fulfill her original calling. The love of the world in this case is seeking the approval of those who deny Israel’s unique calling.
THE WILLFULNESS OF BALAAM
Sure enough a second delegation made the 400 mile trek, seeking the aid of the famous soothsayer. This time more reward and greater honors were promised. Balaam knew enough to send them away, but he wanted the wages and the prestige so much, he prayed again about it. To pray about something that you already know full well is not the will of God is a dangerous thing to do. It means you are already well on the path of self-deception. At first upon greeting the caravan, Balaam protested that no amount of silver and gold would allow him to “go beyond the Word of the Lord my God, to do less or more…” but in the same breath he bids them stay the night whilst he seeks God’s will.
The deceptive thing is that God allowed him to go with them, warning him to only speak what God would give him to say. One of the worst things that can happen to a person, who is willful like Balaam, is for God to “give them over” to what they lust for. As Jesus said to Judas on the night He was betrayed, “What you do, do quickly”. God would use Balaam in spite of his willfulness and lust, to further His own holy purposes.
But we are told that God’s anger was aroused against Balaam, on the way, because he went in a spirit of willfulness. He was going to find a way to get the money and honor, one way or another, no matter what Jahweh had revealed to him about his purposes for Israel.
A DONKEY AS A TYPE OF CHRIST
As the caravan passed a road with walls on either side, Balaam’s donkey swerved into the wall smashing Balaam’s foot! Balaam beat the beast, yet a little later, the donkey ran off the road into a field. This no doubt humiliated the seer, so he beat the donkey with a rod! A third time, on a portion of road with a narrowing wall on either side, the ass swerved again, crushing Balaam’s foot!
Finally, the road narrowed again and the donkey balked and just lay down on its side. This time, as the embarrassed seer abused the beast, the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, “What have I done to you that you struck me these times?” Balaam answered the donkey that he wished he had a sword to kill her! It was then that the Lord opened the prophet’s eyes to see what the lowly beast saw, the Angel of the Lord in the road with a drawn sword.
Such is the gospel of Jesus, who came in lowliness to bear the heavy burden of us all. Even though in our stubborn willfulness like Balaam, going after our own way and madly following our own lusts, we were oblivious to the danger up the road - the judgment of a holy God! It took the opening of our eyes to see our folly and danger, and in the meantime we abused and despised the ‘burden bearer’.
“And the Angel of the Lord said to Him, why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold I have come out to stand against you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.” Numbers 22:32-33
Like a lot of preachers today, Balaam knew quite a bit about God’s purposes for Israel, he knew about the curse of Genesis 12:3, he knew about Egypt, the fate of Og, Sihon and the Amorites. And in the living parable of his donkey, he even saw a veiled representation of the Gospel. But he ignored all of that in his quest for gold and prestige, willing to put himself to the service of those who would curse God’s people - Israel.
Continue on to Part Three - Balaam’s Parables