April 30, 2010
By: Pastor Bill Randles
Balaam was a pagan prophet, a seer, who was hired by Balak, the King of Moab. He was well known and highly sought after for his ability to deal with the various national deities. He would be the one to deal with the God of the children of Israel, perhaps by his knowledge of divination, he could invoke from their own God, a curse upon them! Therefore Balak had sent a delegation to him, from 400 miles away, to pay him to curse Israel.
Balaam had already had more than one encounter with Jahweh, the living God, while preparing for this trip. First, Jahweh had told him expressly not to go with the delegation, and specifically not to curse Israel, because He – Jahweh - had blessed them. But Balaam wanted the reward so badly, he didn’t tell the delegation the whole truth about Israel, only that Jahweh forbid him to go with them. This left the door open for further offers from them.
When the delegation returned with even greater offers, Balaam prayed about it again. This time Jahweh told him to go ahead, but to speak only what he had told him to speak. But he went with them so eagerly and so ready to do their bidding for the reward; Jahweh met him on the road in the form of the angel with a drawn sword. Balaam’s life was spared by the very donkey he cursed and beat. Thus Balaam had a definite idea of whom he was dealing with in the God of Israel.
When Balaam completed the trek from the Euphrates river to the border of Canaan, he was met by Balak and a delegation eager to witness the renown seer execute his curse on the unsuspecting children of Israel. However, Balaam warned Balak that he could only say what God would put in his mouth!
First there were the necessary rituals to be performed. Seven altars were erected and seven each of oxen and sheep were slaughtered and offered, a sacrificial meal was served to the king and his entourage. The God of Israel had to be appeased by sacrifice - the number seven was His number - and every ritual had to be just right if there was any chance of inducing Jahweh to sanction a curse against his own people!
Balaam stepped out, onto the high place of Baal, overlooking the camp of Israel, in order to “look for auguries”, in the pagan way of divination. But once again, the true God of Israel did indeed meet him and “put words in his mouth”, commanding him to speak to Balak the King of Moab -
“Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram, from the mountains of the east. Come curse Jacob for me, and come denounce Israel! How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced? For from the tops of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him; there, a people dwelling alone, not reckoning among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!” (Numbers 23:7-10)
Rather than the anticipated curse, Balaam was given an amazing blessing for Israel, containing several components which serve not only as blessing, but warnings –
1) The impossibility of being able to curse Israel, whom God has blessed.
2) The God ordained separation of Israel - she is “not counted among the nations”.
3) The surety of the promise made to Abraham that Israel would be numbered “as the sands of the sea, and the stars in the heavens”.
4) The blessedness of even the death of those so blessed by God! Curse them? Are you kidding? I should be so blessed as to so much as die the death of these righteous ones!
Being of the heathen worldview, both Balaam and Balak agreed that perhaps “it wasn’t working” because they were wrongly situated geographically. So they broke camp and set up on Mount Pisgah, seven altars re-erected to try it from a different vantage point.
Once again as Balaam set out to search for omens, the living God met him directly - and once again put a word in his mouth.
“Rise up Balak and hear, Listen to me son of Zippor! God is not a man that he should lie, Nor a son of man that he should repent. Has he said, and will He do? Has he spoken and will he not make it good? Behold I have received a command to bless; he has blessed and I cannot reverse it.”
“He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has he seen wickedness in Israel. The Lord His God is with Him, and the shout of the King is among them. God brings them out of Egypt; He has the strength of the Wild Ox.”
“For there is no enchantment against Jacob, Nor any divination against Israel. It now must be said of Jacob and of Israel, “Oh what has God done?’ Look a people arises like a lioness, and lifts itself up like a lion, It shall not lie down until it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain.” (Numbers 23:18-24)
This prophecy is even more straightforward and intense. Jahweh - through Balaam -commands Balak who is the king and representative of heathendom to stand to his feet and listen! The context of the familiar scripture, that “God is not a man that He should lie or the son of man that He should repent…” has to do with God’s eternal purposes for Israel. He will forever “bless those who bless them and curse those who curse them” regardless of any and every Balak, Balaam, Putin, Obama, Caesar, World Council of Churches, Pope, or replacement theologians!
The emphasis of this prophecy is the divine justification of Israel. “God does not behold iniquity in Jacob”. This is not to say that God is unaware of the profound sinfulness of the Jewish people, because a scanning of the chapters before and after this story verify that sinfulness. But as far as the eternal purposes of God for Israel are concerned, God’s attention is not on Jacob’s iniquity. He has redeemed them by blood, as He alluded to in the prophecy when he said “He brings them out of Egypt”.
As a consequence of that justification of Israel, the prophecy warns the heathen king and the nations he represents, that whatever they think of Israel,
1) The Lord his God is with him…in a way that He (Jahweh) is with no other nation!
2) Consequently, he (Israel) has the strength of a wild ox. There will be no taming or subduing of Israel.
3) There can be no successful enchantment against Israel.
4) People will say because of them, “What has God done?” in awe and wonder!
5) The prophet saw the people of Israel roused as a lioness, and not resting until all of her enemies were devoured!
This ominous message of blessing for Israel and warning for her enemies infuriated the king, not being at all what he had paid good money for! But being of a heathen worldview, who saw any deity as some power to be manipulated by man, through the proper technique, they thought they would give it another try, from perhaps a more favored location.
Once again they made the seven altars and offered seven each of bulls and rams. But this time Balaam made no effort to seek auguries, in the way of the pagan seer. He was beginning to realize something when he looked from his vantage point upon the tents of Israel - arrayed in the shape of a giant cross with the holy tabernacle at the very crux! This time the Spirit of God came upon him and he was given an oracle,
“The utterance of Balaam, the son of Beor, the utterance of the man whose eyes are opened, the utterance of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the almighty, who falls down with his eyes wide open.”
“How lovely are your tents O Jacob, Your dwellings O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens by the riverside, like aloes planted by the Lord, like Cedars besides the waters He shall pour waters from His buckets and his seed shall be in many waters.”
“His King shall be higher than Agag, and His Kingdom exalted. God brings him out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox; he shall consume the nations, his enemies; he shall break their bones and pierce them with his arrows. He bows down, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion who shall rouse Him?” (Numbers 24:3-9)
“Blessed is he that blesses you and cursed is he that curseth you.”
This time Balak couldn’t contain his anger and fear. He clapped his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “…I called you to curse my enemies and you have bountifully blessed them these three times! Now therefore flee to your place. I said I would greatly honor you, but in fact, the Lord has kept you back from honor!” (Numbers 24:10-11)
There is an implied threat of harm to Balaam, in that Balak told him to “flee back to his place”. No wonder the king was livid, for the third prophecy foretold of even greater blessing for Israel, whilst at the same time, contained even more ominous warnings towards Israel’s enemies than the other two.
The theme is that of the fruitfulness of Israel. The beauty of her tents is that of a garden bursting with fruit, watered by a river. She is like a healthy, healing aloe plant, Israel towers as Cedar trees do!
As Abraham was told, that he would be blessed so that he could be a blessing, Balaam prophesied that Israel would carry buckets and pour water out, refreshing people everywhere she goes in this desert world.
The seed of Israel would be “in many waters”, dispersed among all of the various nations of the world.
The king of Israel would be greater than Agag. Agag is not a name but an Amalekite regal title, like Pharaoh, or Caesar. Balaam prophesies here of a king coming through Israel, who would dwarf all Agags, Pharaohs, Caesars, Kaisers, Prime Ministers, Supreme Leaders, Emperors and Presidents.
Israel’s power is emphasized again. She is like a crouching lion and a wild ox - consuming enemies, breaking their bones and piercing them with arrows.
Finally the third prophecy ends with the blessing God gave to Abraham, the very blessing the kings of the earth, including Balak, ignore to their own peril, ”I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”.
Balak wanted Balaam out of his sight, but Balaam was still in the influence of the Spirit of God. Therefore he couldn’t leave until he delivered one more word from God, a word of warning not only to Balak personally, but to all that he represents – Heathenism – which is in opposition to Israel and Israel’s God. The very “kings of the earth and their rulers, who take counsel against the Lord and His Christ” of Psalm 2 and to the present day. The prophecy begins with an even yet more ominous note, “Let me tell you what this people will do to you in the latter days….”
This oracle will be the subject of part 4 - What this People Will do to You in the Last Days.