HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, August 22, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “Can’t Curse What God Blesses”
Text – Numbers 22-26, 31
Background – The Israelites are nearing the end of their wandering in the wilderness—a full forty years. As they near their destination, they meet resistance from other nations who attack them, but God gives them success and they begin occupying territory on the east side of the Jordan. The land God promised is actually on the west side of the Jordan River, so these nations who felt threatened by the nation of Israel did so needlessly; however, when they attacked God’s chosen people, God came to their defense and rewarded His people with the lands of the attacking nations on the east side of the Jordan River too.
Shortly before the Israelites headed across the Jordan, they encamp on the plains of Moab, beside the Jordan River across from their first real obstacle Jericho. But Moab’s king, Balak, is entirely freaked out. He has heard the stories of their departure from Egypt, he knows how they are now succeeding militarily and realizes he doesn’t stand a chance if they choose to go to war with him. Additionally, because there are so many of them, they are liable to deplete the natural resources. He knows how other nations have failed against them, but he still wants to chase them off; however, rather than going out and attacking them as the other now conquered groups have done, Balak tries a different tactic—he hires a sorcerer to curse the people first in hopes of weakening them to the point that he and his people will then be able to overpower them.
It appears that Balak understands that he needs the help of a higher power to defeat these trespassers; their ‘god’ is obviously blessing their efforts. He decides to counter this blessing by bringing in someone to curse them. What he doesn’t understand is that he’s not merely taking on the ‘god’ of one people group such as the idols worshiped by the Amorites, the Canaanites, his allies the Midianites or even that of his own nation of Moab; he is attempting to work against GOD, the Creator of the Universe.
Numbers 22:4b-7 – “So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, 5 sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates 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. 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 land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.’
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.”
Now, as we go along in this story, we will discover that this tactic totally backfires. What was Balak’s error? No matter how many sacrifices he makes to appease and gain the favour of whatever god he felt would help him in this matter, his request is denied. But what of the sorcerer he hires? His story is a little more complicated.
The elders of Moab and Midian are sent by Balak to employ a well-renowned Midianite sorcerer, Balaam of Peor. Biblical scholars tell us that ancient records attest to the existence of this once famous sorcerer. But what is less clear is how it is he has come to believe in God, whom he refers to as “the Lord my God” (Numbers 22:18). Despite his stated affiliation, we shouldn’t understand Balaam as having the kind of relationship with God as that of a godly man, like an Elijah or an Isaiah. As the story goes, we might come to think of him more along the lines of a shaman or voodoo priest; he has come to rely on the power provided to him through various spiritual beings in his trade and God has made himself known to Balaam on some level.
When these elders come to Balaam with their request, he tells them to stay the night and he will inquire of God as to what he should do. God shows up and makes it very clear to Balaam that he is not to go with these men and he is not to curse the Israelites for God himself has blessed them. So the next morning, Balaam sends them on their way, having rejected the commission. But the king of Moab is not so easily put off; he sends a second contingent, of a larger number and more prestigious than the first. Instead of reminding them of God’s very clear directions previously, Balaam invites them to stay the night and he will again inquire of God.
This time, God appears to permit Balaam to join the group, but he is under very strict instructions to do only what God tells him to do. It appears to me that God is aware that this sorcerer will eventually be persuaded by money and prestige, no matter what he says to the contrary; given time, he will answer Balak’s summons whether God directs him to or not, which is why I think God appears to change his mind.
Numbers 22:20-35 – “20 That night God came to Balaam and said, ‘Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.’ 21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But 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. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.
24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.
26 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. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’
29 Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.’ 30 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?’ Balaam admitted, “No.”
31 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. 32 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. 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.’
34 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.’ 35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.’ So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.”
What was Balaam’s error?
Balaam is a sorcerer for hire and he evidently has no qualms about cursing anyone for the right price…and in this case God’s chosen people. God allows him to go, but I believe what we are witnessing is not God waffling, but rather the distinction between His perfect and his permissive will. God was permitting him to go according to Balaam’s own free will, but God had no intention of allowing this sorcerer to pronounce a curse on his children.
If it was not for Balaam’s donkey, he would never have lived to complete his trip. The angel of the Lord tells him if it had not been for the actions of the donkey, he would have killed him. Balaam realizes the danger his disobedience placed him in and offers to return home. The angel of the Lord then reasserts the need for absolute obedience in this matter and Balaam resumes his journey with God’s warning firmly planted in his mind.
And so begins the story contained in chapters 23-24; Balak shows Balaam the encroaching people of Israel from two separate vantage points, altars are built, sacrifices made, Balaam performs an act of divination seeking an omen (the Hebrew word used here is not entirely clear as to what Balaam actually did) and God has Balaam pronounce a blessing over the people…much to the growing irritation of Balak. But Balak doesn’t give up, a third time he shows a portion of the people to Balaam seeking a curse for just this small group, seven altars are again made, a bull and ram sacrificed on each, but this time Balaam gives up the pretense of divining a different answer from God. As he looked out over the wilderness, the Spirit of God came upon him and he again spoke a blessing on the Israelites…and a curse on any who would try to curse them!
Balak’s heard enough and angrily tells the sorcerer to go home and refuses to pay him for his services, “I said I would reward you handsomely, but the Lord has kept you from being rewarded” (Numbers 24:11). Balaam delivers a few more messages, then, they part ways. We don’t hear any more of Balak, but Balaam’s story isn’t over. In the very next chapter, it appears that the sorcerer is enlisted by his own people, the Midianites, to devise a means of dealing with the Israelites and his own plan is far more treacherous. He encourages the Moabite and Midianite women to be ‘friendly’ with the Israelite men. They are invited to feast together in worship of their god, the Baal of Peor. And some of the men fall and/or run directly into the baited trap to be unfaithful, both to their fellow Israelites and to God. God’s immediate response is to send a plague onto the Israelites, which only stops when the guilty parties are killed, but His retribution is not complete.
The Midianites, who might have been spared, are now on God’s list for vengeance. 12,000 men are selected, one thousand from each tribe, and all the men, boys and women are killed…along with Balaam of Peor. Numbers 31:16 tells us very clearly why, “16 The women were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.” Balaam may have heard God tell him not to curse the people of Israel, but he had not understood God’s reasoning or the significance his future actions against them would entail.
God made it very clear that His intent was to bless the Israelites as long as they remained faithful; in fact, He had set a plan in motion when He chose Abraham that would bless all the nations. Every year brought them closer to it fulfillment.
GOD’S CLEAR INTENT
Genesis 15:13-16 – “13 Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. 14 But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. 15 (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) 16 After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.’”
Genesis 22:17-18 - “17 God promised Abraham, ‘I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.’”
What was God’s plan?
God’s perfect will, to provide a Rescuer from the line of Abraham, that would crush the serpent as promised back in the Garden (Genesis 3:15) continued on unabated. Abraham’s descendants would endure and from them would come God’s Rescuer. Nothing any adversary was ever going to try was going to divert God’s perfect will. This did not, however, remove the possibility of the people choosing to exercise their free will within His permissive will. We’ve already seen how God punished the Israelites and had them wander for forty years for their rebellion as a result of their free will; and through God’s permissive will they had experienced a detour, but it hadn’t changed His perfect will. The plan remained the same—He was engineering a great escape for all humanity from their slavery to sin.
Lessons for us…
· Balak tried to outsmart God—he refused to recognize that the power behind the Israelites’ success could not be undone simply by attempting a ‘counter curse.’ He assumed he understood the full situation with the Israelites sprawled across his doorstep—here was a powerful nation looking to claim a territory for itself and he needed to act before they stripped his land bare and enslaved his people. He ended up trying to stack the deck in his favour, without understanding the rules of the game.
How often do we try to solve apparent problems only to find our attempts frustrated? Balak jumped to a solution that failed miserably because he approached it from a worldly point of view. He had no conception that this was all part of a much larger all-encompassing plan created by the Lord of all. His plan failed because he was clueless to the fact that no power on earth can curse what God has blessed. Before we rush headlong into trying to solve our dilemmas, might I suggest that we take some time to stop and ask God to give us His perspective on the situation. We could save ourselves a lot of aggravation, worry, wasted time and resources if we first consulted the One who knows everything and is Master of the grand design of the entirety of Creation from beginning to end.
· Balaam, on the other hand, sought to use God for his own purposes—for profit, for prestige, for his own self-importance. He had made a reputation for himself as one who was closely connected with a divine power source, but he was a fraud. Despite knowing enough about God to recognize He should be consulted, it is obvious that—prior to being rebuked by his own donkey—he supposed that God could be manipulated and persuaded to change His mind about something He had given very clear instructions about. Even after telling Balak that he could not do or say anything that was not approved of by God, he still went about making sacrifices in an attempt to change God’s mind. Three times Balak asked that Balaam would curse the Israelites and each time seven altars were built, seven bulls and seven rams were sacrificed, yet nothing changed; it took that much for Balaam to finally become convinced that no amount of sacrifices was going to engender a different response from God…and earn him Balak’s promised reward.
How often do we try to change God’s mind? It is natural for us to want healing from illness, financial freedom, relationships free of conflict, natural disasters averted, and on and on…but sometimes God knows it is through those very things that we will allow Him to work a greater transformation on our hearts, our character, our obedience and our relationship with Him. Instead of seeing all difficulties as evil, we need to begin believing that God can do amazing things, despite the difficulties, if we will fully trust Him. He has a plan and a purpose, so whether our experiences are enjoyable or not, we can still be grateful. And, as Balaam found out, if God is giving you a clear direction about something, don’t tempt Him to give you your own way…and suffer the consequences for your belligerence.
· God has both a permissive will and a perfect will and while He may make course adjustments in response to our level of obedience and/or rebellion, it will in no way stop His ultimate plan from being realized. God is the Creator of all and therefore Sovereign. We can choose to act like resentful teenagers who mistakenly believe that once they gain their independence from their parents, they will be entirely free from all rules and limitations; or we can become spiritually mature, recognizing that God has a plan and a purpose for each of us, one for which He specifically designed us for, and we have the privilege of participating in His plans together with Him.
· But, for me, one of the most interesting things to note from this story is that, whether or not the Israelites realized that a sorcerer had been commissioned to curse them, they had nothing to fear. God was intervening on their behalf without their knowledge and without their asking. We, too, can be confident that God is daily protecting us from dangers and problems that we have no awareness of.
So, when ‘stuff happens’ that we are aware of, we can possess reassurance that God has allowed it, even if we have no way of understanding why, because He is more than capable of dealing with threats before we even know they exist. Philippians 4:6-8 provides a wonderful reminder of the fact that God is the source of our peace, “6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” So readily do the good that God has given you to do and trust that whatever He allows into your life, He is more than capable of helping you through it.
For Further Study
“Ain’t It Like Jesus…There’s Nothing He Cannot Do” – Newsboys
Podcast – Jon and Tim of the Bible Project answer questions about the book of Numbers
Sunday, August 29, 2021- “Unexpected Help” (Joshua 1-5:1) - Communion and Sharing Sunday - In-person and Online
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
(Collingwood EMCC Church)
"Learning and Living the Way of Jesus!"
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!