Feb. 1, 2023

Ep. 44 - Balaam (Part 3)

Ep. 44 - Balaam (Part 3)

Num. 22:36-24:25.  Balaam blesses the Israelites.

Num. 22:36-24:25.  Balaam blesses the Israelites.

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Last we left Balaam, he’d just had a very strange encounter with a talking donkey and an angel that was trying to kill him.  Balaam was a prophet of God, but he also loved money…and that love of money was getting him into trouble.  The Moabites had shown up at his door wanting him to curse the Israelites, and they had offered him a ton of money to do so.  But of course, God had told Balaam not to curse the Israelites.  But then, thinking he could get around this on a technicality, Balaam headed off to Moab anyways.  And that’s when he ran into the angel that tried to kill him, and that’s when his donkey saved him.  So of course, Balaam decided that going to Moab was not worth it, but God had other plans.  God told him to continue to Moab…but…that God was going to control what Balaam said.  The only words that Balaam would say in Moab would be the words that God put into his mouth.  And what words would God put into Balaam’s mouth?  Well…we’re about to find out.

Now when King Balak (the king of the Moabites) got word that Balaam was coming to Moab, Balak got all excited and ran to the border to meet him.  And when Balak and Balaam finally met each other, Balak wanted to know why Balaam had dragged his feet, and asked him, “Did I not earnestly send to you, calling for you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?” (Num. 22:36 NKJV) So basically, hey what took you so long…was the money not good enough?  And Balaam answered, “Look, I have come to you! Now, have I any power at all to say anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak.” (22:38) So basically, Balaam was like, well…I’m here now…but just to let you know…I can’t say anything other than what God tells me to say.  And Balaam was probably at least a little bit nervous about how this whole thing was going to turn out.  Balaam was probably really hoping that God had changed His mind…that God was planning to curse the Israelites…and then he could get all that money that he so desperately wanted.  But Balaam probably also couldn’t shake the sneaking feeling that God hadn’t changed His mind…and that whatever words God was going to put in His mouth just might get him into trouble and ruin any chance of getting his money. 

The next day, the Bible says that Balak, “took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, that from there he might observe the extent of the people.” (22:41) So as you kidzos know, the Israelite camp was in a plain at the edge of Moab.  And all around the plain were hills that overlooked the Israelites’ camp.  And at the top of some of those hills were places where the Moabites worshipped idols.  And Balak brought Balaam to the top of one of those idol-worshipping hills (the idol for this particular hill being Baal…boy Baal, Balak, Balaam…lot of B’s on in this episode).  And from this hill Balaam was supposed to look down and curse the Israelites.  And Balak and Balaam weren’t alone on this hill…King Balak had brought all the princes and all the important people of Moab.  This was going to be a big deal.

Now, Balaam knew something about how the Israelites worshipped, and probably thinking to try to convince God to curse the Israelites, Balaam told King Balak to prepare 7 alters and to sacrifice burnt offerings on all of them…kinda like what the Israelites did.  And Balak did this right away.  And then Balaam said to King Balak, “Stand by your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the LORD will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.” (23:3) And so off Balaam went, away from the the big show, to a quiet place to talk to God.

And the Bible says that God, “met Balaam, and he (meaning Balaam) said to Him, "I have prepared the seven altars, and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram."  (5)  Then the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, "Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak."” (23:4-5) Now when Balaam heard what God wanted him to say, Balaam probably wasn’t quite sure what to make of it…but Balaam had no choice…he had to speak the word that God had put into his mouth.  And so, back he went to King Balak with the all the princes and all the important people with all the sacrifices going on and with everyone on the edge their seats ready to hear Balaam whip out some the best curses that they’d ever heard in their lives…they quieted down, Balaam cleared his throat, and he began his pronouncement:

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!'  (8) How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?  (9)  For from the top of the rocks I see him, And from the hills I behold him; There! A people dwelling alone, Not reckoning itself among the nations.  (10)  "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!"” (23:7-10) And with that, Balaam finished. 

Now after Balaam was done “pronouncing”, everyone probably looked at each other a little confused.  Wait…is that it?  Is it over already?  Was there a curse in there somewhere?  And as they went over it in their heads, especially the part about Israel “not reckoning itself among the nations” (meaning that Israel was actually above all the nations), they realized…hey…not only had Balaam not cursed the Israelites…but Balaam had actually blessed them!  What?  What is the meaning of this?  And Balak went up to Balaam and said, "What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and look, you have blessed them bountifully!" (23:11) And Balaam, probably himself just realizing what he’d said…and that he’d just blown any chance of getting the money…defeatedly said to Balak, “Must I not take heed to speak what the LORD has put in my mouth?” (23:12) Balaam had failed to curse the Israelites, and probably he was already thinking about all the packing he’d have to do.

But King Balak wasn’t quite done yet.  He didn’t really understand what was going on with Balaam (like…just curse the Israelites already!), but Balak really needed to find a way to get him to curse these Israelites.  And then an idea dawned on him…just because Balaam wouldn’t curse all the Israelites doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t curse a part of the Israelites.  Yah…if he could just find a spot where only a small part of the Israelite camp could be seen…maybe then Balaam would curse them.  And so Balak said to Balaam, “Please come with me to another place from which you may see them; you shall see only the outer part of them, and shall not see them all; curse them for me from there.” (23:13) Surprised that Balak was giving him another chance, Balaam decided it was worth a try.  Who knows…maybe God would let him curse a part of the Israelites.

And so Balak found another hill (this one called Pisgah), and they went through the whole rigamarole again…7 alters…burnt offerings…the king and all the princes and all the important people gathered together.  And again Balaam found a quiet place to talk to God, and again God met him and put a word in his mouth. And oh boy, if the Moabites didn’t like what he had to say last time…just wait.  And Balaam went back to the crowd, cleared his throat, and reluctantly began his 2nd pronouncement: “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?  (20)  (And probably here Balaam began to grit his teeth…) Behold, I have received a command (and doing his best to change it…) to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.” (23:19-20) And then Balaam went on to say all kinds of great things about the Israelites…like that they had the strength of an ox, that no curses would ever work against them, and that they had risen up like a lion to hunt some prey…and as a lion they would not lay down again until their prey had been killed.  This pronouncement was even worse than the last one!  Balak, realizing what was going on, ran up to Balaam and said, “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all!” (23:25) Meaning…please stop talking!  And Balaam, again realizing there was no chance of getting the money, dejectedly said to Balak, “Did I not tell you, saying, 'All that the LORD speaks, that I must do'?” (23:26) Balaam couldn’t even curse a small part of Israel.  So now it’s got to be time for Balaam to start packing.

But Balak still didn’t want to give up.  And so he said to Balaam, “Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.” (23:27) For some reason, Balak thought that this one other place just might do the trick.  And Balaam, still clinging on to the slimmest hope that he could still get his money, agreed.  This time they went to another hill called Peor.  And they went through the whole rigamarole yet again…7 alters…burnt offerings…the king and all the princes and all the important people gathered.  But this time, seeing that meeting God in a quiet was where God would put these words into his mouth …Balaam decided ya know what…I think I’m going to skip that part this time.  And instead of meeting God in a quiet place, Balaam just stared at the wilderness.  And while Balaam was staring at the wilderness, probably in his mind he was coming up with all kinds of curses to lay on the Israelites.  Haha…Balaam had found a way to curse them after all!  But, as soon as Balaam turned to look at the Israelite camp again, all the carefully crafted curses disappeared from his mind and the Bible says that, “the Spirit of God came upon him.” (24:2) And for the 3rd time, the crowd quieted, Balaam cleared his throat, and he began one of the most beautiful blessings found anywhere in the Bible:

How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel!  (6)  Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens by the riverside, Like aloes planted by the LORD, Like cedars beside the waters.  (7)  He shall pour water from his buckets, And his seed shall be in many waters. "His king shall be higher than Agag, And his kingdom shall be exalted.  (8) "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.  (9)  'He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him?' "Blessed is he who blesses you, And cursed is he who curses you.” (24:5-9)

And then the Bible said that, “Balak's anger was aroused against Balaam, and he struck his hands together” (24:10) Balak’s patience with Balaam had worn out.  And he said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and look, you have bountifully blessed them these three times!  (11)  Now therefore, flee to your place. I said I would greatly honor you, but in fact, the LORD has kept you back from honor.” (24:10-11) Meaning…you blew any chance of getting the money big guy…now get out of here!  Thoroughly disappointed and embarrassed, Balaam replied to Balak, “Did I not also speak to your messengers whom you sent to me, saying,  (13)  'If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the LORD, to do good or bad of my own will. What the LORD says, that I must speak'? And now, indeed, I am going to my people.” (24:12-14)

So Balaam was more than ready to leave Moab and head back to his home in Mesopotamia.  But, even though Balaam was certainly ready to bring this terribly embarrassing visit to end, Balaam just couldn’t leave it there.  God put yet another word into his mouth.  And so Balaam made a 4th pronouncement…this one saying that even though Israel wouldn’t destroy Moab now, that this mercy wouldn’t last forever and that the day would eventually come when Israel would indeed destroy Moab (along with Edom and the Amalekites and the Kenites).  And so when Balaam did leave Moab, not only had he blessed the Israelites instead of cursing them, but he left Moabites with absolutely no hope for the future.  The Israelites were God’s people…and there was nothing that the Moabites could do to them…either now or in the future.

Now, what can we take away from this story.  Well, I’m sure that you kidzos already know what Balaam loved way too much, right?  Right…Balaam loved money way too much.  And Balaam’s love of money got him into all kinds of trouble.  But ya know, maybe Balaam’s mistake goes a little deeper than that.  Because not only was Balaam a lover of money, but he was also a prophet of God…a legitimate one.  Balaam probably knew a lot about God, probably liked working for God, and probably thought that he was a follower of God.  But the problem was that Balaam saw being a follower of God as a way of getting something else…in this case money.  And boy, this really turned Balaam into a bad person in the end.  But, don’t many of us do the same thing?  For many of us, following God is also a way of getting something else.  Some of us say to ourselves, when I grow up I want to have a nice house and a nice car…so I’m going follow God…because God will give me those things.  Or, when I grow up I want to have an important job…so I’m going to follow God…and then He’ll give me an important job.  Or, I don’t want bad things to happen to me…so I’m going to follow God…and then God will protect me against all the bad things.  All these reasons for following God are just like Balaam’s reason…he followed God because he wanted something else…just like we do sometimes. 

So, how do we avoid Balaam’s mistake?  How do we follow God for the right reason?  Well, it’s a lifelong journey kidzos.  But in the end, we follow God because we love Him.  And we love Him, because we found out about all the amazing things that God has done for us, because we found out that God wants only the best things for us, because we found out that God wants to spend eternity with us.  We follow Him because we love Him, and we love Him because we know Him.  And knowing Him is the lifelong journey I was talking about.  A journey I hope and pray that you kidzos will one day take.