March 7, 2021
Sermon notes March 7, 2021
Scripture: Numbers 22
This morning in Numbers, I want us to consider what happens with a man we meet in our reading named Balaam. In the timeline of Israel’s history, Balaam enters while the Israelites are wandering in the desert as the generations that rejected God die out. Things have not gone well, as there have been multiple rebellions by the Israelites against God. Some of that starts to change, and we see some faithfulness and obedience from the Israelites. The Israelites win some battles and start to gain momentum. In chapter 22, a king of Moab, Balak, takes notice of Israel’s strength. Balak decides he must act to strengthen his nation and gain an advantage over the Israelites. To gain this advantage, Balak seeks Balaam. Numbers 22:1-7 tells us Balaam is a worker in divination. Balaam was a person who gave curses and blessings in exchange for money. He would have practiced sorcery, typically dealing with evil spirits or lying and manipulating to accomplish the blessing or curses he has issued. It is something like voodoo or witchcraft he is practicing.
Balak offers Balaam money to put a curse on Israel. God speaks to Balaam and tells Balaam to leave Israel alone. This reveals to us that God speaks in His sovereignty to whomever He chooses, even those in opposition to Him. Do not think God cannot move an evil man’s heart and mind and cannot also overcome evil.
In verses 18-22, we have what appears to be a difficult passage. We see another offer from Balak to Balaam and rather than outright rejecting this offer, and obey God’s earlier instruction, Balaam wants to twist the situation and see if he can steal a financial gain. Verse 19 should have never happened. God clearly told Balaam to leave Israel alone, why would Balaam entertain Balak’s offer again? He does so only due to his greed. We must learn to trust God’s Word and not to try to manipulate what God’s truth teaches to align with our own agenda. Many people today attempt to do just that by proclaiming distortions of God’s truth to justify their own agenda and desires. Where God has spoken, we are to trust and obey, not challenge God’s authority.
In verse 20, God seems to say Balaam can go with the representatives of Balak. In verse 21 Balaam goes, and in verse 22 God is mad that Balaam went. How is it that God can be mad, if God gave permission? Some translations of verse 20 read as “if” not “since” so it is conditional. We see in verse 21, Balaam just goes and does not wait for the condition. This suggests Balaam’s sin was to put his agenda over God’s command that he wait for Balak’s envoy. However, The New Testament gives us further details as well. In 2 Peter 2:15-16 and Jude 11, we see Balaam loves wages and profits through wickedness and greed. Balaam got a word from God: that God watched over Israel and Balaam was not to curse Israel; but Balaam wanted money. You can read that in Numbers 22:18 when Balaam refers to houses full of gold and silver as a cost for his services. Balaam tries to play both sides. Balaam must have realized hearing from God was big deal. Balaam must have known he could not openly defy God’s command to not curse Israel. But doing so, would not provide Balaam a pay day. And so Balaam schemes to try to appease God with words while acting out of view from the public eye to gain a pay day from Balak. He acknowledges God in his oracles, saying he can only report God’s Word, but Balaam is doing this to hide his true intention to make a defeat of Israel. Balaam assumed he could hide his real intentions from God, but God sees all and God knows our hearts. We must not deceive ourselves and think we can perform sin freely without God knowing. Nor must we align ourselves with people working to go against God’s teachings.
You may be asking, what I mean by referring to this scheme Balaam has developed to earn his pay day from Balak. After all, Balaam’s oracles clearly disappoint Balak. We find in Numbers 25:1-3, Israel worships Baal. Doing so was a sin against God and Israel experiences punishment at God’s hand for their error. Now, jump ahead to Numbers 31:13-17. Here, Moses tells us how Balaam was behind the events of chapter 25. After his show of supposedly refusing to curse Israel, Balaam developed a plan to deceive the people of Israel into following Baal.
We must beware of the false prophets – of liars and deceivers. False prophets speak some truths in favorable ways to hide their true intentions. When a prophet is mixing in evil with some good truths, it is a problem. Instead of dabbling in sin, dancing along the line of right and wrong, we need to act decisively against sin like Phinehas. Look at Numbers 25:6-14. Here Phinehas acts to end a sin but spearing two sinners blatantly ignoring God. This was a big deal. The man Phinehas killed was leader of an Israelite family. Killing this man surely would have angered many Israelites. But what does God say about the act? Phinehas showed a zeal for God.
Today, you and I are not supposed to demonstrate a zeal for God by spearing people in the act of sin – please understand that. But what do we have that same zeal for God as Phinehas? Are we willing to see sin as sin and then remove its influence from our life? Personally, are we willing to remove temptations from our lives, are we willing to turn off the voices of evil influence that distort God’s Word, are we willing to separate our selves from sinful actions? This repentance and we must do this in our life! Furthermore, are we willing to take a public stand against evil? Our society and culture are busy celebrating so much evil and championing sin. For us to take a stand against the evil, to condemn it before others and to point to God instead; it will offend some – just as Phinehas must have angered some. But what matters most to us, our zeal for God or our appeasement of people? Our world, our country, our state, our county, our cities, our families, our households desperately need the witness of Christians zealous for God!