The Book of Numbers contains some interesting characters that reveal to us truths about our life in Christ. Numbers 22 begins the account of Balaam the prophet, which is a sad story about a man who made some terrible choices.
Balak, the king of the Moabites, opposed the Israelites as they camped near the Jordan River and prepared to cross into the promise land. The Moabites, who are descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot, were fearful of the Israelites and their God because they had heard what the Israelites had done to the Egyptians (Exodus 1-14) and the Amalekites (Exodus 17). Balak sought to hire Balaam to curse the Israelites since Balaam was a successful prophet whose predictions and curses always came true.
Take-away #1: As Christians, we will face opposition as well. Some opposition may be in the form of physical attacks or torture in certain countries. Other opposition may be slanderous verbal attacks. Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, has been criticized for his strong religious convictions. Despite Tebow’s 7-1 record as a starter this year, many other NFL players, commentators and sport analysts are extremely vocal criticizing his physical abilities and his spiritual beliefs. But Tim Tebow has taken these attacks very graciously, turning the other cheek and complimenting those who attack him. We should expect to be attacked like Tim Tebow if we are living a life that is dedicated to Christ.
Balak was able to hire Balaam’s services after Balaam sought God’s council. God told Balaam to go but only say what God tells him to say. But Balaam had other plans in mind. The Bible doesn’t tell us Balaam’s exact plan, but it is clear that Balaam was going to tell the Moabites something other than what God would tell him. So the Angel of the Lord opposed Balaam’s journey by standing in the path. Balaam’s donkey avoided the Angel of the Lord on three occasions, saving Balaam’s life. But Balaam did not see the Angel of the Lord and beat his donkey for straying off the path. Finally, God opened the donkey’s mouth and the donkey asked Balaam why he was beating him. Before Balaam could respond, Balaam’s eyes were opened and he saw the Angel of the Lord. Balaam admitted that he had sinned and God reminded him to say only what God tells him.
Take-away #2: We face obstacles in our path that we might not understand. It may seem to us that God is not leading us in the best direction. Paths that seem best or most prosperous may be closed. But like Balaam, we cannot see what lies ahead of us. But God has an omniscient viewpoint. He knows what lies ahead and desires the best us. We need to trust God and allow Him to take the lead. This is a very hard task to accomplish because we all think we know what is best and want to be in control of our lives. But the more we give our lives to Christ to direct, the greater peace and less stress we will feel.
Take-away #3: God knows our heart. We often overlook this aspect of God. We often think that it is our actions that matter most to God. But God wants our hearts to be right first. We can do all the right things, but still be very far from God if our heart is not in the right place.
Balaam finally arrived and gave Balak the message from God. When Balak received a message that blessed the Israelites, Balak moved to another location and asked for a second oracle with the same result – a blessing for Israel. Balak moved to a third location with the same result.
Take-away #4: Balak thought that he could get God’s blessing if he had the right prophet, sacrifice and location. He did not understand that the location didn’t matter. Many Christians try to bargain with God. They refuse to accept God’s answer and attempt to change God’s mind through promises (as if they are making a trade). But anything we can trade to God is like a filthy rag. God doesn’t need it. If we sincerely come to God with a request, He may change the His mind. Rather than say “I will do (fill in the blank) if you do (fill in the blank),” say with a sincere heart that “I will do (fill in the blank) even if you never do (fill in the blank).”
Balaam advised Balak how to defeat the Israelites. Balaam told Balak to send the Moabite women to the Israelite camp and entice the men to do evil acts (Numbers 31:16). The ploy worked (temporarily), causing 24,000 Israelite men to die of plague (Numbers 25). But in the end, God forgave the Israelites and they went to war with Moabites, killing Balak and Balaam (Numbers 31).
Take-away #5: Balaam had some level of belief in God. He actually saw the Angel of the Lord. He received many messages directly from God. He fearfully followed God’s commands outwardly, perhaps not realizing that God can see the heart. But in the end, Balaam choose wealth, fame and a sinful self-centered lifestyle over God. Christians need to focus on staying close to God, lest they be drawn away and fall into a sinful, self-centered lifestyle. Balaam possessed a belief in God, but may have never chosen to follow Him. But possibly, Balaam was a follower of God whose walk became focused on his own selfish desires. Christians need to guard their hearts so they don’t stray too far away from the Creator. Once one strays far enough away from God and his heart becomes callous, God may deal with him like He did with Balaam. Balaam’s life, despite his God-given prophetic abilities, was wasted. Every Christian should make sure their lives count.