If you think you know everything going on around you, think again. Life is not always what it seems. Sometimes circumstances are orchestrated behind our backs, and how we react can make all the difference.
In the book of Numbers, a plot was hatched to hurt Israel, and Israel knew nothing about it. It came from Balak and Balaam. Balaam was a prophet for hire; and Balak, king of Moab, was the man who hired him.
After the Israelites left Egypt, they traveled near Moab, making Balak and his subjects “exceedingly afraid” (Num. 22:3). No doubt Balak had heard how this unique people had defeated King Sihon and the Amorites and King Og of Bashan. Terrified, he was convinced “this company will lick up everything around us” (v. 4).
Knowing he could not beat Israel militarily, Balak sent for Balaam. “Please come,” he implored. “Curse this people for me, for they are too mighty. . . . Whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (v. 6).
What type of man was Balaam? It seems he was a well known prophet. Wrote Bible scholar Dr. Charles Ryrie, “Apparently Balaam enjoyed a considerable reputation as a successful prophet . . . [who] knew the true God.”1 Balaam had a gift, but he used it for his own selfish gain.
Intrigued by the king’s generous offer to “honor [him] greatly”—and seeing much profit in his future—Balaam wanted desperately to go to Balak (v. 17). But God commanded him, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed” (v. 12). After asking God again for permission, Balaam finally got the go-ahead and set out for Moab.
But God was not pleased. He sent an angel to obstruct the path of Balaam’s donkey. Irritated and unable to see the angel, Balaam struck the donkey, and she spoke to him with a human voice. Balaam’s eyes were opened, and the Lord delivered a message to this covetous seer: “I have come out to stand against you, because your way is perverse before Me” (v. 32).
God knew why Balaam wanted to go to Moab: He wanted to curse Israel for the wealth promised him. Wrote Dr. Ryrie, “He yet hoped God would allow him to curse Israel.”2 Balaam knew the Jewish nation was blessed; but his greed, lust, and possibly his pride drove him forward.
He tried to curse the Israelites three times. But, each time he blessed them.As the apostle Peter wrote, he “loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pet. 2:15).
These godless qualities are great tools of the Devil, who is waging a covert war against God’s people today, just as he did then. And we need to be aware of his tactics.
When Balaam met with Balak, he tried to curse the Israelites three times. But each time he blessed them: “Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you” (Num. 24:9). Despite his perverse way, the Holy Spirit came upon him and gave him three additional prophecies that revealed God’s future judgments on Edom, Assyria, and the Amalekites. Regarding Moab, Balaam declared, “A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab” (v. 17). Moab’s power and authority would be shattered
and the Moabites judged. Then Balaam left.
But that is not the end of the story. Sometimes things take place behind the scenes, and we have no idea what is happening. Satan is stealthy, and we must be alert and stay true to God or we suffer the consequences: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
We need God’s divine protection, leadership, and provision as we navigate the wilderness that is our 21st-century world because we often have no idea where the enemy lurks, trying to lead us astray. That is why the Christian life is likened to a war “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Scripture tells us, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (v. 13).
While the Israelites were in the wilderness, they were unaware Balaam was working against them. Just as they are today, they were under attack in Satan’s covert war to destroy them. After Balaam departed, Israel “began to commit harlotry [adultery] with women of Moab” (Num. 25:1). The event had been orchestrated by Balaam. When he could not curse Israel, he advised Balak to seduce the Jewish nation into sin, which he knew would bring God’s judgment. The nation failed to stay true to God, and 24,000 Israelites died as a result (v. 9).
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Things have not changed much since the days of Israel’s wilderness wanderings. Satan’s tools then are still his tools today. But those of us who belong to Jesus have a great advantage over the ancient Israelites: We have the Holy Spirit of God indwelling us. We need to listen to His still small voice, obey it, and follow our Lord. Staying true to the Lord will spare us great heartache down the road.
1 Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible NKJV (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985), 244–245 nn. Numbers 22:6–7, 9–20.
2 Ibid., 246 n. Numbers 22:37–38.
Tom Simcox is the Church Ministries training coordinator and a Bible teacher for The Friends of Israel.