The 365 Day Devotional Commentary

FEBRUARY 2

Reading 33

HOSTILITY TO PILGRIMS Numbers 22–25

“Now come and put a curse on these people” (Num. 22:6).In one way or another, believers on pilgrimage to God’s Promised Land do threaten others. When opposition comes, it’s good to remember that while some may curse us, God is committed to blessing us.

Overview

When Israel approached, the terrified Moabites and Midianites summoned Balaam, a pagan prophet, to curse God’s people (22:1–8). Despite repeated warnings Balaam went to Moab (vv. 9–41). Three attempts to curse Israel failed, as God forced Balaam to bless Israel instead (23–24). The wily prophet suggested the Moabites seduce Israel into idolatry to force God Himself to curse His people (25:1–5). The plot failed when a godly priest intervened (vv. 6–18).

Understanding the Text

“Summon Balaam son of Beor” Num. 22:1–21. The approach of Israel terrified the Moabites and Midianites. Balaam was summoned to curse Israel. Here “curse” is a magic utterance believed to bind or limit another’s powers. Biblical passages invariably picture Balaam as a perverse character who loved money rather than God and was all too eager to curse Israel (cf. Deut. 23:4–5; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14). The Old Testament says that Balaam was given “the fee for divination,” and commonly would “resort to sorcery” (Num. 22:7; 24:1). These pagan practices are abominations forbidden in Israel (Deut. 18:10). Numbers 31:8–16 says that Balaam suggested Israel’s enemies seduce God’s people and lead them into idolatry, in hopes that God would then be forced to curse them. In view of all this, we can better understand Balaam’s motives and his actions. Balaam’s constant reference to money should be seen as a subtle demand for a larger fee. His insistence that he would say only what God wanted him to say was not piety, but an effort to promote himself as God’s appointed spokesman. While at first glance Balaam looked and sounded pious, piety was a front in his case intended to cover greed. “Build me seven altars” Num. 23:1–6. Balaam followed a procedure laid out on a cuneiform tablet found in Babylon. That tablet prescribes, “At dawn, in the presence of Ea, Shamash and Marduk, you must set up seven altars, place seven incense burners of cypress and pour out the blood of seven sheep.” The position of Balak “beside your offering,” and Balaam’s choice of a barren height to seek some revelation, also reflect common pagan practices. Balaam was a pagan, following a pagan ritual, when God seized the initiative and spoke through him. “Balaam uttered his oracle” Num. 23:7–24:9. The sacrifices were repeated three times, from three different heights. From each a different section of Israel’s camp could be seen. Much to Balaam and Balak’s frustration, each attempt to curse Israel was transformed by God into a blessing. The first blessing (23:7–10) reflects on God’s choice of Israel to be “a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.” How can Balaam curse a people whom God has not cursed? How important this is for us to remember. We may experience hatred and even persecution on our Christian pilgrimage. But how can anyone harm a people God has not cursed? Paul reflects this reality in Romans 8:31 when he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The second blessing (Num. 23:18–24) focuses on God’s presence among His people. “The Lord their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them.” Therefore, “there is no sorcery against Jacob, no divination against Israel.” What Balak fears will surely happen: Israel’s army will be like a lion that “devours his prey and drinks the blood of his victims.” Today too it is God’s presence that keeps us safe. Because of Him, it is our enemies who will ultimately know defeat. The third blessing (24:3–9) predicts Israel’s settlement in the land. Then it passes on to predict a day when a king “greater than Agag” will appear, and “their kingdom will be exalted.” Saul, Israel’s first king, did defeat Agag. Under the second king, David, Israel’s kingdom was “exalted.” Our future too is certain and bright. “In days to come” Num. 24:10–25. A furious Balak refused to pay Balaam, who argued that he could only say what God commanded. Balaam then volunteered additional oracles which portrayed the doom of Israel’s enemies. The Hebrew rendered “in days to come” is literally “in the latter days.” That phrase may simply mean “in the future,” but often indicates history’s end. The clear direct reference of “a star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” is to David, with probable allusion to David’s greater Son, Jesus. The Dead Sea Scrolls and many rabbis viewed the passage as messianic. David did in fact crush Moab and Edom, as Balaam predicted. Other prophecies in these oracles have been fulfilled. The Amalakites (v. 20) were defeated by Saul and by David, and finally destroyed by Hezekiah (1 Chron. 4:43). The ships of Kittim most likely carried invading sea peoples, the Philistines, who defeated Israel’s coastal tribes but ultimately came to ruin. The point of these last prophecies, however they are interpreted, is to announce the ultimate defeat of all enemies of God’s people. Believers do experience opposition as they move toward God’s Promised Land. That opposition may cause real and serious harm. But “in the days to come” it is our enemies who will suffer defeat at God’s hand. “The people ate and bowed down before these gods” Num. 25:1–18. Numbers 31:16 says that Balaam advised the Moabites to corrupt Israel morally and spiritually. So Moabite women made themselves available on the edge of Israel’s camp, and after seducing men “invited them to the sacrifices to their gods.” A death sentence was passed against those who had sinned, but apparently execution was delayed, and God sent a devastating plague. During this time one Israelite openly brought a Midianite woman into his tent. Phinehas, a priest, followed them into the Israelite’s tent and killed them both with a single spear thrust. This act stopped the plague, but not until 24,000 had died. The story contains two lessons for us. First, it’s dangerous not to deal with sin immediately. If we are unwilling to deal with our sin, God will. Second, Phinehas acted responsibly in killing the offending Israelite. As a priest he was responsible to maintain the purity of the camp. You and I too are responsible, if we see open and blatant sin in the community of faith, to take the initiative in dealing with it. Those who love God are to hate evil and stand against it.

DEVOTIONAL

When Donkeys Speak (Num. 22:21–41)

It was fascinating talking with the publicist one of my publishers had hired. I was in Los Angeles, visiting several radio stations for interviews on one of my books. Between stations the publicist spoke familiarly of a number of Christian “greats”: men who have significant ministries, who are admired by many, and probably idolized by some. “Take Jerry Falwell,” she was saying. “He’s one of the nicest, most gracious men I’ve ever worked with. When things went wrong, he never got upset. And after our trip, unlike some of the others, he thanked me for my help.” Then she went on to speak of another, very different, Christian superstar. This man was impatient, arrogant, and thoughtless. “Whatever they offer me,” she said, “I’ll never do any work with him again.” I remembered her as I read again the story of Balaam and skimmed several commentaries. Some writers are so impressed that God spoke through Balaam they assume that this proves Balaam was a true prophet, and even a pious man. One of God’s own. But such commentators fail to consider Balaam’s donkey. You see, when Balaam set out for Moab, the text says God was “very angry” (v. 22). Balaam had kept on bugging God to go, despite the fact that he knew very well God had refused him permission. As Balaam approached an angel set to kill him, the donkey stopped and refused to go on. Balaam angrily beat the beast who resisted his will. And then the donkey spoke! What irony. If the fact that God spoke through Balaam really proves he was a true prophet and a godly man, what does the fact that God spoke through a donkey prove? I suspect that being used as God’s spokesman is evidence neither of personal piety or holiness—as several TV evangelists have demonstrated recently. The story of Balaam finds its parallel in the New Testament. There Paul warns against the naive assumption that success in ministry or reputation indicates personal piety. He says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1–3). What is evidence of holiness? Paul answers, “Love.” And says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (vv. 4–7). God can use anyone as His spokesman. Let’s remember that it is love, not spectacular gifts, not “success” or reputation or even being used by God that is the mark of true spirituality and an intimate personal relationship with the Lord.

Personal Application

Being sensitive to God and obedient to Him is better than public recognition as one of His spokesmen.

Quotable

King Jesus why did You choose a lowly ass to carry You to ride in Your parade? Had You no friend who owned a horse -a royal mount with spirit fit for a king to ride? Why choose an ass small unassuming beast of burden trained to plow not carry kings? King Jesus why did You choose me a lowly unimportant person to bear You in my world today? I’m poor and unimportant trained to work not carry kings -let alone the King of kings and yet You’ve chosen me to carry You in triumph in this world’s parade. King Jesus keep me small so all may see how great You are. Keep me humble so all may say “Blessed is He who cometh in the name of the Lord” not “what a great ass He rides.” -Joseph Bayly

Published by milo2030

Widowed with Two grown up Sons. have a Dog called Milo. we also have a few Cats as Pets.

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