The prophecy of Balaam, a prophet divided between God and his own gain, shows that despite our shortcomings, The Lord deeply loves us.
20 Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it. 21 “He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them. Numbers 23:20-21 (NKJV)
Despite their many years of complaining and grumbling against God, the people of Israel were the apple of God’s eye. He had forgiven them and was pleased with them, preparing to bring them into the Promised Land of Israel. As the scripture above notes, He did not even see the sins they had committed, putting those out of His mind. The future sacrifice and resurrection of King Jesus Christ will cover all sin from His eyes and heart for His people of faith.
34 For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 10:17 (ESV)
As the people camped in the plains of Moab, across the Jordan River east of Jericho, the king of Moab also observed them and was worried. His solution was to call down from the north a mysterious prophet named Balaam, who had a reputation of being able to place great curses on people or nations. Balaam was enticed by the king’s offer of money and honor, and greatly wanted to come down there to curse God’s people to receive the bounty.
Balaam apparently had one foot in sorcery and the other foot in faith with God. He had a unique and personal relationship with the Lord, one normally only seen in the great prophets of Israel. It was a special calling. But Balaam apparently also had other connections with dark spiritual forces.
When the king of Moab tempted Balaam to come down to curse the Israelites, Balaam coveted the offered riches and sought permission from God to go. God said “No” in no uncertain terms. This should have been the end of the story, right? It was not. Like many of us, when we really want to do something that we already know is against His will, we will come up with a reason to go back to ask God again or just ignore Him outright, and proceed on our way. I have done this, and trust me, it does not work out well.
This time, God relented and said, OK, go if you want, but you will say what I want you to say, not what the king of Moab wants to hear. To emphasize the point, God brought Balaam a spine-chilling experience with Balaam’s speaking donkey and an appearing Angel as he traveled down to Moab. Balaam remembered from these that God was in charge.
The king of Moab took Balaam to some mountain heights to look down upon the large group of Israelites below. They probably numbered over a million people, and only a portion of them could be seen. The king wanted Balaam to bring curses down upon them, to weaken them before battle. Instead, filled with a recently-renewed fear of God, Balaam spoke blessings over them with prophecies the Lord placed upon his heart. He predicted great victories for Israel, including against Moab. Then, he added a prophecy about a coming King.
7 …His king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted…17 “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A Star shall come out of Jacob, a Scepter shall rise out of Israel. Numbers 24:7, 17 (NKJV)
Israel had come 450 years thus far without a king, from the call of Abraham to their entry into the Promised Land. Now God gave Balaam a prophecy about the coming kingship of Israel that will come to extend through the genealogy of Jesus, from King David through the eternal Messiah and King, Christ Himself. The prophecy ultimately points to Christ Jesus, the remedy for our sin, as well as future King over the whole world upon His return.
As for Balaam, God protected him from harm from the king of Moab as he honored God and spoke blessings rather than the curses the king had expected. The king of Moab could easily have punished this defiance by striking Balaam down, but he did not.
25 So Balaam rose and departed and returned to his place; Balak (the king of Moab) also went his way. Numbers 24:25 NKJV
Unfortunately for Balaam, this was not the end of the matter. Apparently, despite his own prophecy about its destruction by Israel, Balaam’s covetousness led him to choose to return to the region of Moab at a later date, lingering at the place where God clearly did not want him to be. He later ended up getting killed when Israel did fight and defeat the king of Moab and those around him. Balaam had even been giving the king advice on how to weaken the Israelites.
20 (The people of Israel captured) Beth Peor, the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth Jeshimoth— 21 all the cities of the plain…22 The children of Israel also killed with the sword Balaam the son of Beor, the soothsayer, among those who were killed by them. Joshua 13:20-22 NKJV
If we are honest with ourselves, there are places we want to go to where God does not want us to be. These are places we enjoy but also come with temptations to commit serious sin. Like Balaam, we often try to justify being there, and can often rationalize our behavior. We know deep down that these are poor choices to continue making.
Where are we tempted to linger today that God clearly does not want us to be?
Balaam had a very special relationship with the Lord that he threw away to chase after earthly honor and riches. Where am I tempted to do the same?
Father God, help us to walk in the Spirit and to resist the lures and lusts of the flesh to fully enjoy Your rich blessings in life. Forgive us for all the times we have failed You, ourselves, and others, and grant us the peace and the power to be a blessing of love and grace today. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.