Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Look at the Life of Balaam, Part 1

Leslie Basham: If someone were to pronounce a curse on you, would you need to worry? Not if you know the God bigger than the person hurling the curse. Nancy Leigh DeMoss reminds you who has the ultimate power.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: So where's the source of blessing? God. Where's the source of cursing? God. Where do blessing and cursing come from ultimately? From God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, October 5, 2015.

Nancy is beginning a new series called, "Blessing and Curses: A Look at the Life of Balaam." And, by the way, as a podcast listener, you're getting additional content we didn't have time to air on the radio. I just thought you'd like to know. And not only that, you can watch the video with Nancy teaching this message at ReviveOurHearts.com. Here's Nancy:

Nancy: Let me invite you, if you have your Bible with you, and I hope you do, to open it to the book of Numbers—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers. It's a passage a lot of people don't get to very often. It's that part of the Bible where the pages kind of stick together.

Numbers chapter 22. We're beginning a new series today. I don't think until the past few weeks that I've ever heard a message on this particular character in the Bible. I've been doing a lot of studying recently, so I've listened to some messages recently, but I don't know that I ever heard one until I started getting into this passage. I don't know if you have or not.

His name is Balaam. And when I say the word Balaam, what's the association word that comes to mind? Donkey. So when I told people I was doing a series on Balaam, they said, "Oh, are you doing it on Balaam's donkey?"

And I said, "No, I'm doing it on Balaam." But there is a donkey who comes into this story.

We're going to take our time going through this passage. I was praying on the way over here this morning and thinking about the fact that this is not one of those felt-need series that everyone goes, "Oh, yes, I want to hear a series on that topic." Nobody has ever written in and said, "Could you please do a series on Balaam for us?"

But Balaam figures prominently in the Scriptures. If God took three whole chapters in the book of Numbers to talk about Balaam, I think God must know that this is an important character for us to know about. And, in fact, Balaam appears not just in the book of Numbers, but in four other Old Testament books. He's found in the book of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Nehemiah, and Micah, who knew? And then he's also found three times in the New Testament, in three different New Testament books. We'll talk about that in a minute.

Balaam is a complex figure. He's an important Old Testament figure. He's complex because, on the one hand, he's a false prophet—we know that from the New Testament. He's a hireling; he's a prophet for hire. He has evil motives. He has a destructive impact on the people of God, which led to more than 24,000 Israelites who died in a plague as a result of following Balaam's counsel. I'd say that's destructive.

And yet, on the other hand, he's a man who, as we read the story, we find that God spoke to him. God used him to bless His people and to speak some of the most beautiful Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Now, how do you put all that together in one person? Like I said, he's complex.

And isn't it true of people in general? People are rarely entirely evil or entirely good. There are mixed motives. People are mixed bagged. They have some parts of them that when you get under the surface you find, "This is not good." And then you find out there are some things that are really good and that God uses.

In fact, in our lives, we have mixed motives. Sometimes we just show this side that's deceived and evil, and sometimes we see the character of God shining forth in our lives. It can be confusing.

The Balaams of this world, the false prophets, sometimes appear to be really good people. Sometimes they say things that are marvelous, and yet, if you line them up by Scripture, you find that they're not a true prophet at all. They're a false prophet who may have said some good things. So this is the complexity, and we'll see that as we get into this character.

As I said, Balaam's an important character. Three entire chapters here in the book of Numbers, Numbers 22, 23, and 24 and a part of chapter 25 are devoted to this character and referenced in other Old Testament books, and then three New Testaments refer to Balaam, and each time it's in a negative context. God's people are warned not to be like Balaam and to be cautioned about other people who may be a form of a Balaam.

Now, Balaam lived, depending on who you read, approximately 1240 years before Christ. So fast forward to the New Testament era—1300 years after this man lived, believers were familiar with his name, with his story, and he was held up as a negative example that they should not follow. Thirteen hundred years later they were still talking about him. They knew his story.

I wonder how many Christians today know the story of Balaam. They know the story about the donkey, but do they really know who he was, what he did, and why his name matters? Do they know about the error of Balaam, the way of Balaam, or the doctrine of Balaam that the New Testament talks about? If somebody were to ask you, "What is the doctrine of Balaam?" Would you know how to explain that? I think most of us probably wouldn't, and yet in the New Testament Jesus wars against the doctrine of Balaam.

So I think we better go back and figure out what all that is and why we should know about this man.

The apostle Peter warns about false prophets in 2 Peter, and here's how he describes him in 2 Peter chapter 2, beginning in first 14. He says,

They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness.

So in the context of warning against false prophets, Peter brings up the name of Balaam. You see something very similar in the book of Jude where, again, Jude is warning against false prophets. He says, in verse 11,

Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain. [Who was Cain? He killed Abel. Right? They walked in the way of Cain] and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion.

Now, I don't know how much you know about Cain, about Balaam, or about Korah, but I want to tell you, you wouldn't want to be identified with any of those names. Balaam keeps bad company.

So, what's "the way of Balaam" that Peter talks about? What's "Balaam's error" that Jude talks about? Whatever it is, it's pretty serious, and we need to find out what it is.

Now then, in Revelation chapter 2, Jesus is speaking to the church of Pergamum. He says in verse 14, "I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam." Some of your Bibles say "the doctrine of Balaam." Same word.

So, what's the "teaching (or the doctrine) of Balaam" that bothered Jesus so much when He saw it in this New Testament church? Is it possible that that same teaching could be present or even popular in the church in our day?

Well, over the next several days, we're going to look at the life and the story of Balaam, and there are a lot of lessons for us. There's a lot for us to learn about God and about the ways of God. There are a lot of insights from his story that are going to help us as the people of God survive, and not just survive, but thrive in a world that is earnestly, actively seeking the downfall and the destruction of God's people.

We live in a day where there are those who have set themselves against God and against His ways, and they are trying to undo and bring about the downfall of God's people. How do we survive in that kind of day when there are lots of false prophets, lots of people setting themselves against God and against His people, and not just survive, but how do we thrive?

Well, turn to Numbers 22. I think you're probably already there. We're going to begin in verse 1, and we're going to take our time, just walking through these chapters, and I hope by the time we're done, you'll have a better, fuller understanding of who this man is, why he matters, and what he has to do with our lives.

Let me just pray.

Lord, we commit this time to You. We thank You for the power of Your Word, Your precious Word that we get to hold in our hands. This is the Word of the Lord. So help us to hear it, to receive it, and to respond to it. Give us understanding, oh Holy Spirit. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Numbers 22, verse 1:

Then the people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho.

Let's get the setting here, the context. The Children of Israel it says they "set out and camped." Now this is something they had been doing for forty years—setting out and camping, setting out and camping. Every time the cloud moved, the presence of God, they would move to a different location—one place and then another and then another and another.

But as we come to this part of Numbers, the Children of Israel are coming to the very end of their wilderness wandering. The Promised Land is within sight. This is their last stop on the east side of the Jordan before crossing over the Jordan and entering Canaan.

They are near Moab, which is on the east side of the Jordan at the northern border of Moab, just across the river from Jericho, which will be the first city they will go in and conquer in the Promised Land.

Verse 2: "And Balak the son of Zippor [now, verse 4 is going to tell us that Balak is the king of Moab. So Balak, the king of Moab] saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites." What's that about?

Well, if you've been reading through the book of Numbers, you just read Numbers 21, and that tells us what this is about. The Children of Israel were on the east bank of the Jordan, and long story short, they defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, when he would not allow them to pass through his territory on their way to Canaan.

And then, with God's power, the Israelites defeated Og, who was the king of Bashan who came up against them. The Lord gave him into the hands of the Israelites. And these were two early decisive battles before they even got into the Promised Land. That land east of the Jordan became Israelite territory. Two-and-a-half of the tribes ended up encamping there, staying there.

So when these two powerful kings were defeated by this unknown group of nomads who had been in the wilderness all these years, word spread to the other kings and nations of that region, and the fear of God fell on these pagan nations, the Canaanite nations.

These battles against Og and Sihon are referred to many times in the Scripture, many times in the Psalms, how God gave them these early decisive victories before they went into Canaan.

Verse 3 tells us that:

Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. And Moab said to the elders of Midian, "This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field."

So here the Israelites have swooped in. They have taken over these two powerful kings and nations, and everybody else is quivering. They're quaking in their boots. They're terrified that they're going to be next.

Scholars estimate that at this time, there were two–three million Jews, with all their belongings, all their livestock, and on the move, traipsing through the wilderness. There were so many of them that you couldn't see them all at once. We'll read about that as we read about Balaam in the days ahead.

And the king of Moab, Balak . . . (not to be confused with Balaam. Balaam we haven't been introduced to yet. Balak is the king of Moab.) Balak had heard what the Israelites had done to these Amorite kings, and he feels threatened. He's insecure. He's terrified. The Scripture says he's "overcome with fear." The New King James says he was "sick with dread." "I'm going to be sick." He's terrified, so terrified that he feels sick.

Now, the name Balak, some scholars believe, means "devastator." So here's the devastator king, King Devastator, who is terrified of himself being devastated. That's the setting here.

Now, he really had no reason to be afraid if he had known the promises of God and the ways of God. In Deuteronomy chapter 2, we read that God had told Israel not to bother Moab. This was not the land He intended to give to Israel. God had given Moab to the Israelites' relatives who were the descendants of Lot.

And so God said, "I'm going to honor them. Don't mess with them. If Balak had known that promise, he would not have been terrified.

How often would we not be terrified if we just knew the promises of God and believed them?

Furthermore, God intended Israel to be a source of blessing to the world. Balak either didn't know that, or he didn't believe it. His fear drives him to make an alliance with the Midianites, we read in verse 4.

Now, likely, Balak had heard more about these Jews. He may have known about the ten plagues that had been unleashed on the Egyptians forty years earlier, and then how the waters of the Red Sea had miraculously parted so that the Israelites could escape from their task masters in Egypt. He maybe had heard how the Egyptian army had drowned as the walls of water came crashing down upon them after the Israelites walked through on dry land.

Perhaps he had heard how this band of two–three million nomads had been supernaturally fed every day for those forty years with bread that fell down every morning from heaven and how they had found water where there was no water in the desert.

Well, Balak apparently knew that their God was powerful and that it would take powerful resources to deal with these people, to ward off this perceived threat. Balak is willing to pay enormous sums of money to remove this threat.

You see, based on the victories that Israel had recently won over these two Amorite kings, Balak realized that this was not a battle he was going to be able to win with natural means, with weapons, with armies. He realized it was going to take more than that to defeat these people who had all these supernatural things happening around them and for them and to them.

So, verse 4 continues:

Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, saying, "Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. [This is what the messenger from Balak said to Balaam.] They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless [Balaam] is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed." So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak's message (vv. 4–7).

Now, pause here, and let's just give some background on Balaam, and this will all come together as we get further into this passage.

Balaam was a sorcerer. He was a soothsayer or a diviner. These words mean essentially the same thing. He lived in Mesopotamia, not far, by the way, from where Abraham had once lived. He lived near the River, which would have been the Euphrates River, about 400 miles north of Moab, which, in those days would have been quite a distance. The journey probably would have taken at least three weeks one way.

So Balak sends his messengers to Balaam—three weeks of travel at least. They give their message, and then we're going to see he turns them down. They go back, and so that's another three weeks, and then he sends more messengers. There's a lot of travel, a lot of time that takes place on these journeys.

Now, there's some archaeological evidence that came out in the early 1900s that shows that Balaam probably came from a long line of soothsayers, and that he was renowned throughout the region for his ability to curse or bless people. This is how he made his living. For the right price, he would do incantations. He would use enchantments.

It would be like somebody who's using astrology, who's palm reading, who's using Tarot cards. He would offer sacrifices to regional gods (so it was thought), and then in the name of those gods, with his hocus pocus, his magical arts (so he claimed), and in the name of those gods, would bring down either calamity or prosperity on the one that he was paid to curse or to bless.

Now, Balaam was known to get results. He was known to be effective. That's why Balak sent those messengers all that way to find this renowned soothsayer. Balaam was considered more powerful than an entire army

The name Balaam means "devourer." So here's Balak, whose name means devastator and Balaam, whose name means devourer, who get together to come against God's people.

Does it ever feel like that's what's happening today? Do you ever sense that as you read the news? You see the reports. It feels like devastator and devourer are coming together against the people of God. We see this in dramatic ways in some parts of the Middle East, through entities like ISIS. But you see it in our country through those whose world view and ideology and theology are totally counter to the Word of God. And it seems like in court case after court case and situation after situation, they're coming against the people of God, trying to devour, trying to devastate those who hold to God's truth.

You see, that's because God's people who are committed to His ways are perceived as a threat to a godless, naturalistic, promiscuous way of life. And there are today in our world intentional systematic attempts being made to remove that threat of godliness.

It's not just true in our day. It goes all the way back through history to these Old Testament days. There have always been those in the spirit of anti-Christ who set themselves against the people of God, the kingdom of God, because they hate God, and they want to destroy anyone that has anything to do with God.

When people feel fearful or threatened, what do they do? They often look for ways to curse or destroy or diminish or control the people they feel are threatening them. That's what Balak was feeling. He was terrified. So what was he going to do? Try and curse those he was afraid of.

Balak knew that the source of the Israelite's power was supernatural and that he would have to attack that supernatural source in order to overcome this army. He believed that if he could disable them spiritually, he would be able to defeat them on the battlefield.

Now, in all of his scheming and in all the stories that transpires, Balak failed to realize something very important for us to remember, and that is this: God is the original and ultimate source of blessing and cursing. It all starts with Him.

Genesis chapter 1, verse 27: "So God created man in his own image. And God blessed him" (vv. 27–28). Where did the first blessing come from? Not some sorcerer, but from God. God blessed the man He had created in His own image.

Then in Genesis 3 after the Fall, God cursed the serpent. (The first reference to a curse in the Scripture.) And God cursed the ground because of man's sin (see vv. 14–18). So where's the source of blessing? God. Where's the source of cursing? God.

And look in Genesis chapter 12, verse 1: God says to Abram, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse."

Where do blessing and cursing come from ultimately? From God.

Balak didn't realize that. He thought he could curse the children of God that God wanted to bless, and it was not possible. And yet, Balak says to Balaam, "I know that he whom you bless is blessed and he whom you curse is cursed" (Num. 22:6).

So was it true that Balaam, this soothsayer, this sorcerer, was actually able to bless or curse people? Well, apparently, through the use of occult techniques and magical arts, all of which were forbidden by God, Balaam was able to tap into supernatural powers, likely demonic powers.

Ultimately, however—and this is what we need to remember—that no matter what powers are used against us, neither Balak nor Balaam could determine who would be blessed and who would be cursed. That was up to God. They had no power that was not given to them by God. If God wanted to bless His people, Balak and Balaam had no power to change that, to thwart it or to reverse it.

Further, by attempting to curse God's chosen people, Balak and Balaam were setting themselves up to be cursed by God. They were bringing a curse upon themselves and upon the Moabites and the Midianites. And in fact, that's exactly what happened.

Deuteronomy 23 tells us, "No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord . . . because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor to curse you" (vv. 3–4).

So God says, "They hire someone to curse you? Now they will be cursed. They will not be able to enter the assembly of the Lord."

Numbers 31, God tells Moses to execute the Lord's vengeance on the Midianites before he dies. And in that battle, Balaam sides with the kings of Midian (see vv. 1–13).

Joshua 13 says, "Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel along with the rest of their slain" (v. 22).

So here's Balaam who is ultimately slain by the sword of those that he had tried to curse. It comes back on him. And a reminder to those who would seek to harm or to destroy God's people: your curses will come back on you. This is what we read in Psalm 109. Listen to this passage, beginning in verse 16:

For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death. He loved to curse; let curses come upon him! He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him! He clothed himself with cursing as his coat; may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones! May it be like a garment that he wraps around him, like a belt that he puts on every day! May this be the reward of my accusers from the Lord of those who speak evil against my life!" (vv. 16–20).

So we have the assurance that those who seek to harm or destroy God's people—there are lots of them in the world today—that ultimately those curses they seek to put on God's people will come back on them.

But here's another promise. We see it in the next verse in Psalm 109: To those who are the object of cursing and evil speaking, you can trust the Lord to deliver you for His name's sake, in His way, and in His time. Listen to verse 21:

But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name's sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!

No matter what comes against you, no matter who comes against you, no matter what curses may be spoken against you or against the people of God, no matter what opposition may come against us; in God's way and in God's time and for His name's sake, He will deliver His people.

So of all people, we are people of hope. We are people who trust in the Lord for He delights to bless His people. And none can curse those who He chooses to bless. Amen? Amen!

Leslie: Maybe you've been hearing some curses—not necessarily someone standing on a mountain pronouncing your doom—but maybe the words of others have hurt you, they make you feel worthless or like you have no future.

A listener wrote to us, and she didn't provide a lot of detail, but it sounds like she knows what it's like to be discouraged by the words of others. It sounds like she's tempted to lash out with some curses of her own sometimes. She wrote:

"I'm lashing out in anger because I need help, and I'm tired seeing no response from God. I was looking for the help of my leaders."

She also said, "I can understand why some people want to give up and die."

And I totally relate to that. Deep down, I bet we call can relate even if we don't admit it as easily as she has.

Well, that listener heard a message here on Revive Our Hearts. It was about Moses and the Children of Israel. Maybe you remember it. Moses was angry with the people, and the people were angry with Moses. Well, this person heard that message, that teaching from Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and this person wrote to tell us what she learned.

She said, "This message hit me where I am. I was looking for the help of my leaders, but I should be asking the Lord. I must trust Him and not be angry at people. 'Be angry and sin not.'"

That shows that hearing God's Word will change you, your heart, your attitude, and your actions. It can change an angry response into a graceful one. And we pray that God will speak through His Word just like that countless times as women hear the Bible taught here on Revive Our Hearts.

Do you want to be a part of that kind of heart transformation? We can't keep the ministry going without your help. When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size this month, we'd like to bless your home. How? We'll send you the 2016 Revive Our Hearts Wall Calendar. The theme of this calendar is "Cry Out." What we mean by that is to cry out in prayer. We'll be revisiting that theme of desperate prayer through the year. And this calendar will remind you of it month by month.

You should see it—nice art work, water color, mat finish, inventive calligraphy, quotes from evangelical leaders about the need for prayer. You can see it at ReviveOurHearts.com. And you can also donate any amount there on the website and request the calendar as your gift. We'll send one calendar per household with your gift this month. You can also call us. The number is 1–800–569–5959.

So, you may not think of yourself as a curser, but do you sometimes use words as a weapon? If you've never caused hurt with your words, don't listen to Revive Our Hearts tomorrow. But those of us who sometimes do wound others with our words, well, we better hear tomorrow's edition of Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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