Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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A Look at the Life of Balaam, Part 2

Leslie Basham: Do you ever get depressed because it seems like evil is on the rise? When darkness seems so strong, remember this from Nancy Leigh DeMoss. 

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The power of God is infinitely greater than the power of any earthly evil force or even of Satan himself.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, October 6, 2015.

Do you ever curse people? You may want to listen to today’s teaching from Nancy Leigh DeMoss just to make sure. Now, warning . . . what you’re about to hear could have a huge effect on your life!

Does gossip ever escape your lips? How about disrespect? Complaining? Grumbling? Angry outbursts? The teaching from God’s Word you’re about to hear—it could wreck all that.

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Now, here’s Nancy in the series "Blessings and Curses: A Look at the Life of Balaam."

Nancy: We’ve just started a new series (we’re going to take several days on this) from the Book of Numbers, chapter 22, on a mysterious, complex, and important Old Testament character named Balaam.

As we’ve been talking here in our recording session, there’s some confusion on who this man is. Sometimes he hears from God; sometimes he speaks for God; he says God’s Word. Then we’re told he’s a false, deceitful prophet, and we’re not supposed to have anything to do with his doctrine. So how does that all fit together?

In the Book of Numbers, we’re unpacking this story. We’re taking our time walking through it. If you missed the first session you can go to ReviveOurHearts.com, pick it up, and I hope you’ll continue with us in this series. As I said yesterday, this isn’t the kind of teaching where people write in and say, “Oh, I’d like to hear a series on Balaam.”

It’s not felt-need teaching, but it’s really important; in fact, so important that God through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit devoted three entire chapters and a part of a fourth in the book of Numbers to tell us about this person. Then in three New Testament books He tells us we need to be warned about him.

We need to know about this man, and we’re going to walk through this passage and see what we can learn about him. We started yesterday in Numbers 22, and we saw that Balak, the king of Moab, was terrified because the Israelites were coming through the land and taking over territory. He was afraid he was going to be next.

So Balak sent messengers to Balaam who was known as a soothsayer—he was a sorcerer—who lived about four-hundred miles to the north. The messengers said,

Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. 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 is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed (vv. 5–6).

Father, this is Your Word. We love it. We bless You for it. We thank You that we get to hold it in our hands and in our hearts. We pray that you would open our minds today to understand and to receive what You have to say to us. We pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now, this theme of cursing surfaces here, and I want to talk about that just a little bit today. The purpose of cursing, in a biblical sense, is to defeat an enemy and to drive them away—to get them out of your way, to get them out of your life, to do them evil, to do them harm.

When you see cursing in the Old Testament, it’s not exactly the same as profanity or swearing, taking the name of the Lord in vain. That’s a little different thing that’s also evil. But there are a couple different words used for “curse” in the Old Testament numerous times.

The one word that’s used sixty times means “to bind so as to reduce ability or render powerless.” That’s what Balak wanted to do to the people of Israel. He wanted to bind them to reduce their ability or to render them powerless. So he wanted to call down a curse upon them that would weaken them, that would diminish them.

Sometimes that word “curse” in the Hebrew is used to announce punishments that are imposed by God. Sometimes God is the one who does the cursing on those who are rebellious against His authority, to bind people so that they’re powerless to keep sinning.

In this case, Balak was wanting to bring this soothsayer, this sorcerer Balaam to come and curse the people of God.

There’s another word that’s used for “curse” many times in the Old Testament—eighty-two times. I won’t give you the Hebrew word because, for one I don’t know Hebrew and two, it would be meaningless to us. But it’s a word that means "to make light of something, to make it of little weight, to dishonor."

The first use of that word is found in Genesis 8, after the flood, where Scripture talks about the seeing if the waters had subsided, if they had abated, lessened, gone down. It’s a word that means a lessening of what previously existed.

And sometimes that word is used to communicate the idea of cursing by making little of something, by making it contemptible. You see this word used in Exodus 21:17 where it says, “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.”

That word is curse: "to belittle, to dishonor, to revile, to make it contemptible." The opposite concept is another Hebrew word that is translated “honor,” the opposite of cursing. To “honor” is"to be heavy, to be weighty, to honor something." Israel was powerful, and Balak wanted to reduce them. He didn’t want to honor them, he wanted to diminish them, to reduce their influence and their strength by cursing them, binding them, rendering them powerless.

So these messengers sent from Balak, the king of Moab, say to Balaam the sorcerer, “He whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Num. 22:6). Balaam was known far and wide for having the ability to pronounce curses that actually worked.

The words he spoke actually changed the direction of people’s lives. This was likely because he was using occult techniques, magical arts, sorcery that tapped into the power of Satan. But it reminds us, even though we may not use sorcery behind our words, that our words have power. Words have power.

Proverbs 18:21 tells us that, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” The words we speak to others—the words we speak about others—matter. They make a difference, whether they’re words of cursing, belittling, dishonoring, making light of someone . . . or words of blessing, honoring them, giving weight to them.

I’m confident that all of us in the this room have experienced the power of words in words that others have spoken to us or about us—words of honor that blessed you. I can still remember today things one of my parents said to me when I was a child that strengthened me, encouraged me, that gave me honor and weight and confidence in the Lord.

But I can think of things that have been said in the course of my lifetime (not many—I have been very blessed by words), a few things that have been said that I still remember that caused belittling or discouragement. Many of you can think of a lot of words that you heard as a child or as a teenager or in the context of your family or your marriage or the workplace—belittling words.

You’ve experienced the power of words to strip and reduce and to belittle you and diminish you or the power of words to strengthen and give weight and honor you. Words have power.

But it’s not just words spoken to or about us. What about the words we have spoken to or about others? You may not think of yourself as a curser. You probably don’t think of yourself that way. I don’t think of myself as a person who curses others. But how often do we use words as a weapon to belittle, to diminish, to criticize, to tear down?

Maybe it’s words spoken to or about your parents, your in-laws, a sibling, a mate—or what about a former mate—or your children? Do you ever speak words that belittle or diminish them? What about your boss in the workplace, a teacher in school?

Jesus says in Matthew 5:21, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’” That is, if you commit the act of murder, you take a life, then you become subject to the judgment of God . . . God taking your life.

Jesus goes on to say in verse 22, “But I say to you that . . . whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca’ [you empty head!] shall be in danger of the council, but whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of hell fire’” (NKJV). So Jesus is concerned about the heart behind both the act of murder and murderous words—acts that destroy and words that destroy. Abusive words expose a murderous heart.

The person who speaks those abusive words is no less morally guilty than if they had committed the actual act of murder. This passage emphasizes the seriousness and the weight that is carried by our words. Cursing, diminishing someone verbally, in effect pronounces judgment on them.

“You’ll never amount to anything! You’re worthless! You’re stupid! You’re a jerk! You’re a loser! You’ll never . . . You always . . . I wish you’d never been born. I wish you were dead!” Jesus is saying, in essence, when you pronounce judgment on others with your words—even when those words are spoken in haste or with a short temper. (“I didn’t mean it!”)

No, Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). That means, at some level, you did mean it. When you pronounce judgment on others with your words, Jesus is saying you’re setting yourself up to receive that very same judgment. We’re going to see this in the story of Balaam.

You see this principle throughout Scripture. Psalm 7, verses 15 and 16 says, “He makes a pit, digging it out [he makes a pit to trip somebody else up, right? He wants to judge somebody else], and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head and on his own skull his violence descends.”

The violence, the condemnation, the judgment, the cursing, the belittling that we place upon others ultimately will come back to destroy us.

So back to Numbers 22:7,

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. And [Balaam] said to them, "Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me." So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.

Now Balaam, who is a false prophet (We know this from the New Testament. He is not a true worshiper of God, and yet in some sense he professes to be—we’ll see that as we go through. At one point he calls Him, “My God the Lord”) uses the covenant Name for God—Lord, Jehovah. It suggests that he knew something about the Israelites and their God.

Did he know that their God had blessed him? And if so, why did he ask this delegation from Moab to spend the night so that he could pray about whether to curse them—the ones that God had blessed? I’ll tell you what the answer is, as to why he said, “Spend the night and let me pray about this.”

The answer is that they had fees for divination in their hand—money, an offer of big bucks! Balaam was a not a true prophet. He was a sorcerer for hire. This is how he earned his living. He wanted the money, so he wanted to find a way to do this even if he knew he shouldn’t.

Verse 9 tells us,

And God came to Balaam [probably by means of a dream that night] and said, "Who are these men with you?" And Balaam said to God, "Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, 'Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.'"

So Balaam tells God the message he has received from Balak, the king of the Moabites. Balak was afraid of being dominated by the Isrealites. He wanted to reduce the threat, to be able to control and manage them, so he seeks to curse them.

The word used for cursing in this verse is only used a few times in the Old Testament—only in this story of Balaam. The word, one scholar says, seems to suggest the act of uttering a magical formula which is designed to utterly undo the target. “Speak these words, use this magical art, to utterly undo the object of your cursing.”

In John MacArthur’s study Bible, he says about this passage, “A curse was a spoken word that was believed to bring misfortune on the one it was spoken against.” This is evil; this is sorcery; these are things God had forbidden to His people.

On the Internet there are whole sites with curses to put on people. Let me read to you from one (I won’t tell you the name of it, because I don’t want anybody to go looking for it). There’s an online encyclopedia of the occult, mysticism, magic, paranormal, and more. Here’s how it defines curses. . .

Curses are magic spells which are placed upon people with the intention of harming them. The misfortune intended by curses can range from illness and harm to even death. Curses can become effective immediately or may be dormant for years.

Curses laid on families have been known to plague them for generations. Calling upon supernatural powers to effect a change. [Again this is an occult source; this is not God’s Word saying this. This is forbidden by God’s Word, but in this occult, mysticism, magic and paranormal category, this dictionary is saying this.] A curse is an expression of desire of harm to come to a particular person.

Anyone can lay a curse on another person, but it is believed that the authority of the person who lays the curse on increases its potency and makes it more dangerous.

This is why Balak sent to someone who was renowned for his ability to curse people. Balaam practiced magic, sorcery, divination. He’s identified in other Scriptures in the New Testament (2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation) as a false prophet, a deceiver.

He was either completely a fraud who knew he was deceiving people, or through occult practices he may have actually tapped into demonic and Satanic powers. It was known that when he would pronounce his blessing or this curse, something would happen that would be supernatural.

Again, let me keep bringing this back to us and what this has to do with us. You probably never will intentionally put a spell on someone using magical incantations. But when you wish them evil, when you speak with the intent or the desire to harm them, in effect you curse them. In so doing you partner with the devil himself, who is the accuser of the brethren, to fulfill his purposes.  James talks about this. He says, “This is not right, that at one time with your tongue you bless the Lord, and at another time you should curse those who are made in His image” (3:9).

He says, “This kind of ‘wisdom’ is not from above; it is devilish.’” It is demonic; it comes from the pit. That’s why Jesus puts such an emphasis on the words that we speak. They have power—those throw-away words said in haste, said in a moment of anger, said in a moment of frustration, and they matter! That’s why we need the Lord to control our hearts and to control our tongues.

James 3:9 and 10 says, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.”

Verse 12 –4 of Numbers 22, God says to Balaam (after Balaam explains his situation):

“You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, "Go to your own land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you." So the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak and said, "Balaam refuses to come with us."

Now, would you say God has made His will crystal clear to Balaam? Is there anything about God’s answer to Balaam that you don’t understand? “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” God says, “No! No! Don’t go with Balak’s men. Don’t curse the Israelites! They are my people and I have determined to bless them.”

Throughout this whole account, as we’re going to look at it over these next days, you see a line drawn between the enemies of God’s people and God Himself—who has pledged Himself in covenant love to care for His people. God loves His people. God desires to bless them.

But then there are the enemies of God who want to curse the people of God. Do you see that battle going on in our world? Do you see it going on in our day? When you read the news and see these attacks on Christians and Christianity and the people of God, connect the dots and see, “This isn’t just a battle against us; this is a battle against God. This is a battle between the devil himself, Satan himself, and God."

From an earthly perspective, Balak and Balaam have great power, and they can inflict great harm. But we’re going to see that their power is nothing compared to the power of Jehovah God. That’s important for us to remember, because sometimes it seems that the powers of evil—the powers of wickedness, the powers of darkness—are so strong, so great, so overwhelming.

We just kind of cower in our little Christian huddle over here and hope that God will come back soon and fix all this stuff. But we need to remember that if you’re on Jehovah’s side, you’re on the winning side! God has determined to bless His people. God has promised to bless His people.

So try as he might, Balaam will not be able to curse Israel. Whatever he may say will not curse the people of God, because God is in control, and no one can curse God’s people without His permission. Remember, God is the source of cursing and blessing. He is the only One who has authority to do that.

We’re going to see that this answer that God gives Balaam is not the answer that Balaam wants to hear.  He says to Balak’s messengers, “The Lord has refused to let me go with you.” He doesn’t tell the whole story. He doesn’t say, “God wants to bless these people. Don’t try and curse them.”

Balaam has not bought into this message, really. He just says, “The Lord has refused to let me go with you.” It sounds like he really wants to go, like your kids saying, “My mom won’t let me go. I really want to go, but my mom won’t let me go.” He wants to go, but the Lord won’t let him.

He seems likes he’s leaving the door open to be persuaded. He wants to do what Balak is asking him to do. Why? Because he’s a hireling prophet, and he wants the money that’s been offered him, the reward. He is not praying to find out God’s will. He’s wanting God to bless his will—big difference, right?

And so, as we think about our lives and what this has to do with us, I’m reminded that we’re called, not only not to curse, but also to actively bless, especially when we are cursed. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount. He said to bless those who persecute you and pray for those who abuse you.

Romans 12:14 takes it further: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Bless them; don’t curse them. If you give cursing and judgment, you’ll get it back. In some way, God will see that you do. And those who curse the people of God, in some way they will get it back.

In some way it will come back upon their heads. The pit that they have made for God’s people, they will fall into it themselves. Now, don’t push them into the pit, let God do that in His way and in His time, and in the meantime pray for mercy on their souls—that God will bring them to the point of repentance and will deliver them.

We don’t want to pray judgment on those who curse the people of God. We want to pray that God would bless them by turning them from their foolish wicked ways and bringing them to bless God and His people. But they should know—and we should know—that, in time, if they do not repent, if they continue to curse God and His people, they will be cursed. They will fall into that pit.

Then remember that when you give blessing, even in the face of cursing, you will receive blessing. Blessing will come back to you. How do we know that? 1 Peter 3:9 says,

Don’t repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

If people speak evil of you, if they revile you, they persecute you, they falsely accuse you (“They say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake,” Jesus said), what do you do? Curse them back? Revile them back? No. You bless them back; you pray for God to have mercy on their souls.

“To this you were called,” Peter says in 1 Peter 3:9, “that you may obtain a blessing.” If you get back, in your lifetime, the measure of blessing or cursing that you have given out to others, to the enemies of God, to people whose ideology you don’t agree with—to commentators and politicians who are “out to lunch,” and you know what they’re saying is in error—if you get back the measure of blessing or cursing that you have put out toward them, will you be blessed or cursed?

Do you want to obtain a blessing? Give a blessing!

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing us why it is so crucial to let God speak through us. Imagine the shock some families would have if women stopped cursing and instead spoke the words of God. If they used words to heal and give grace. God can make that true in your life.

This series, "Blessings and Curses: A Look at the Life of Balaam," will help you see what God’s Word has to say about the power you need to bless others. We just heard day two in the series, and you can keep up with the teaching day by day, or order the CD at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Sometimes the situation that’s driving you the craziest is exactly the situation God wants to use to teach you and bless you. An Old Testament prophet learned this when his donkey started acting weird. When we reconvene tomorrow, we’ll get the story here on Revive Our Hearts.

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

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.