Remain standing for the reading of God’s Word. The account of Balaam and his donkey is probably one of the better known stories in the Bible. And through it, we see God’s commitment to bless his people. So we look to the reading of God’s Word if you join me in prayer. Our Father, Majesty and bound, worthy of all worship, and you Christ, are the King of glory, the eternal Son of the Father. And you, Holy Spirit, advocate and guide, we praise you and declare your great worth, oh triune God. And from your word today, we ask you to reveal to us your truth for our lives, that your truth would conquer our anxious hearts. That you indeed would set us free to the fullness of life that we can find only through Jesus Christ, in whose name we now pray, Amen. Beginning in verse 4, So Balaq the son of Zepur, who was King of Moab at the time, sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, saying, 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. So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divi nation in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. God said to Balaam, 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 princess of Balak, Go to your own land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you. So the princess of Moab rose and went to Balak and said, Balaam refuses to come with us. The word of the Lord, you please be seated. The idea that we can manipulate God seems crazy, but in reality, we all try to do it all the time. We can turn the Lord’s means of grace into means to grace. The means of grace are the ways or the instruments that God has appointed by which the Holy Spirit enables believers to receive Christ in the benefits of redemption. Our catechism reminds us, especially the Word, the sacraments, and prayer.
I have gotten, over the years, some random calls from people who were outside of Montana asking that I would put a particular need of theirs on our prayer chain. And one person expressed it like this, if we can get thousands of people praying, then God will hear our prayers and heal my loved one. Now, the operating philosophy is, the more prayers, the more that God will be willing to answer. And it’s hard not to think of that fundraising, the silver, gold, and platinum level response by God based on how many people will pray. And we see that we can easily make those things that God has given to us into means to grace rather than means of grace. And we can do those things so that God will bless us, rather than see those things as blessings in themselves. If I raise my children a certain way, then God must make sure they turn out all right. If I follow the right Christian financial planning, then God must make sure I prosper. If I’m willing to sacrifice certain things, then God must reward me. In doing so, we make God into our debtor. God owes us for the things that we do.
But the Lord cares for his people, and he chooses to bless them even when they fail to see or grasp the height and the depth of his love. And we see that in our text this morning. Hiring a prophet, a diviner was a common practice in the ancient near east. Through omens, through looking at animal entrails, visions, dreams, and the like, you could try and figure out the future and therefore the right course of action. You could buy your outcome. And we see that here. Chapter 22 to 24 is one literary piece, and it’s a really well crafted account that many call a superb satire or a technical burlesque. And in it, we see a curse is averted. Verses 1 to 14 have set up the story. Like the nation of Edom, the Lord has told Israel that they were to leave Moab alone. Moab was the descendant of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. And Balaq, their King, however, he’s afraid that Israel would annihilate them. So he sets out to do what was in his power to do by a curse from an internationally renowned profit for hire, the seer Balaam. The Lord comes then to Balaam and tells him, You’re not to go with them.
And no doubt that King Balak, when he heard this, he thought it was just contract negotiations. That Balaam is playing hardball and just wants a little more money. So he sends more and greater dignitaries with the promise of a greater reward. And so round two starts in verse 20, And God came to Balaam at night and said, If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them, but only do what I tell you. Now, so far, nothing indicates that Balaam is anything other than a fairly righteous man until we get to the donkey event. In verse 22, it says, But God’s anger was kindled because he went. And the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. We go, Well, wait a minute. I thought God said it was okay for him to go. Why the change of heart? Balaam received his initial answer from the Lord. Don’t go. Balaam knew this, but there was a lot of money riding on this for him. So he thinks that he can go back to the Lord and manipulate him like the other pagan gods until he gets a good response.
Now think about this in a marital context. If you think your spouse is upset with you and you ask, Hey, is everything all right with you? And they give you that icy glare and respond, I’m fine. You’re a fool. If you shrug your shoulders and go, Oh, good, because I thought you might be mad. Hey, what’s for dinner? Beware the taste of omens. What the text is telling us is that we are called to be more alert and careful than Balaam. We’re being called into being careful readers. We read on. Now he was riding on the donkey and his two servants were with him. And the donkey saw. This is going to be one of three times we see that. To see is all through these chapters, it is a main motif to see. The donkey saw. The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and he went to the field. And Balaam struck the donkey to turn her on the road. So Balaam, the great seer, did not see, but his donkey did. Second round, Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards with a wall on either side.
And when the donkey saw the angel, the Lord, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. And then the third round, Then the angel, the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place where there is no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel, the Lord, she lay down under Balaam, and Balaam’s anger was kindled and he struck the donkey with his staff. Three times Balaam fails to see. Three times he strikes his faithful donkey. And now unexpected events occur. The Lord opened the mouth of the donkey. And she said to Balaam, What have I done to you that you’ve struck me these three times? And Balaam said to the donkey, Because you’ve made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you. So this mighty Prophet, who is hired to bring Israel to ruin with his words is unable to harm his donkey. And he now loses in a battle of words to her. The donkey said to Balaam, Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life long to this day?
Is it my habit to treat you this way? Balaam concedes, No. The seer should have seen what was happening. This is the guy who uses Oman’s visions to understand what’s going on, and he misses the most obvious one right in front of him. The donkey sees and he doesn’t. Then the text says, The Lord opened the eyes of Balaam. Just like he opened the mouth of the donkey, he opened the eyes of Balaam. And he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his sword drawn in his hand. And he bowed down, he fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside for me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live. Then Balaam said to the angel, And he said, Lord, I have sinned. For I did not know that you stood in the road against me, having already heard what God had told him.
And he says, Now, therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back. And then he said, The Lord said to Balaam, Go with the men, but speak only the word I tell you. So Balaam went with the princess of Balak. Now, if he was as smart as his donkey, he would have went right back where he came from. But he’s not. See, Balaam and his donkey are meant to mirror King Balak and Balaam. Like the donkey, Balaam can only speak what God puts into his mouth. And King Balak demands a curse from Balam, but he blesses him instead. And after three of these blessings, Balak will get so upset and angry, but he’s impotent to do anything about it. Balaam is King Balak’s donkey. And we read in Chapter 23 Verse 5, And the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth. And that’s going to occur, these three blessings. The Lord puts the word in his mouth. And he says this in Verse 7, From Aram, Balaam has brought me the King of Moab from the Eastern Mountains. Come, curse Jacob for me. Come, denounce Israel. How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced? And three times this happens, where they’re going to different places to look and to see Israel, to sacrifice and do all the things you’re supposed to do for divi nation. And all three times the Lord puts a word in Balaam’s mouth, a blessing, not a curse. God demonstrates his ability to accomplish what God desires through the actions and the words of the Prophet. We have that expression. God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. And that’s what was happening. In Chapter 24, Verse 10, Balaam’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands and he said, I called you to curse my enemies. Behold, you blessed them these three times. Therefore, now flee to your place. I said, I will certainly honor you, but the Lord has held you back from honor. Balaam ends by speaking to King B elop of what would happen then in latter days. In Chapter 24, Verse 17, he says, I see him, but not now. I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob. A set there shall rise out of Israel.
It shall crush the forehead of Moab. Now, while this is not directly quoted in the New Testament, it seems to be in the background of Matthew 2. And the magi come from the east following the star of the Messiah. The star of Jacob has risen. The very thing that Balak wanted done, the opposite happens. His enemy is blessed and he is cursed. And while this is taking place, God is contending on the mountaintop surrounding the camp of Israel to bless his people. Now, the Israelites are down in the Plains of Moab. We find out reveling in idolatry and disobedience. They’re engaged in a great sin of idolatry. Chapter 25, it gives us the aftermath. In it, we see nothing really changes. It’s very similar to the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32. On Mount Sinai, Moses and God are establishing a covenant between God and Israel. But down below, the Israelites are worshiping a golden calf as their God. And here in numbers 25, it says, while Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to sacrifice to their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
So Israel yoke s himself to Baal a pure, and the people And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. This is the first time that the Caneanite God, Baal is mentioned or Baal, say it a couple of ways, 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, eating manna, drinking water, and now some pretty local girls invite them, some of the men, to a feast. No doubt it’s a huge temptation, but to be clear, it wasn’t a meet and greet of the neighbors. It was a religious feast involving pagan worship. And we read in verse 6, As behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family in the sight of Moses, in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent and meeting. When Finneas, the son of Eliezer, son of Aaron, the priest, saw it, he rose, he left the congregation, took a spear in his hand, and went after the man of Israel into the chamber, and he pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus, the plague of the people of Israel was stopped.
Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were 24,000. What ties the account of Balaam to Chapter 25? We find out later in numbers 31. Number 31, verse 16, On Balaam’s advice caused the people of Israel to act tretiously against the Lord in the incidents of Peor. So the plague came upon the congregation of the Lord. We find out there Balaam was actually put to death when Israel then fought against Moab and Midian after this. Balaam himself is mentioned three times unfavorably in the New Testament, 2 Peter, Jude and revelation. You see, what Balem was able to do by means of a curse, he offers by way of cunning advice. He’s not a complete idiot. He has renown for a reason. If God won’t let me curse them out right, here’s a backdoor approach to undo them. So he did come away then with some money for his efforts by giving the people of Moab and Midian a plan of how to bring Israel to her knees. And rather than a curse, it was sex and idolatry. Sex and idolatry, but messing up God’s people from Genesis 3 forward. In the end, the Lord thwart s the attempt to curse his people, but Israel is done in by run of the mill sin.
Well, what do we see in all this? Well, first, King Balak assumes that anyone can be bought at a price. Get the right person, pay them, and you get the results that you want. Nothing has changed in the world. The nature of idolatry is technique. I can manipulate the God to get what I want by using the right technique and have enough money. That idea hasn’t changed at all. It just changed the idol. That’s the idol of politics, of science, of religion, of money. It’s the same idea. If I get the right people in place with enough money, I can manipulate circumstances to get what I want. And that’s Bailen. Three times he makes expensive sacrifices on three different mountaintops. And all three times he finds out that the Almighty is not some two bit tribal Deity. He’s not out of our beck and coch. He’s sovereign, and he accomplishes his purpose. Even through a failed gentile Prophet like Balaam, he accomplishes his way. The other thing we see is that the means of grace is not the same as the means to grace. The means to grace is this idea that if I do these things, then God will bless me.
Or if I don’t do these things, I will somehow incur God’s displeasure. And as Christians, we can treat things like daily Bible reading, prayer, going to church like this. If I do these things, I’ll have a good day. If I don’t do these things, I won’t. I didn’t have a quiet time today. Well, darn, my day’s probably not going to end well. As if God is up there looking at the clock, like, Ah, you’re 10 minutes short. Guess I’m going to put the guy in front of you who won’t turn right on red. That’s the idea that we have. If I do this, I get blessed. If I don’t do this, God punishes me. God’s love for his people is unconditional. We don’t earn it, nor do we do things so that God will have to bless us. Isn’t that the whole point of so much of the name it and claim it. If I do these things, I believe these things, and God has to… He’s like a slot machine. He just figured out the combination. He’s got to pay out. Not at all. We don’t earn by doing. At the same time, we do see the consequences of sin.
Israel is waiting on the banks of the Jordan River. Right across the way is the promised land. And they’re this close and they can’t keep it together. It’s like right there. And they can’t keep it together. The temptation comes and they’re right back into the same old pattern. The Lord does send a plague on them, which is only averted through a priest and a death. And we see the consequences of sin. But the thing to know is that unbeknownst to Israel, someone was actively seeking their demise. They’re down there and up on the mountaintops. Someone is actively seeking their demise. But at the same time, the Lord is actively seeking their good. It’s not a contest. They are blessed because God chooses to bless them. He opens the mouth, He closes the mouth. He gives sight to see, He blinds eyes. It’s not a contest for God. And God honors His promise even when they do not. Now, where do people who want to manipulate God go with this? In Romans 6, Paul says, What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound, that grace may increase? See, that’s the mentality if you’re trying to manipulate God.
It’s like getting this credit card, get out a sin free card, and you can go and go, look, I got this card. I can put this on it, then this on it, then this on it. I can sin at will and I have all the benefits of sin and none of the penalty. Paul’s response is by no means. We are those who have died this sin. How can we live in it any longer? Not getting to do those things is good for your life, not a burden. Not God stealing your joy. It’s God wanting to give you real life. And all those forms of idolatry are death. They won’t give you life. We’re not going to manipulate God. He’s the end result that we want. His grace changes our lives. He puts a new heart in us with new desires. And we war against the old ones, and we will war against them until we die. But the Lord has given victory through his son. He raised his son on the heights so that he would break the power of sin and death. He would destroy the works of the devil. You and I see because he opens our eyes.
We hear because he opens our ears. If the Lord doesn’t do that, we are worse than Balaam. We don’t connect the dots. We don’t see what’s in front of us. We will do things to our own harm time and time again. And in this, then, we are blessed by God to serve, to give our lives over to Him in a sacrifice of praise. You see, if you try to manipulate God into a good life, into getting what you want, in the end, you will despise him for it. You will despise the very means of your manipulation. But following his son, it brings life and joy, not as a work, not as a result, but as a means of God’s grace given as a gift to his people. He gives us himself. He opens our eyes to see because he is faithful to his promises. Bless it be, God, that we are children of his promise. Pray with me. Father, we do thank you for your faithfulness. We thank you, Father, that in the midst of a twisted and corrupt generation, that your words of truth ring clear and loud. Father, we pray that you would continue to be continue to amplify that in the lives of your people.
That you would bring about your purposes through us. That men, women and children would come to the saving knowledge of Jesus. We ask, Father, that you’d be pleased to use us to that end. Father, we thank you for your unconditional love. And we ask, too, that you would forgive us for the many times we try to manipulate you. And Lord, thank you that you don’t let us. Thank you for your love, for your grace and your mercy. Thank you for fulfilling your promises to bless us. And this we ask and pray all through Jesus, our risen Lord. Amen. Please stand together as we sing your.
Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription