Sunday, September 16, 2012

LVIII - Numbers 22-25 - Balak, Balaam, and the Donkey

Israel has made its arduous journey through the wilderness.  Forty years has passed.  There are very few Israelites remaining that had begun the journey in Egypt with them.  They are now camped on the eastern edge of the Jordan River, right across from the fortified city of Jerico.  They can see the Promised Land from their camp.  But the importance of their location right now is that they are on land occupied by the Moabites, descendants of Lot. The Moabites were understandably frightened by the Israelites.  The Israelites have already defeated formidable armies who have attacked them without provocation.  And to further understand Moab's concern, try to envision what a camp of over two million people looks like, with all their livestock and belongings.  How many square miles would they have occupied?  In 22:5 Balak said, "they covered the face of the land".

Beginning in the 22nd chapter of Numbers, we're introduced to two characters:  Balek, king of the Moabites, who is clearly worried about the Israelites attacking him and his people.  And Balaam, an eminently successful diviner.  {I don't claim to understand a "diviner" who, by virtue of his profession, would be someone God has little patience with.  But God actually communicates with this diviner and communicates through him.}  Through desparation, Balak sent for Balaam because Balak was frightened and he didn't know what else to do.  Balak wanted Balaam to come and pronounce a curse on the Israelites.  Balak figured this would solve all of his problems.  He would have been
mistaken, but Balaam refused to do it anyway.  Balaam refused because God had spoken with him and warned him not to curse the Israelites.  God actually tells Balaam not to go back to Balak with the Moabite messangers, but Balaam felt pressed, so he agreed to go back with the second group of dignitaries, but warned that he would not do anything contrary to that which God instructed him to do.

In vss 21--> Balaam mounted his donkey and began his journey to visit Balak.  But on his way, God places a warrior angel in the donkey's path who was visible only to the donkey.  The first time the donkey saw the angel, it went off the road and onto a field.  Balaam was angered with the donkey and beat him for going off course.  Secondly, the angel (whom only the donkey could see) blocked a narrow walled path.  The donkey sqeezed between the angel and the wall, mashing Balaam's foot against the wall, angering Balaam further and he beat the donkey again.  It happened a third time and the donkey laid down beneath Balaam.  Balaam beat him again and God made the donkey speak and
appeal to its owner (vs 30).  At that time, Balaam's eyes ere opened to the angel, standing in the path, sword drawn. 

This story about Balak and Balaam continues on through chapter 24.  Balak shows Balaam the "horde" of Israelites.  Although Balaam understands Balak's concerns, he refused to curse the Israelites, but instead he blessed them, just as God had instructed him.  But Balak keeps showing him more and more Israelites, and Balaam still does not curse them.  This goes on seven times until they both went their separate ways.

God had always protected Israel from their enemies, and I believe He always will, but it's difficult to protect them from themselves.  Problems from within have destroyed nations upon nations.  {I see signs of this happening to the United States.}  There was not an army big enough or strong enough that could defeat the Israelites if they would remain obedient and dependant upon God.  In the first verse of chapter 25, the problem is clearly stated.  The Israelite men were attracted to the Moabite women and got involved with them sexually.  God was very clear in His warning against this very thing.  I'm not sure how much time had elapsed from when Israel encamped in Moabite territory to when this started taking place, but it seems to me like it was a relatively brief period of time.  In the first verse of the chapter, it tells of the engagement of sexual immorality, and in the second verse it tells of what God (through Moses) said it would lead to:  They joined the Moabites in idolatrous worship.  This is the very thing that God warned and warned and warned them about.  God's first of His Ten Commandments addresses this in no uncertain terms.  It says in verse 3, "The Lord's anger burned against them".  God calls for the guilty leaders to be punished by death.  In the past, when God was angered to the point of punishing by death, Moses would intercede in behalf of the guilty parties, but not this time.  Moses knew how rebelliously sinful this was.  And it was Moses who delivered all of God's warnings about this.  This sin was the epitome of a "transgression", an open, knowledgable, and defiant action against God and His Commandments.  This was a slap in God's face and Moses was not about to try to water it down into a lesser infraction.  God had Moses gather all the leaders of these transgressors and had the judges begin executing them.  This is one of the first times we see Baal mentioned.  Baal is the main god of the Canaanites.  This pagan god is detestable to our Lord and His followers.  We're going to learn a lot more about Baal as we continue our study.

In vss 6--> we see how the slaughter of these leaders was stopped.  Remember Aaron died and his son Eleazar took Aaron"s place as High Priest.  Eleazar had a son named Phinehas.  I give you this pretext so we can realize where Phinehas comes in.  While all this execution is taking place, an Israelite man named Zimri, a Simeonite, brings a Midianite woman named Kozbi into his tent to lie with her.  (This guy must be a real idiot.)  He did it in front of Moses and the whole assembly.  Phinehas was so outraged by the disrespect of Zimri and his Midianite girlfreind, that he took a spear, went into Zimri's tent, and thrust the spear through both of them.  At that point the executions were ended because God said that Phinehas so touched God's heart due to Phinehas's zeal for God's honor.  WOW.  What a testimony.

In verse 16 we see that God has called on Israel to kill the Midianites because of this.  {Moab and Midian were connected, as we saw not only with Barak and Balaam, but also they were both equally complicit in the corruption of the Israelite men.  One more comment before I close this post:  I've read and studied the Bible for years, plus I have been a student of human nature all of my life, and with that I have a caution for all of you young men and women:  I have come to the conclusion that
men's biggest weakness is sex.  Women's biggest weakness is materialism.  Christians beware.  The devil is a lion seeking whom he may devour.}

Nest post we'll pick up on Numbers 26.

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