I am continuing with the story Peter introduced as his example of how foolish -and- dangerous the false prophets were in the first century church. Yesterday, Balaam’s donkey spoke by the power of God. Today, Balaam attempts to bend God to his will.
Balaam’s First Oracle
King Balak lost no time!
On the next day Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal; and from there he could see part of the people of Israel.
Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.”
Balak did as Balaam had said; and Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar. Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your burnt offerings while I go aside. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet me. Whatever he shows me I will tell you.” And he went to a bare height.Conversation between Balaam and Balak, Numbers 22:41-23:3 (NRSV)
Maybe all the sacrifices were to try to entice God’s good favor to give them what they were hoping for. But God gave Balaam a message, put it right into his mouth, so there was nothing else Balaam could have said, whether he wanted to or not.
The first oracle emphasized that God’s blessing was on Israel, and they could not be cursed.
The Israelites had been chosen by God and were set apart from every other nation. The evidence of God’s blessing was seen in how numerous they were, as uncountable dust specks, exactly what God had personally promised Abraham.
King Balak was frantic!
Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but now you have done nothing but bless them.” He answered, “Must I not take care to say what the Lord puts into my mouth?”Conversation between Balak and Balaam, Numbers 23:11-12 (NRSV)
Balaam’s Second Oracle
Balak tried to think of another place he could bring Balaam, so Balaam could see how desperate the situation was. So he took Balaam to the top of Mount Pisgah. More costly sacrifices, more divination, and God put another message in Balaam’s mouth, making it impossible for Balaam to say anything else.
The first oracle had been about Israel being a chosen people because of God’s love. This second oracle emphasized Israel as a conquering people because of God’s faithfulness.
God does not lie, so you can count on God’s covenants. God’s character remains faithful, the Lord remains powerful, so you can count on the Lord fulfilling God’s promises. God was Israel’s king and God was among them, more powerful than any other force in the universe. Israel’s victories came because of God.
Balaam was realizing that he had absolutely no power in this situation, with God or against Israel.
Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob,Balaam, Numbers 23:23 (NRSV)
no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
‘See what God has done!’
King Balak was at his wits’ end.
Then Balak said to Balaam, “Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all.”Balak, Numbers 23:25 (NRSV)
If you can’t say anything bad, then don’t say anything at all!!
But Balak thought maybe another vantage might help God see things from a different point of view. They went to Peor, the center of Ba’al worship. Maybe Balak thought Ba’al could lend a hand. But Balaam realized that sorcery had no effect on God, and just gave up at this point.
Balaam’s Third Oracle
Now Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, so he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness.
Balaam looked up and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. Then the spirit of God came upon himNumbers 24:1-2 (NRSV)
He recalled what had happened to him on the way to Moab—“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is clear, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, but with eyes uncovered—and now delivered a truly prophetic oracle.
There are details of this prophecy which were fulfilled centuries later, but for the purposes of this study into Peter’s illustration, it is Balaam’s capitulation to God’s power that is the point. The main emphasis of his third oracle was the contentment of God’s people because of the goodness of God’s gift to them, the Promised Land.
Balaam concluded with the covenant God had made with Abraham.
Blessed is everyone who blesses you,God, through Balaam, Numbers 24:9 (NRSV)
and cursed is everyone who curses you.”
King Balak was of course furious, but there was nothing more that could be done about it.
Three and Three
Do you see the parallel?
Then Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. Balak said to Balaam, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but instead you have blessed them these three times. Now be off with you! Go home!
I said, ‘I will reward you richly,’ but the Lord has denied you any reward.”Numbers 24:10-11 (NRSV)
Three times Balaam pounded his donkey for thwarting him, even though it was Balaam who had tried to force her to go past the Lord. Now Balak was furious with Balaam, even though it was Balak who was forcing the issue with God.
I am sure Balaam was pretty uncomfortable now.
- His pride had been thoroughly crushed.
- Rebuked by a donkey.
- Threatened by the angel of the Lord.
- Powerless before God.
- A loser and a fake in Balak’s eyes.
- His career and his reputation in shreds.
- And now all this expense and not one coin of payment.
But God would not let Balaam leave. There were a few more oracles to deliver.
Balaam’s Fourth Oracle
The most remarkable prophecy came next, in the fourth oracle.
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near—
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the borderlands of Moab,
and the territory of all the Shethites . . .
One out of Jacob shall rule,God, through Balaam, Numbers 24:17, 19 (NRSV)
and destroy the survivors of Ir.”
The near-term prophecy—if you can call it that, because the fulfillment was a good five centuries hence—would be the young King David. But the far-term prophecy the near-term fulfillment would authenticate was the Lord Jesus Christ.
Seven and Seven
Can you picture Balak with his mouth hanging open? But, before he even had a chance to sputter and expostulate, Balaam picked it up again with a fifth oracle about Amalek, a sixth oracle over the Kenite prince with them, and ended with a seventh oracle whose fulfillment would be in the distant future.
These final prophecies had to do with the Canaanite peoples; each one would eventually come to ruin, prophecies which were partly fulfilled in ancient times, and will one day be completely fulfilled when the Lord Jesus Christ returns.
The Lord is determined to bless God’s people
God is faithful. The Lord always finishes what the Lord begins.
God is all-powerful. No plan of God’s can be thwarted.
Three tries to press God, and three failures.
Seven altars for sacrifices to entice God away from God’s plan, and seven oracles pronouncing God’s plan.
Remember that at this point, not Moses, not anyone in Israel knew what was going on in Moab. They were peacefully, blissfully, just camping out, enjoying the land, happy in their victories and blessings.
They had no idea that behind the scenes God was intervening on their behalf, protecting their blessings.
It has made me think about what God might be doing on my behalf that I also have no idea about. And doubly grateful to know that God has plans for me, and for you too, that nothing and nobody can get in the way of.
Maybe the catch word for us, as it surely was for Peter’s readers, who knew this story very well, is
Have No Fear.
Even despite mistakes, wrong choices, sin, and anything else, nothing can derail God’s plans for God’s people.
[Balaam’s sevenfold offering | The Jewish Museum, James Tissot, Public Domain]