The Faithfulness of God Seen in His Ways With Balaam: Part 1

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Num. 22
It was the object of the enemy to hinder God's people from the enjoyment of the land God had promised to bring them into. It was not now a question of getting out of Egypt. They were brought out and nearly at the end of the way. Could they be prevented entering into the land? if it depended on what they were, of course they could be; and Satan, the accuser of the brethren, could hinder our getting to heaven because of our sins, if it were on the ground of our worthiness that we must go there. Israel had been stiff-necked and rebellious all the way along, though God had been bringing them water out of the rock for their thirst, and manna from heaven for their food; and now the solemn question has to be settled, whether they are to be prevented entering on account of it. It is the power of the enemy here exerted, not his wiles; they come after in the history of Salaam. But this was the point, whether, by force or by wiles, the enemy could keep Israel out of Canaan. We shall see how God announces His thoughts about the people; and then the enemy was utterly powerless when He took up the question.
Moab is in the place of this world's power—at his ease from his youth—settled on his lees—not emptied from vessel to vessel, &c. (Jer. 48:1111Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed. (Jeremiah 48:11).) Besides being in the place of the world, the prophet is called with the reward of divination in his hand to act for Moab. Balak had civil authority; but he was conscious that he needed, in this case, a superior power to help him. The “powers that be are ordained of God.” Therefore there is really no need of this kind of power to gain men's minds, when all is right. But Balak, having no sense of God's authority and power, seeks it from another. The Israelites are pitched just on the border of the land when this attempt is made to prevent their entering. This is very practical for us; because many, knowing redemption, and feeling their inconsistencies and failures, begin to doubt whether after all they can reach heaven. It is right to judge ourselves for what is evil in us, but the heart owes it to Christ to trust to in the mercy of God to the end.
When the people had crossed the Red Sea, they sung, in the confidence of the power of God to bring them right through, “Thou hast guided us by thy strength to thy holy habitation.” Moab, and all their enemies were nothing to them then; for they were conscious of the power of God for them, though the wilderness was all before them. They knew they had got safely out of Egypt, and they took all the rest for granted; but they did not know themselves. Therefore God led them forty years in the wilderness, to humble and to prove them and to know what was in their heart. (Deut. 8.) In the next chapter we see it was also to show what the goodness of God to them in all this discipline was.
The people are now at the edge of the land, near Jericho. Is the promise as available, now that they were at Jordan, as at the Red Sea? This was the question as regarded the people as a whole, not individually; and it is all a type of spiritual things to us. Faith takes us thoroughly beyond circumstances. It does not close the eye, running blind-folded to heaven, but taking God's judgment about sin, it knows God's grace also about salvation, and can see that the trials in the way are for the purpose of humbling us, proving us, and doing us good in our latter end. Faith never slights God's judgment about our sin, but trusts in God's grace in spite of it. God will never accuse, though He will chasten His people; nor will He let Satan do it.
Moab really had no need to be afraid, for Israel had strict injunctions not to touch them. Israel would even buy their water of them as they passed through their land, But Moab had no faith in what God said. Satan, with all his cunning, cannot tell what the simplest faith knows—the power of God's grace to save to the end. Moab is just a sample of the entire and total ignorance of God's thoughts in the world. It is well to remember this. They would see this mysterious influence; and yet they are not only ignorant of it, but opposed to it. What had God said to Abram? “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” And now Balak goes about to take the very means of getting God's curse upon himself. Such is the utter blindness of the flesh; it always takes the road to turn God's judgment on itself. There was not only sin in Balak, and plenty of that too, but he had entirely closed his eye against all God's thoughts. It is a terrible thing to be out of the way of God's light; and that is the case with the poor world. If the outward moral restraints are removed, in the haunts of men, when their passions are let loose, what utter degradation and misery we see! And where there is not this outward wretchedness, how sad to see a person walking through this world without God! Respectable he may be, and well thought of by his fellow-creatures; but how can he get through death and judgment without God? It is dreadful to thing of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts. If God judges according to our works, what is to be done with them? God says,” There is none righteous, no not one.” “All the world are become guilty before God.” Men go on their own way, and think they will get through well at the end. Men of the world are just doing what Balak did. They are looking for blessing where God has sent the curse, and the curse where God has sent the blessing. There is as much sense about God's ways in an ass, as in a man walking without Him.
There are two things in Balaam's mind. One is, that he is afraid of God Himself. So the world are frightened at what they see wrought amongst God's people, whilst they cannot perceive the motives that are at work, and they have no power to control them. There is no power in a parent to prevent the conversion of his child all in a moment. The world cannot control God's work. See how God takes Balaam up. Balaam has no time to go to God. (Ver. 20, &c.)
God is always for His people in His own heart. Israel were entirely ignorant of what was going on, but God was not. He has taken up the cause of His people, because of the love in His own heart: and therefore, though He warns them, chastens them, &c., yet He will not let Satan have anything to do with them. It is a sign of Balak being a very wicked man, that he tried to get God's word to Balaam reversed.
In Zech. 3. we have the same thing. Satan there tries to get God's sentence pronounced against the high priest. What could Joshua say for himself? But God says, “I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee.” He does not say, I do not mind the filthy garments; but He comes in of His own love and grace as regards Israel. I have clothed thee with change of raiment. God had said to Balaam, “Thou shalt not go.” Thou shalt not curse this people. That ought to have silenced him. He ought to have said, There is an end of it, if God says, No. But he was as perverse as he could be.
What a terrible plague the people of God are to the world! They are, in one sense, a pest to it, if walking faithfully. If they are killed, the only multiply the more; there is no getting rid of them, our doing anything with them. There are principles and motives and ways in the children of God that the world cannot get rid of. Balaam says to Balak, “if thou wouldest give me thine house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord.” How pious he is become now! If he might have gone he would. But though he cannot do what he would for Balak, he still keeps up his credit as a prophet of the Lord. Just as if he had the secret of the Lord, he says, “I will know what God the Lord will say unto me more,” (Ver. 19.) There has been the money offered, But Baalam speaks as if he was connected with God. This is the way men often act. They claim a connection with God, but disclaim connection with God's people. But that will not do. It is in connection with His people that the cross comes in, and that is the test for a man.
Now God lets Balsam go, and he is delighted at it; but God chose him to go now. And his way was as perverse as ever. God intended him to go, that he might pronounce a blessing upon His people, instead of a curse. Morally, as regarded himself, Balaam's was the most wicked act in going; and yet God brings out all His purposes through it. He is nothing more than a rod in God's hand. He goes, and the Lord by an angel meets him. He rebukes man's ways and man's wisdom, by putting more sense into the mouth of the brute beast than man has; for though he has a mind, he uses it against God, which a brute beast cannot do. Man in one sense is more blind than Satan, because Satan believes and trembles. God could reveal Himself to a beast's eye as well as to a man's, when He pleased. The effect of this on Balaam was that, in his passion, he would have killed the ass (ver. 29) if he could. When the Lord opens his eyes to see his madness and blindness all the way he has been going, he feels he has sinned, and that God has stopped him; (ver. 34;) but it was from mere terror that he thus speaks, and he goes on without seeing that instead of cursing the people, he was to bless them, &c. (Ver. 39.) Balaam goes to the idols of Balak to sacrifice. He liked the name of religion, but his heart was not with God at all: it was set on money and honor in this world. What a picture of the impotency of sin!
Mark from this history the way God takes to deal with His people. Man thinks to thwart God's people of the blessing He has for them, and Satan tries to defeat God in His purposes of love. But in going their own way, He suffers men to do the very things that are for the accomplishment of these purposes. This we see in the crucifixion of Christ. The Jews said, “not on the feast day,” &c.; but Christ, our Passover, was to be sacrificed for us. It was at that very season when the feast was to be kept, and yet they meant nothing less. What a comfort it is to know that God thinks of us and arranges all for us, though we fail to think of Him! There is not a day, not a moment, but God is thinking of us, and He is above all the plottings of Satan. He will take care of His people. Do they want food? He sends them manna. Guidance? there is the pillar going before them. Do they come to Jordan? there is the ark there. Have they enemies in the land? there is Joshua to overcome for them. He deals with them in the way of discipline when they need it, as He did with Jacob. He humbled him, but gave him the blessing in the end. What a thought this ought to give us of the love of God, when we thus see His activity in goodness to us all the way through! What comfort to know He is for us, out of the spring and principle of His own love! He brings His grace and righteousness together in the putting away of sin on the cross. We can never really know God till we know He is love. God so loved the world that He sent his Son. The world did not ask God to send, and they did not ask Christ to come, but God loved them and He sent Him. What a comfort, I say again, to know God is for us, seeing all the enemies—our own hearts, the world, and Satan! Faith gets through all, by looking at what God is.