Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Daily Bread for Feb 21, Num 23-25

Today’s readings are Num 23-25.

The strange case of Balaam continues as he and Balak offer sacrifices. The Lord speaks to Balaam in a series of oracles that are increasingly hostile to Balak while revealing certain truths about God and His relationship with His people.

In the first oracle (Num 23:1-11) God makes it clear that no one will effectively curse those He blesses. His people are set apart from the nations and belong to Him. In this oracle, God reveals that He knows about Balak and his plan.

In Balaam's second oracle (Num 23:13-30) Balak hears that God's promises to Israel will not be revoked and His people will be victorious. No divination or magic will be successful against them. They will gain victory over their adversaries, enemies like Balak!

In the third oracle (Num 24:1-10), the Spirit of God prophesies through Balaam saying that those who bless God's people will be blessed and those who curse God's people will be cursed, a promise made to Abram and his offspring in Gen 12:3.

Balaam's parting oracle comes (Num 24:15-25) as he prophesies the defeat of Moab. Balaam adds an additional three prophecies concerning the nations of Canaan, all of whom will be defeated by Israel. The Amalekites will fall (Num 24:20) as will the Kenites will fall (Num 24:21-22) and Assyria (Num 24:23-24). The prophecies are long term, some of them occurring during David’s time. Significantly, the fallen nations will suffer defeat at the hands of other ungodly nations. God will demonstrate His sovereign authority over everything in creation by using nations that do not worship Him to eliminate each other.

Balak believed he could manipulate God into cursing Israel by using Balaam, a man who practiced divination (Josh 13:21-22). God is steadfast and faithful to His chosen ones. He will not be manipulated by any man.

But we also see that people like Balaam who are not part of God's chosen people are capable of doing good things, godly things. Those godly actions alone do not make them part of God's family. Balaam, because he is not entirely committed to God, even though God spoke to him and used him, will come to a terrible end (Num 31:8,16; 2 Pet 2:15; Rev 2:14).

This should serve as a caution to us not to immediately assume someone is from God just because they know or speak His word. Until we see a godly character and a godly heart, we should be careful in assuming that godly rhetoric indicates godly character or heavenly motivation. God spoke through Balaam, but he was a pagan worshiper (Num 22:5) and a man who wanted to kill his donkey for being obedient to God. The situation with the donkey was quite comical, but there is much to be learned from it. Lest we think there is something special about Balaam, we should see that God spoke through the donkey as clearly as He did through the pagan diviner. Both were tools to be used in God's hands for His glory.

In the next chapter, we see that the threat to Israel is not only external. Some of the Israelites disobey God by marrying Moabite women and, incredibly, worshiping Baal, a pagan god (Num 25:1-3). Turning from the one true God toward a false god is a more dangerous threat than Balak posed.

God commands Moses to kill all those who are blatantly sinning against Him by worshipping Baal (Num 23:4-5). Note, more Jews die as a result of their disobedience than as a result of the war with Moab! Phineas is particularly zealous in pursuing the Baal worshipers. Through the actions of holy people and the onset of a plague that kills 24,000, God's anger is vented.

Yet again, death is the consequence of rebellion against God. It is far more dangerous and fatal to rebel against God than it is to fight for Him. His standards are absolute perfection in obeying His commandments. He will do whatever is necessary to eradicate sin among His children. It is also becoming increasingly apparent that His children are utterly incapable of being perfect. They consistently find themselves in need of an advocate, a mediator, a savior who will stand between them and the wrath of God.

You and I are no different than Israel. We long to please God but are unable. We, like the Hebrews, need a savior, even while we are experiencing God's grace and mercy. God is, indeed, merciful but will not tolerate sin among His people. Since Israel is incapable of doing what He requires and because of His great love for His children, God provides Moses and Aaron to guide them and intercede for them. They are the ones who stand between the people and their God. Still, Moses and Aaron are imperfect men. Sacrifices must be made continually. Since we are no different than Israel and in need of saving, God has provided His Son to stand between Him and us. The Holy Spirit guides us while Jesus intercedes for us. The difference between Israel and us is not in our human natures, which are the same, it is in the nature of the One who guides us and intercedes for us.

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