The First Sunday of Advent November 28, 2010
548(1-4), 16, 413, 54
Then the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” So he returned to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, he and all the princes of Moab. And he took up his oracle and said: “Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram, from the mountains of the east. ‘ Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!’ How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced? For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him; There! A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations. “Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!” Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and look, you have blessed them bountifully!” So he answered and said, “Must I not take heed to speak what the LORD has put in my mouth?”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
Today we begin a new church year. It’s like starting out again on a wilderness journey to the Promised Land. We know that danger lies ahead for each of us. Because our Old Evil Foe is desperate to destroy and devour us, we know that he will raise up enemies to “spy us out” and try to harm us in body and soul. The account of Israel’s journey in our text offers strength and encouragement as we continue our own journey to the Promised Land in the new year.
The children of Israel were finally nearing the Promised Land. They had come to the land of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River just opposite the city of Jericho. As they set up camp and rested a bit, no doubt anticipating the joy of their homecoming, the Israelites had no idea what Balak and the Moabites were cooking up to take away their joy.
Balak had heard the stories of Israel’s mighty conquests of those who opposed her, and the people of Moab were “sick with dread because of the children of Israel” (Numbers 22:1-3). King Balak didn’t want such a powerful nation settling next to him (cf. Numbers 22:5). But what could he do about it? He knew that the armies of Moab were no match for the Israelites, so he hired a “professional priest” by the name of Balaam to put a curse on God’s people.
What happened? Our text shows how God used a heathen priest to bring a message to the heathen King! God surely advises heathen nations and leaders through His Word. He wants them to repent of their sins and believe in the only Savior of mankind. But this behind-the-scenes action was reported by God to Moses so that he could record them for God’s people of all times.
Our great Savior God wants us to fully appreciate how very special our relationship with Him really is as His believing people. With this in mind, it is our intention on the four Sundays of Advent to consider the prophecies of Balaam. From this first prophecy our God wants us to see that THE CHRIST-CONNECTED CANNOT BE CURSED!
The opening verses of chapter 23 are a bit comical as the heathen king and the heathen priest try to get a hearing with God by bribing him with a burnt offering. The scheme worked, or did it? God met with Balaam (cf. Numbers 23:4). But the word God put in Balaam’s mouth to deliver to Balak only increased the king’s frustration!
The first part of that “oracle” or “word” is given in verses 7-9. Balaam reports to the anxious king and princes of the Moabites: “The Israelites are blessed, not cursed!” Look at how they are separated from the rest of the nations, Balaam says. I see them from the rocks and the hills. There they are—a “people dwelling alone.”
They do not count themselves as one of the nations of the world. They are separate and different from all others. They do not depend upon the other nations and make treaties with their neighbors to prosper. Obviously it is God who has caused them to come this far! “How shall I curse those whom God has not cursed?”
So it has always been with the chosen children of God. For we are not His children “by blood, nor by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of man, but by the will of God” (John 1:13). Since God Himself has chosen us to be His own in this world, we are different. Our goals are different. Our way of life is different. Jesus calls us “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). Paul speaks of the believing children of God as those who “walk not in darkness, but have the light of life” (Ephesians 5:8).
When our Lord graciously called us to faith in His Son, He separated us from the world, so that we might be blessed, not cursed! As long as Israel kept herself from the influence of the heathen peoples around her, she received blessing from the Lord. But when the curses of Balaam failed to bring down Israel, they used the daughters of the Moabites and the Midianites to seduce the young men of Israel. It was then that Israel fell to the worship of the false God, Baal of Peor. (cf. Numbers 25:1-3).
We need to remember that the blessing from the Lord makes us distinct from the world around us. This is a distinction that God Himself has made for His own glory. Trouble comes when we blur the lines of that distinction. God help us always to treasure the distinction He has made for our everlasting good!
Balaam continues in v. 10: “Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number even one-fourth of Israel?” — They are blessed, not cursed—just look at their numbers! The apparent mystery for these heathen fellows was that the nation of Israel could have such large numbers of people after living alone in the wilderness for all those years! This is no mystery to us. God had blessed Israel, not cursed them, because He was fulfilling His promise to Jacob, the father of Israel. In Genesis 28:14 God said to Jacob: “Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
We make a big mistake if we think that because the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) is a small church body, therefore the invisible Church of Christ is small. We are small, in part, because in obedience to God’s Word we will not practice church fellowship with those who compromise the Word of God by their false teachings. But who can count the number of Christ’s believing people from Adam until now? “God knows those who are His!” Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:19).
Who can count the spiritual seed of Abraham and Jacob which includes all believing Gentiles and Jews? (cf. Romans 9:6-12, Galatians 3) What people on earth have suffered greater persecution than Christians through the last 2,000 years? Tens of thousands of Christians were killed from 70-313 A.D.! Yet the total number of Christians grew so greatly that Tertullian wrote during this time: “The blood of the saints has become the seed of the Church.” The Roman Catholic inquisitions in Spain, Italy, and elsewhere tortured and killed many. But even the inquisitions could not stop the Lutheran Reformation or the great spread of the Gospel into all the world.
Listen to this description of the great number of God’s people on the Last Day which John saw and recorded for us in the book of Revelation: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands. And crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God Who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10). The Christ-connected are blessed, not cursed. Just look at their number!
Finally, Balak said to Balaam concerning God’s people: “They are blessed, not cursed—Consider their end!” Take a look at the last half of v. 10. Balaam said: “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!”
Balaam must have realized that such great earthly blessings from God meant even greater blessings in death. Consider how God protected Israel until the coming of the promised Messiah. Israel’s history is totally tied up in carrying out God’s purpose of bringing forth the promised Savior-Seed—Jesus—from these people. The Old Testament examples of the Lord’s protecting Abraham’s seed from the hatred and curses of their enemies are many. God’s people of all times rest secure under the protection of their Lord Jesus Christ to whom all power is given in heaven and earth (cf. Matthew 28:18).
“It does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is!” (1 John 3:2). After death the Christ-connected—children of God—shall possess an “abiding city.” Just like our spiritual father, Abraham, “we look for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
Now look at Balak’s answer to Balaam in vs. 11-12: “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and look, you have blessed them bountifully!” Balaam then gave the only answer he could give: “Must I not take heed to speak what the Lord has put in my mouth?”
You see? It was no one but the Lord who put the truth in Balaam’s mouth—blessing instead of cursing! Remember this wonderful account as you continue your own journey to the Promised Land in the coming year. Are you Christ-connected, like the true and spiritual Israel? If you are, then no matter what Satan and His servants may be calculating behind your back, your Savior “has your back!” You cannot be cursed, only blessed for Jesus sake! Amen.
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