The Third Sunday of Advent December 12, 2010
1 Peter 1:3-12
339, 69(1-5), 69(6), 64
Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him. Then he took up his oracle and said: “The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor, the utterance of the man whose eyes are opened, the utterance of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, with eyes wide open: How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens by the riverside, like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters. He shall pour water from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters. His king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brings him out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox; He shall consume the nations, his enemies; He shall break their bones and pierce them with his arrows. ‘He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him?’ Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you.”
Dear fellow-redeemed by the blood of God’s own Son:
My mother used to say: “If you can’t say anything good about a person, don’t say anything about him at all.” But what if you are Balak, king of the Moabites?
Twice he had ordered Balaam to curse the Israelites and twice Balaam had blessed them instead! So now what does Balak say to Balaam? He says: “If you can’t say anything bad about Israel, don’t say anything good about them either!” “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all!” Balak hollers a few verses before our text (Numbers 23:25).
Is Balak wising up? He seems to realize that every attempt at bringing a curse on God’s people is useless. But no! He decides to try yet again! He takes Balaam to the very top of Mt. Peor where he could look out upon the entire camp of the Israelites. The usual sacrificial offerings are prepared by Balak. But we are told that Balaam finally realized that “it pleased the Lord to bless Israel.” [v.1] So Balaam decided that this time he wouldn’t even try to use sorcery.
Instead, Balaam “set his face toward the wilderness.” Raising his eyes, he saw “Israel encamped according to its tribes.” [v.2] In other words, Balaam saw the vast and orderly arrangement of the thousands of tents according to each of the twelve tribes. Then—unlike earlier when the voice of God told him what to say—this time, “the Spirit of God came upon him.” [v.2]
Then Balaam explained how he could see the things he saw. He says that “his is the speaking of the man whose eyes are closed, the utterance of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down with opened eyes.” [cf. vv.3-4]
What is meant by these strange words? King Balak is also standing on the mountain top looking at Israel’s camp, but he doesn’t see what Balaam sees. Balaam’s physical eye has been closed, and his inner spiritual eye has been opened by the Spirit of God.
What do you suppose you would have seen with your physical eye if you had been standing with Balaam and Balak looking out over the nation of Israel? Certainly you would have seen hundreds of thousands of worn-out wilderness travelers packed in a camping community of tents. If you could look tent-to-tent with your eye you would probably see a whole lot of physical and spiritual “sanitation” problems as so many sinners rubbed elbows. But what does the eye of God see when He looks upon His believing people? CHILD OF GOD, SEE YOURSELF AS GOD SEES YOU!
What a different vision God gives to the inner eye of Balaam and those who read God’s words recorded here through the lips of Balaam and the pen of Moses! “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens by the riverside, like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters.” [vv.5-6] Not only would the dwellings of Israel prosper, but Israel itself! Balaam sees that Israel and his “seed shall be in many waters”—the nation will always have plenty of water which is so necessary for the prosperity of any nation in the hot, dry land of the East. Furthermore, “his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.” [v.7]
Could this be the true picture of God’s people—spiritual Israel? Remember, Balaam is seeing things through God’s eye! Now matter how much Israel complained against God, His blessing had always been with His chosen people: Israel’s tents for 40 years were beautiful—they provided the shelter they needed. They had manna for food in abundance. Their clothes never wore out. He provided daily forgiveness and mercy. He went before and behind them to protect them from all their enemies. He brought them to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.
But what about the blessedness of God’s New Testament people? Doesn’t the revelation concerning the true blessedness of Israel also apply to us? We are often tempted to feel sorry for ourselves for many reasons. We become tired of our financial troubles and the day-to-day burdens of this life. We have problems in home and church. We must deal with one another’s sins and weaknesses. We struggle to meet the yearly budgetary needs for the Lord’s work among us. The physical eye of the world sees a people who claim to follow God’s Word faithfully, and yet suffer trouble, pain, sickness, and death just like everyone else. Like the camp of Israel in the plains of Moab we may not appear to be in a happy situation at all!
God must close our physical eye and open our spiritual eye so that we see things as they really are with us. When this happens we see that we have not received the daily punishment and torment that our sins have deserved. Instead, we see the abundance of grace and mercy, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ! We see that all things in heaven and earth really belong to God’s believing children. We see that when God withholds anything from us it is for our own good and according to His perfect wisdom and saving purpose.
Those who see only with the physical eye of man are enslaved to fear—the fear of not having enough, the fear of darkness, the fear of people, the fear of failure, the fear of death, the fear of the future. But when we see through eyes opened by the Spirit of God through faith, we see God’s perfect love for us in Christ—“the love that casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We see clearly with Paul that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)—not our enemies, not death, not the powers of darkness or Hell!
According to the inner eye—the way God sees us—we “dwell in beautiful tents…well-watered, green valleys…under precious trees” and we are ruled at all times by “the highest King”—to whom “all power and authority” has been given “in heaven and earth”! (Matthew 28:18).
We are told in verse 7 that Israel’s “King shall be higher than Agag,” and “His kingdom shall be exalted.” Agag was the name given to represent all the kings of the Amalekites who were the first people to attack Israel on their way to the Promised Land. Agag personifies the hostility of the unbelieving world against the kingdom of the Messiah—the Christ—which shall be exalted above all its enemies.
The spiritual inner eye of the Christian sees what Balaam is made to see. Do we not see by faith that under the leadership of our Savior-King the believing people of all times cannot be destroyed? We are an invisible kingdom for which a hostile world has absolutely no regard, but we are the most powerful people on earth! As Balaam sees and describes spiritual Israel of all times: “He has strength like a wild ox (buffalo)” [v.8] Spiritual Israel is like “the lion” in its power to “consume the nations.” [vv.8-9]
Where is the Roman Empire that tried for over 200 years to wipe the Church of Christ from the face of the earth? Who can count the heathen nations and kings that have fallen over the past 2,000 years while Christ’s kingdom stands. In fact, we are told in Hebrews 12 that the Lord is “shaking” all things in order that all things may be removed and nothing remains on the Last Day except that which “cannot be shaken”—the invisible kingdom of Christ!
What is the bottom line? Balaam says of God’s people: “Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you.” [v.9] In other words, although the physical eye of man does not see it, the truth is still just as it was spoken to Abraham more than 500 years before: God has so blessed His believing people now and forever, that the blessing of the rest of the people on earth depends upon how they regard and treat God’s people. Those who give us trouble will receive trouble from God; and those who treat us well will receive God’s blessing in return (cf. Genesis 12:3).
Remember that Balaam’s inner eye was opened so that Balak could see the truth. Balak wanted to curse and destroy God’s people, but the Lord is saying to Balak: “Join My people! See their spiritual and eternal blessings, and make them your own. Bless my people, for only then will yourself receive My blessing.”
CHILDREN OF GOD, SEE YOURSELVES AS YOUR GOD SEES YOU—You dwell in rich valleys in time and eternity, under the protection of the highest of kings! Amen.
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