NUMBERS 22:1 – 24:25 and MARK 6:30–56
God is on the move as seen in the recent progress of Israel. They are moving, growing and expanding their territory. They are now on the plains of Moab which is the eastern side of Jordan (About 7 miles away from Jericho). They have now captured the attention of Balak, who was king over the Moabites. He was fearful having seen what Israel had done to the other nations. What tactic will he use to try and thwart the purpose of God? He sent for a man by the name of Balaam. He was a prophet who had a reputation of one as having some measure of authority. Balak approached Balaam by way of some of his men who came with rewards of divination (vs 7). We will later discover that Balaam loved the wages of unrighteousness (2 Pet 2:15). He will assume a posture of spirituality but he will always be beholden to his heart of covetousness. What a warning for each of us, especially for people who are in a position of leadership in the church. The enemy will be able to exploit any area of uncircumcision that may lurk within the heart. Balaam initially responds to these men by doing the right thing, he takes the matter to the Lord.
I want to make two other comparisons with Balaam in this matter. When Satan made his introduction to man he tempted Eve on the matter of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 3:1). He tried to get Eve to immediately disobey God’s law and even went so far as to challenge Eve as to whether God ever made such a statement. Eve responded properly in verse 2 by restating what God had said (Gen 3:2-3). So we see that Eve passed the initial test. We will come back to this account in a moment.
Balaam seeks the Lord for His counsel (Num 22:8-12). God speaks clearly that he is not to go with them nor curse them for they are blessed. Balaam correctly relays what God said to the messengers of Balak and does not go with them. Do you see the similarity so far in the accounts of Eve and Balaam? Both were approached by the enemy and both correctly stated what God had said. So, is this the end of the story? Does the enemy just give up figuring that he will never be able to corrupt Eve, Balaam or any of us after holding our ground on his first attempt? Absolutely not! Let’s go to round 2.
The serpent responds to Eve by seeking to nullify and undermine the consequence of disobedience.
Gen 3:4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
He begins his assault on the soul and emotion of Eve. God’s absolute law which was given in Gen 2:16-17 is now being redefined by the serpent. The sting and consequence of sin is now being altered. Secondly, the object of the Tree is now being viewed differently. It is good for the satisfying of appetite, it is good in being able to make one wise and is also is a tree that can make one become like god. The sting and appearance of sin has been altered and changed (Gen 3:4-6). The enemy did not give up after his first attempt. He sweetened his offer and found a way to make his appeal to Eve through her soul. In Balaam’s case we see a similar scene. Balak does not give up. He approaches Balaam again in verses 14-18. He sends a higher delegation to try and entice Balaam. Notice the response of Balaam to these men.
Num 22:18 And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.
It’s as if Balaam is advertising what is in his heart. God had already spoken and that should have settled it. After saying that he could not be tempted he proceeds to say that he will again go to check with the Lord to see what He might say. This is exactly the same thing that Eve did. God had already spoken; why did she allow the serpent to further entice her soul to disobey God’s Word and commandment? There was something in Eve that the serpent was able to lay hold of.
Balaam, as we shall see is covetous and he makes allowance for this area to be exploited by Balak. God responded by giving him a conditional word, that if they come and call for him in the morning he can go with them. In short, God was allowing Balaam to be drawn away according to what is in his heart. We see that Balaam did not even wait for these men to come; he went and joined himself to the men from Moab. In verses 22-35 we see the Lord withstanding Balaam for going his own way. We see that Balaam acknowledges his sin but it does not seem to get to the root. He does fear God but still has a love for unrighteousness. God allows him to go with the men but commands that he speaks the Words that He gives Him (vs 35). Balaam should not even be here after God’s first word that was given to him. He is on dangerous ground as he seeks to do what God requires while entertaining thoughts in how to fulfil the interests of his covetous heart.
God is not mocked and we need to learn from this example. Remember Judas, who walked with Jesus and was exposed to Truth? He sought to have it both ways. When Jesus was getting nearer to the Cross Judas became the means by which scripture was fulfilled (John 13:2, 27). I am sure Judas had no idea that he would be so quickly used in becoming the betrayer. This is the warning of carrying an uncircumcised heart in the midst of a significant move of God. We cannot have it both ways and this is the role that Balaam sought to try and straddle. There is a third example I would like to consider. We compared Eve to Balaam but now let’s look at the Lord. As He came out of the wilderness he was met by the devil. Like Eve, Jesus was first tempted in the area of appetite. The Lord correctly responded by citing the Word of God. “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Math 4:4). Eve and Balaam both responded properly after the first attempts of the enemy to seduce them. Jesus was approached the 2nd time in the area of identity. He again responded with the Word of God. “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord…” (Math 4:7). Unlike Eve and Balaam, the Lord again stood His ground by stating “It is written”. The enemy made a third attempt upon Jesus over the issue of worship and the obtaining of kingdoms (Math 4:10). Once again, the Lord responds with the Word of God. Do we see a pattern here? Jesus was consistent in responding via the Word of God. The Word of God feeds and strengthens the Spirit man and does not allow the soul and emotion to override. This is a critical lesson and one we must take great heed to learn, especially in these least days.
It is worthy to note a bit of background to the events mentioned above. God is preparing to bring Israel into the land of their inheritance. As we saw 38 years earlier the enemy will seek to intimidate and hinder the advancement of God’s army. The enemy is seeking to work through Balak who then seeks to employ a recognized prophet to alter God’s plan. We see at the time of Christ how the enemy sought to work through Peter (Math 16:23) in trying to stop the advancement of God’s kingdom being established on earth (The Cross) as He decreed before the foundations of the world (Rev 13:8). Balaam, who had a recognized prophetic ministry, comes on the scene at this crucial juncture. God will soon be implementing a new message of circumcision amongst his people as they enter into Canaan. It is an area of uncircumcision in the life of this prophet that will eventually cause untold damage to Israel. In these last days we can expect nothing less. Are we giving heed to the message of atonement? Do we allow the Word of the Lord to cut deep within our lives so that the enemy will find nothing to lay hold of? This will be an absolute key.
Joh 14:30 Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.
Satan could not lay a hold on Jesus due to His being pure and righteous. This is the power of the New Covenant. It has the ability to get to the root of where all sin originates. Once these areas are acknowledged and dealt with it gives a freedom and authority to go forth. We seem to think that we can live a dual-based life but the time will come when we will commit to one side or the other. If we do not commit to do what is right by God’s grace the result will be finding ourselves on the wrong side of the fence. Balaam represents a danger that is seen in some of today’s prophetic ministries. This will be seen in greater detail as we progress in this narrative. The following is a reminder of what entails the New Covenant:
Jer 31:33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
We see a continual back and forth between Balak and Balaam. We see another weakness or sign of a problem in Balaam in verse 1. He mentions that there are to be 7 altars to be prepared. This is a heathen practice and suggests that there may be a measure of witchcraft at work. The land of his ancestry was known for divination. Still, he was a prophet who had an anointing and an authority with God. In short, there was great mixture. When Eve partook of the forbidden fruit she tapped into a realm of knowledge and witchcraft that was forbidden of God. It was a tree that was pitched in making one wise (Gen 3:6). In all of this Balaam was still in a position to hear from God and give the Word of the Lord. Balak, like Satan continues to press hard to find a way to get Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam finally makes this claim in verses 19-20.
Num 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
Num 23:20 Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.
The above is one of the first charismatic songs I learned when I first got saved. I pray to continually live by its message. Balaam goes on to prophesy accurately about their future (vs 21-24). Once again Balak summons Balaam, this time to the top of Peor so as to have a wide view of the people. Balaam once again instructs Balak to build 7 altars. How is it possible for Balaam to still allow himself to be in such a position? God has been more than merciful in giving him opportunity to break from this dangerous stranglehold. Balaam was making provision for what was in his heart. That little fox (covetousness) has now gripped Balaam beyond the point of his ability to break free. He knew what was right, spoke that which was right but still found himself living close to the edge.
This perhaps is one of the most instructive lessons in Scripture about the dangers of trying to have it both ways. We want to serve God and be faithful to His work yet we find a delight and attraction to the things of the world. The Book of Revelation makes a clear cut call to either be separated unto God or separated unto the world (Rev 3:16. 18:4) Things are accelerating at a rapid pace as we are getting closer to the end of the age. Revelation also makes clear that there are two streams flowing in the last days; one that is filthy becoming even filthier still or the stream that is righteous becoming even more righteous (Rev 22:11). Which stream are we in? For a time these two streams have run concurrently, close together making it possible to straddle between the two. The streams are now dividing and there is no longer an ability to have a foot in each one. It is one or the other. If we do not intentionally commit to flow in the stream that leads to righteousness we will have made our choice. Balaam sought to have it both ways; Balaam was a man with a recognized prophetic voice, a man who sought God and declared God’s Word, even while still in covetousness mode yet failed in the end. In his failure he brought significant judgment upon Israel. The spirit of Balaam will again arise in the last days (Jude 1:11).
Balaam came to the understanding that it was God’s intention to bless Israel. He no longer sought after God to hear instruction as in his recent attempts. He comes upon a place where he is able to view Israel and it is here where the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him. He begins to prophesy concerning Israel’s future as well as reflect upon some of the past dealings that God has had with His people (vs 3-9). This could be likened to the occasions when Saul prophesied among the prophets while he was in pursuit of David. Saul had evil intent while standing before Samuel and the prophets, yet he too prophesied. How is it that there can be a duality of anointing playing out through one man? On one hand Balaam is looking to find a way to curse Israel so that he can satisfy his covetous heart yet still has the ability to prophesy about Israel’s past and future under the Spirit’s anointing.
Rom 11:29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
This is one of the primary dangers of many church leaders. A minister may have a notable gifting that God has been able to use. Take Samson as an example. The spirit of might that was upon him was an anointed gift that came from the Lord. He was able to exercise this gift even while sinning. Note carefully his words in how he viewed his gifting.
Jdg 16:20 And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.
I will do what I always did before. We somehow feel that because the gift is flowing and operating that it can cover-up or justify our lifestyle of undealt with sin. We get comfortable and begin to take the things of God for granted. Such a person sees themselves as an exception to the rule simply because the gift and anointing still flows. We see in verses 10-13 that Balak angrily confronts Balaam and tells him to go back to his place. He reminds Balaam that he sought to promote him to great honor. Interestingly, Balak blames God for this as seen in verse 11.
Balaam once again reminds the king that even if he were offered all the silver and gold available he could not go against the Word of the Lord (vs 13). Yes, this is a truthful statement but I feel that Balaam is again revealing what is truly in his heart. Remember, this is the second time he is making this statement about silver and gold (Num 22:18).We can sound so spiritual and say the right things but is our heart in alignment with our words? God will test us in these areas. What happens next could well be what seals Balaam’s downfall. If he would have simply walked away as Balak commanded him to do (vs 11) he may have well been spared.
Balaam recognized the prophetic gift that was upon him as seen in the first 9 verses of this chapter. Sensing this anointing at work he goes and tells Balak what shall happen in the latter days. Balaam was trying to pacify Balak’s wrath but at the same time may have been seeking an alternative in how he can work this situation to his advantage. The prophetic words that he will bring forth may well provide the means to discover a key in how Israel can be neutralized. Once again, Balaam should have just walked away from Balak but he used his prophetic gift for “ill” purposes which will have devastating results for Israel. Keep in mind, this is all happening as God is about to bring Israel into a new season, into their inheritance. This is no ordinary event in their history. The dynamics of what is playing out here should send many warning signs for us in our day. What is the true state of many of the Prophetic Ministry’s today? Are there Balaam type prophets at work in today’s church? What are some of the long term ramifications of Balaam’s corruption? This has been highlighted in an earlier commentary but let’s quickly consider the following:
1. Balaam sown the seeds for the establishment of Baal worship
2. Many years later we see Jezebel as the ultimate Baal worshipper (1 Kings 19:1-2)
3. Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel marries into the royal line of Judah (2Kgs 8:16)
4. Athaliah seeks to destroy the royal seed of Judah (2 Kgs 11:1) (Jesus comes from Judah)
5. Balaam is mentioned in the judgement concerning church of Pergamos in Revelation
Rev 2:14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
6. Jezebel is mentioned in the judgement concerning church of Thyatira in Revelation.
Rev 2:20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
The lessons from the life of Balaam are not exclusive to his day only. His ministry had ramifications that affected future generation’s right up to our day. In the chapters to come we will see some of those ramifications but we will also see the remedy and how to counter such treachery. God was about to move mightily in bringing Israel into their inheritance. He is about to move mightily in our day as well. May we heed and learn so as to be prepared for all that God is about to do. This account helps to make clear the need for a true priesthood of God to emerge.
The disciples returned to the Lord and gave their report as to how God used them. They had just been sent out earlier two by two and were given authority to heal and cast out devils. The Lord took great care to ensure that they had some time to rest as seen in verse 31. This is vital for anyone in leadership. Jesus took notice of the work his disciples have been engaged in. There were many people taking up their time regarding their ministry. In addition, they had no time for eating. Jesus saw this and took care to make sure His disciples could rest and be refreshed. The disciples along with Jesus went into a ship and it was noticed by the people. They took great pains to meet up with them once they came to shore. Jesus was moved with great compassion upon the people (vs 34). Jesus recognized them as sheep having no spiritual guide or pastor. These people were hungry for the spiritual food. Jesus immediately went about teaching them on many matters. There is no doubt that Jesus had to be tired but He pressed on in his teaching. There is something about ministering before a crowd of people who are truly hungry for spiritual truth. As a teacher, you can sense that hunger and it provides you a strength and satisfaction in being able to labour on.
Mat 5:6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
There is a palpable hunger for teaching in many churches today. The apostle Paul made a distinction between the milk and the meat of the Word (Heb 5:12-13). Those who are newly birthed into the kingdom need to feed on the spiritual milk (1 Pet 2:2). As in the natural there needs to be a period where a spiritual child develops and grows. As a child develops there will be the need for a diet that includes meat and solid food. This is also true with the Word of God. As ministers and teachers we must work hard to make sure we have something to give people. People are hungry today for something more than just a superficial diet.
I remember when I first came across teachers who had a love for God’s Word. When they taught they provoked something in me. I had a difficult time understanding many things that were taught but there was no denying my hunger in wanting to learn more. I am so grateful for people who helped to foster a love for the spiritual food. It is my prayer to help cultivate a similar hunger in the lives of people whom I have the privilege to teach.
At the end of a long day, the disciples say to Jesus that the people must be sent away because there is no food to feed them (vs 36). Jesus responded by saying to give them something to eat. All they had were the 5 loaves and two fishes (vs 38). How do you feed multitudes with such scant provisions? The miracle of the loaves and fishes is produced here. How did Jesus manage this situation? Did he panic? No, he simply took stock of what they had and gave thanks for it (vs 41, John 6:11). Jesus knew that He was in the will of His Father. His motivation was one rooted and based in compassion and in meeting needs. He just finished supplying a strong diet of spiritual food, filling and satisfying them. In doing so, He had the faith to believe for supernatural provision. He met their spiritual hunger and then met their natural hunger for food. Jesus reminded His disciples earlier about not taking anything for their journey (vs 8). They were to take no bread and it was here where Jesus was able to demonstrate the reasons why. God can and does provide for their needs. Jesus put His reliance upon God the Father to provide in a time of need.
After this incident we find the Lord again assuming a position of rest by seeking the Father in prayer (vs 46). In the midst of a storm he appears in the night walking on water before the disciples who were in a ship. This account has deep meaning which will be covered in greater detail once we look at John 6. This time of prayer that Jesus had with the Father is a most significant one. We will soon see a more dramatic turn in the ministry of Jesus. His ministry (up till now) had consisted of much demonstration of the power of the kingdom. He now is about to point to the message and meaning of the Cross. His prayer with the Father that night will help set the stage for the next phase of His ministry.