Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, “This is what the Lord has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. Numbers 30:1-2, ESV.
God’s people must be characterized by honesty and integrity. Their word should be their bond. In our era of ‘fake news’ and misleading headlines, we know that we cannot always trust what is passed off as fact in the media. In this political season, we have come to expect that many lies will be told in the pursuit of votes. Nonetheless, even in a world filled with lies, God’s people must be true to their word.
Psalm 15 asks and answers an important question, reminding us of the importance of integrity to those who desire to come to God in worship:
O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.
My prayer for you this day is that you will know the joy of being welcome in God’s presence as one who walks in integrity and honesty.
Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the Lord commanded Moses.’ ” Numbers 27:1-11, ESV
Zelophehad dies as part of the wilderness generation. He had not taken part in the rebellion of Korah, thus his family inheritance remained intact. But Zelophehad has no sons to inherit. His daughters, desiring to preserve their family name and property, present their case for inheriting to Moses at the tabernacle. Their case has significant ramifications. Part of the inheritance will be territory in the Promised Land. Clan identity was, in a sense, a claim to the covenant with Israel. Moses goes to the Lord and the Lord endorses the sisters’ claim. A family will not lose its inheritance privileges if there are no sons. An inheritance order is established.
Why does this matter? It reveals that God is more committed to His covenant promises and His covenant people than He is to the strictest interpretation of the law. What a lesson for us to learn! We who consider ourselves conservative Christians tend to look at the commands of Christ and establish law upon law all around it to be sure we never come close to breaking the law. Or we strive to uphold the letter of the law at the cost of its intent and the character of the God who spoke it. In our desire for a black-and-white world, we can become legalistic tyrants.
The commands of Christ are real commands and we are to obey them. What we cannot do is turn into weapons for evil what God has intended for good. We must remember the greatest of commandments and its corollary, “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39).
I pray today that love for God and your neighbor will rule your heart as you strive to follow Christ.
So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’ ” God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.” So the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.” Numbers 22:7-14, ESV.
We really want life to be about the cosmic struggle between the good guys (us) and the bad guys (them). It is always more comfortable to see what is wrong in the world as the result of someone else’s evil; always easier to believe that my suffering is their fault. The problem with this way of thinking is revealed in today’s passage. It ignores the fact that only God is good.
Balak sends cash to buy a favorable prophecy from Balaam—one that will support him in a fight against the Israelites that are infesting his country. Before answering Balak, Balaam seeks a word from Yahweh (the Lord). God tells Balaam not to go with Balak and not to curse the people of Israel whom God has blessed. Balaam listens to God and tells the Moabite delegation, “Go to your own land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”
The pagan prophet won’t answer the pagan king without talking to the God of Israel first? And when the God of Israel talks the pagan prophet listens? The rest of the story is just as remarkable: Eventually, God allows Balaam to go to Moab (22:20). Balaam is likely hoping in his heart that this includes permission to curse Israel and receive the king’s promised bounty, for God is quickly angered at Balaam (22:22). After being educated on God’s sovereignty through an engaging scene with his donkey and an angel, Balaam goes to Moab and offers up curses that are turned by the Lord into blessings for Israel. He predicts that Israel will grow to an uncountable host, that God will remain on their side, that they will have remarkable success, and that an Israelite king will conquer his neighbors (chapters 23-24).
God is great and God is good. The Israelites do nothing in this story, and we might be left to wonder how they learned of the events at all. Thus far in the story the Israelites have been only ungrateful grumblers. Balak is a pagan idol worshipper who wants to destroy God’s covenant people. Balaam may consult Yahweh, but the motive of his heart is greed (Jude 11). There are no good guys in this story.
What this account reveals to us is not the victory of the good guys over the bad guys, but the sovereignty of a good God at work to protect the people He has made a covenant with. We may be curious about Balaam’s understanding of Yahweh. We may laugh at the donkey story. But we should come away from Numbers 22-24 with hearts given over to the worship of our great and good God.
I pray that you will see the cosmic struggle more clearly today and that, as you do, you will worship the one true God who will win and reign forever in righteousness.
And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” Numbers 22:4-6, ESV
For many of us, this is a familiar story. I remember learning of it as a child and mostly being taken by the names of the two primary characters: Balak and Balaam. What happens with Balaam is amazing indeed, but before we look at that, let’s consider these four introductory verses.
First, let’s see how greatly God blessed a grumbling and dissatisfied people! The Moabite tribes knew the story and they saw the evidence. God brought these people out of Egyptian slavery and granted them victories over their enemies. They had grown so numerous that the Moabites feared that they would consume all the natural resources, like grazing oxen. Balak was so afraid of their might that he enlisted a seer to curse them. God had made a covenant with Israel and God would not fail to be faithful. Though Israel had tested that covenant on more than one occasion, God’s hand of mercy had been accompanied by His hand of grace and they now stood as a people greatly blessed.
Second, we see that the enemies of God’s people are spiritual people and see this as a spiritual battle. The king of the Moabites himself sought the aid of a spiritual leader, Balaam, whose reputation was that of a man whose curses and blessings get results. Scripture gives us no reason to doubt that this reputation was well-earned.
It would be good for us to look at the introduction to this account as a template for understanding our own lives. As the new covenant people of God, we need to remember how greatly God has blessed us. Though we are frequent faithlessness, He is faithful. Whatever happens today, we enter into it as the blessed children of God. This should drive out all fear and doubt and self-pity, should it not? Additionally, we need to recognize, as Paul does, that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Until we understand the spiritual nature of our battles, we will never fight them well.
My prayer for you today is for wisdom: may you see yourself as a blessed child of God fighting battles in the heavenly places where God reigns supreme.
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lordand against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Numbers 21:4-9, ESV.
Here we see Israel grumbling once more—they are dissatisfied with God and Moses. God’s judgement comes this time in the form of fiery snakes with deadly venom. The people acknowledge their sin and beg Moses to ask God to take the snakes away. Moses prays and God answers: by looking to a bronze serpent high on a pole, the snake-bit people will live.
It makes no sense, does it? How does looking at a bronze snake on a pole cure snake bite? The answer is simple. It doesn’t. Only God can relieve the sinner from the venomous consequence of their sin. Only as the sinner looks up in repentant obedience and faith will they be saved.
Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). To a world filled with grumbling dissatisfied sinners facing eternal death, sinners like you and me, comes Jesus. He, like the bronze snake, is lifted up—lifted up to die as a sacrificial substitute on a cross. Only those who look to Jesus the crucified One in repentant obedience and faith will be saved from the consequences of their sin.
My prayer for us all today is that, knowing what it is like to gaze at the crucified Christ with eyes of faith and be saved, we will be faithful to keep our own eyes on Him and to point the snake-bit world around us to Him.