Why God was Angry with Balaam

Today’s reading: Numbers 21-23; Mark 7:14-8:10

20 And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” 21 So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Numbers 22:20-22

15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. Mark 7:15

Do you wonder why the Lord told Balaam to go with the princes of Moab and, when he did, God’s anger was kindled because he went? On the surface it seems like Balaam got punished for obeying.

This would seem to make God’s direction contradictory and duplicitous. We, who believe in a holy, just, and all-wise God, can never admit such a  possibility. The more likely explanation is that God was disciplining Balaam for an attitude of his heart to which we are not privy. As we shall see later in our reading, Balaam wanted to curse Israel and would have done so had the Lord not restrained him. Balaam was eager for the reward and the prestige of assisting the Moabites.

Outward behavior can look quite upright and proper, but God looks at our hearts. The Pharisees in Jesus day were focused on outward appearances of righteousness. Jesus told them that it was not what was outside that defiles them but what comes out of their hearts. He went on to elaborate, in verses 21-23, 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Balaam, most likely, had several of these attitudes in his heart that day when the Lord opened his donkey’s mouth to speak to him. Even so, he would later find a devious way to trap and hurt the Israelites. More later.

Beware of the sin lurking in your heart. Confess and repent. God could send you a talking donkey to get your attention.

Misuse of Authority

Today’s reading: Numbers 18-20; Mark 7:1-13

8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! Mark 7:8-9

12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Numbers 20:12

In both readings today, we find grievous examples of the leaders abusing or misusing their authority for personal advantage. I’m sure some who criticize biblical faith will point this out as evidence that our faith is erroneous because some are hypocritical adherents.

Yet Jesus condemned those who tried to find loopholes in the law in order to avoid fulfilling their financial responsibilities to their parents. He told them they put their traditions above God’s law.

Moses used God’s power to gain glory for himself.   In striking the rock to bring water for the people, he failed to show that it was God’s work and he took the credit due to God. He paid the price of dying before the nation was able to go into the Promised Land.

All leaders are sinners, including Christian leaders. This does not mean they should not be respected and followed when they lead us in God’s ways. It does mean they need God’s grace and mercy just as much as other believers who have less visibility and prominence. James also warned would-be teachers that they will be subject to stricter judgment (James 3:1-2).

Support godly leaders through prayer, proper respect, and encouragement, but do not follow them blindly. They are able to err, and they may at times need to receive correction from those who follow them. Do not assume any mantle of leadership lightly. If you are a leader, be mindful of your responsibility before God.

God’s Fearful Presence

Today’s reading: Numbers 16-17; Mark 6:33-56

50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” Mark 6:50

12 And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. 13 Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?” Numbers 17:12-13

As we have seen, God who created all things also is in constant contact with His creation and with His creatures whether they are conscious of Him or not. In both biblical history as well as my personal experience, it is evident that we easily forget that God is there, all the time every day. We grow comfortable with attitudes of pride and acts of presumption as if there were no God to whom we must answer.

Korah and his party in the wilderness rebelled against God’s appointed leader, Moses. They had time to repent but no inclination to do so. They died a horrific death. Then God gave them another sign of His choice of Aaron to head the priesthood by making Aaron’s staff to bud as the staffs of the other tribes remained dead sticks.

The people of Israel finally recognized that they were “undone” that they were in danger of all perishing for their persistent rebellion. God revealed His presence and taught them to fear Him.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were terrified. The Lord immediately reassured them that it was Him. God again revealed His presence and taught the disciples to fear Him but also to trust Him.

The lesson of God’s fearful presence is one that the Israelites and the disciples would have to re-learn. I suspect that you and I will have to re-learn it too. Yet there is also comfort knowing that we who know Christ are His own adopted children and that He is merciful and gracious to us.

Be aware of God’s presence in your life today. Thank Him for His patience with us who must re-learn these lessons.

The Mystery of God’s Providence

Today’s reading: Numbers 14-15; Mark 6:1-32

15 Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, 16 ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ Numbers 14:15-16

26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison… Mark 6:26-27

God threatened to destroy the entire nation of Israel for their rebellion and unbelief and to start over again forming a new nation with Moses. In a rather unique and wise prayer, Moses appealed to God to spare them on the basis of what would result in greater glory for the Lord. Certainly this was one of Moses’ best moments in which he showed more concern for God’s glory than for his own. So God spared the guilty Israelites once again.

In our reading in Mark, we come to the sad account of the hideous beheading of John the Baptist. John died because he dared to stand up to corruption in high places. It is not hard to surmise that Herod carried the guilty weight of this execution to his dying days.

In both of our readings, the providence of God is evident, but is not predictable. It is mysterious and complex. Although they suffered discipline and forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Lord spared the guilty. On the other hand, the bold and faithful John died a horrible death.

God does not reveal all of His reasons for the providential circumstances He decrees for His children, but we see enough examples to know that it’s not about “karma” where every good dead gets rewarded and every bad deed gets punished.

Are you perplexed about some inexplicable event in your life? Do not despair even if you never understand it in this life. Trust God that He has a wise plan and ultimately will resolve all things for our good and His glory in the age to come.

To Believe or Not to Believe

Today’s reading: Numbers 11-13; Mark 5:21-43

32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” Numbers 13:32, 33

40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. Mark 5:40-42

Here we have two cases of overwhelming odds. Both cases involved death. The twelve spies were sent into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, but almost all of them were terrified by the people, their walled cities, and their military might. “We cannot take this land,” they concluded. In the other case, there was a twelve year old girl who had died. The friend and neighbors laughed when Jesus said she was only sleeping.

Unbelief is powerful. Unbelief looks at what Man can or cannot do. Unbelief does not count on God’s power, loving kindness, or intervention. Unbelief laughs, scorns, and ridicules.

But unbelief can be overcome by a clear-eyed look at God, His power, and His promises.

It appears that Jairus and his wife believed Jesus, entered with Him into their daughter’s room, and in moments received her back from death. The Israelites persisted in their unbelief and, as we shall see, were sentenced to die in the wilderness rather than enter the land they had been promised. It was a costly lesson.

God doesn’t always raise the dead when we pray, but neither does He always “reward us according to our iniquities.” We often get more than we deserve. Nevertheless, trust in Him will never be disappointed because He will make all things result in our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

What dead daughters and walled cities do you face today? If God has promised to work, trust Him to do the impossible, according to His wise will.

Delivered, Healed, and Sent

Today’s reading: Numbers 8-10; Mark 5:1-20

18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. Mark 5:18

35 And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” 36 And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” Numbers 10:35-36

Three times the man called Legion begged Jesus for something. First, he “adjured” Jesus not to torment him. Second, he (or the demons) begged not to be sent out of the country but into a herd of pigs. Third, after being delivered from the demonic possession, he begged Jesus to allow him to be with Him. Jesus granted his first two requests, but not the third one.

What is the attitude of the man who begged these things from Jesus?

  1. Fear of torment. Legion recognized who Jesus was, and, because of his spiritual state, being possessed by an unclean spirit, was keenly aware of his guilt before the “Son of the Most High God.” He could only beg not to be tormented because that was what he deserved.
  2. Dread of destruction. Legion begged for mercy on behalf of the demons.       Apparently, Jesus had power to send them “out of the country,” which I suspect is a reference to sending them to hell. The demons entered the pigs. The pigs drowned. Legion was delivered.
  3. Desire to be with Jesus. After being delivered, the now-healed man wanted to continue with Jesus. Perhaps as a foreshadowing of what would occur after Jesus’ ascension and after the Holy Spirit empowered disciples began dispersing throughout the known world, the Lord sent him back to other Gentiles to tell them what he had received from God.

So the man obeyed and went among his friends proclaiming what Jesus had done for him. The response? Everyone marveled. God was glorified.

In our Numbers reading, God was also glorified through the Israelites as He guided them on their journey to the Promised Land. Not unlike Legion, God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, and then led them to their own land and freedom to serve Him.

The pattern is clear and repeated. God delivers enslaved sinners, heals them, and, then, sends them to be His witnesses to other enslaved sinners. Deliverance, healing, mission.

Has this been your story, too, in some way?

The God who Quiets Terrified Sinners

Today’s reading: Numbers 7; Mark 4:21-41

89 And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him. Numbers 7:89

40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:40-41

From start to finish, the Bible reveals a God who is in constant contact with His creation and in communication with Man in particular.

In the tabernacle, God gave a concrete picture of His love by giving Moses a plan for the Ark of the Covenant which included a gold lid upon which stood two cherubim of gold. Between these cherubim above the gold lid was a space called “the mercy seat.”   At this place God spoke to Moses and in future generations He would meet with the high priest on the Day of Atonement. My study Bible notes say that the Greek term for the mercy seat (hilasterion) may be translated the “seat of propitiation.” Propitiation refers to the process of satisfying just anger through a sacrificial gift or offering. That is what God did when He offered His Son on the cross for sin (I John 2:1-2).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on human flesh and revealed the Father to us. The disciples struggled at times to grasp who He was (and is). On the sea, they were terrified as He slept peacefully through a terrific storm. They woke Him and He calmly quieted the storm, but also rebuked them for their lack of faith.

God makes Himself known for His mercy and His power. He makes a sacrifice for the sins of all who believe in His Son and quiets His own just wrath. He quieted the storm for the panicked disciples. Do you know His quieting actions of mercy and power in your life?

Whatever terrifies you today, whether the mounting debt of failures you are amassing through everyday sin or the stress of life’s storms bearing down on you, trust Him to see you through to the peace and joy He promises to His own.

Real Disciples Bear Fruit

Today’s reading: Numbers 5-6; Mark 4:1-20

27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:27

20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:20

God wills that His people should be blessed and fruitful. But the realization of this blessing is not unconditional. There is a need to hear His word, to hold it fast, and to let it bear fruit in our lives.

This does not always occur. We could say it does not frequently occur. There are too many lapses in our hearing, holding fast, and bearing fruit. The word is snatched away because it never even penetrates our minds. We have an immediate enthusiastic, but superficial, response which results in short term impact but long term death. This is the result of shallow penetration of the truth into our hearts and minds. Then there are the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things that kill the potential fruit when the seed does take root and grow. Only by overcoming these obstacles will the seed bear fruit and the blessing be poured out.

True blessing comes from God and it comes to those who hear, hold on, and bear fruit. Beware today of the obstacles to fruitfulness. Jesus told His disciples, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:8.   Real disciples bear fruit.


Family Resemblance

Today’s reading: Numbers 3-4; Mark 3:22-35

33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:33-35

3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the anointed priests, whom he ordained to serve as priests. 4 But Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord when they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of Aaron their father. Numbers 3:3-4

Natural, family relationships are overshadowed by spiritual bonds. Obedience to God is more important than blood ties.

Jesus’ human family members took Him to be insane. “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:21. They tried to intervene and stop His teaching and ministry. Perhaps they were afraid of embarrassment. Maybe they meant well. But they did not believe in Him (John 7:5).

In the case of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, their status as sons of the high priest did not exempt them from obedience to the law. They seem to have presumed that they could veer from the commands of the law concerning offerings to God. It cost them their lives.

Jesus said,” …whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” This is good news for us because it means that although we never physically saw Jesus nor are we related to Him through natural descent, our relationship with Him is based on a common relationship to God, the Father. He is the first born of many brothers (Romans 8:29).

Rejoice, if you have been adopted into the Father’s family by the new birth, you are tied to Christ’s family. Seek to bear the family resemblance today.

Twelve Tribes; Twelve Disciples

Today’s reading: Numbers 1-2; Mark 3:1-21

13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. Mark 3:13-15

44 These are those who were listed, whom Moses and Aaron listed with the help of the chiefs of Israel, twelve men, each representing his fathers’ house. Numbers 1:44

It is hard to miss the repetition of the number “12” in the Bible even when you are not reading simultaneously in the Old and New Testaments, as we are. There seems to be a certain completeness in the number 12.

In our reading of Matthew, we saw this statement:

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Matthew 19:28

So there is a connection between the twelve tribes and the twelve disciples (later called apostles). Is this fully explained? I don’t think so. I am OK with not knowing all of God’s reasons and purposes now or ever.

Even though God does not always reveal to us His reasons for the things He decrees, we can understand enough to know that these details have a reason and a purpose. Perhaps, when His kingdom comes fully we will know many of the reasons we do not yet understand. It will be all the more reason to praise Him for His infinite wisdom. Let’s start now, by faith, praising Him for that wisdom.