What was Balaam thinking! He could have had no doubt what God’s will was and yet he was persisting in seeking his own will. His repeated line was “I have to say what God puts in my mouth—but maybe He will change His mind.” It was becoming more and more clear that God does not operate the same as man might.
The first round of sacrifices did not seem to be effective. King Balak had decided that perhaps Balaam was simply intimidated by the sheer numbers of God’s people camped out in the wilderness outside of Moab, so they had a plan to do things slightly differently this next time.
They went to a place on the hill where only a few of the Israelites were visible and built another seven altars there on which they repeated their offering of the oxen and the rams. Once again, God was not impressed.
Balaam went off to talk with the Lord again. This is when he returned with those words: “Listen to me, Balak. ‘God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent [or, change his mind]: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?’ God commanded me to bless Israel—I cannot change that. God is with Israel. He has not seen iniquity in them.”
Now, if you are familiar at all with the history of the Israelites in the wilderness, you probably recall that they were not faultless. They had been guilty of idolatry, complaining, Sabbath-breaking, and on the list goes. So, what was this about “He has not seen iniquity in them”?
It is a message of hope.
This is just one example of God’s loving character. As part of the Ten Commandments, He told us, “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God…” He wants our whole heart. It is logical if we expect to gain His whole peace, that we would make all the room for Him that we possibly can.
The commandment goes on to say, “…Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me…” Sin has consequences. Just take a look around. Just take a look at your own life. Unfortunately, it does not even stop there. Take a look at the lives you come in contact with. If one of us chooses a path of sin, it affects others—especially those closest to us, like our children. Have you battled with a sin you learned in childhood? It can be very hard to shake. How about your children? Are they learning lessons from you that will curse them in years to come? By God’s grace, I pray the answer is “no”. However, if the answer is in any way “yes”, we are best off being honest with ourselves—and God—about it, for this is where the beautiful part comes in.
“…And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.” Balaam had continued: “…the Lord his God is with [Israel], and the shout of a king is among them.” Yes, the Israelites had sinned. They were not perfect. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” But there is mercy with God. He stands ready to forgive. The sacrifices of selfishness which Balaam and Balak were offering were worthless. A humble, repentant heart is what God was really looking for; for then by faith in the coming King—the coming Messiah—God stands ready to “forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.
That is the beautiful truth that both Balaam and Balak were blind to. Israel’s blessing was not based on their perfect past. It was not based on their own righteousness. It was not even based on how many expensive sacrifices they offered. Israel’s blessing was based on their decision to honor God as their Supreme King. It was based on their faith in the coming Messiah whom all of their sacrifices and ceremonies pointed to. It was based on the fact that God was with them.
Do you long for God’s blessing? The requirements are still valid for us today. David said it perfectly in the 51st Psalm:
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me…
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…
Make me to hear joy and gladness…
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me…
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee…
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Balaam went on to tell how God had led His people out of Egypt, how He was going to continue to work mightily for Israel, and how they were going to be thoroughly victorious in battle. Balak was losing hope. He pled with Balaam: “Just don’t curse them at all or bless them at all.”
Balaam said, once again, “Did I not tell you that whatever God says, that is what I have to do?”
But they still dared to give it another try…
*** VBS—The Land of Milk & Honey talks of God’s law, the Ten Commandments, and of some of the Israelites’ experiences on their way to the Promised Land—their encounter with Balaam and the Moabites being just one of them. Find it here. ***