Numbers 25:1–3 – 1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.
I have sometimes wondered, why does the Lord give us several chapters of Balaam in the book of Numbers? It’s strange. God focuses the lens of the camera on a prophet who is not devoted to him and to the scheming of a foreign king. Yes, Balaam gives us a sweet prophecy of the Christ to some, a star rising from Judah, but is that what all that text is there to give us?
As I read through Numbers this time, I see a contrast that I think is supremely telling and extremely helpful for the modern church. In the Balaam narrative, we see God protecting his people from outside threats. A foreign king wants to curse and kill the people of God. But God will protect them.
However, the people of God scheme at their own destruction. When a threat from outside cannot do damage to the people of God, the devil schemes with a pagan prophet and a foreign king to tempt the nation to be complicit in its own destruction. Balaam advises the king to tempt the Israelite men with sexual immorality, leading to idolatry, leading to the judgment of God.
Think well, church, about how we might do the same thing. God will protect his people from outside attack. This is not to say that we will always avoid persecution—we will not. But it is to say that God would never let persecution wipe his church off the map. The government will not be able to stop the spread of Christianity. Enemies of the cross will not be able to stop us from worshipping and obeying the Lord.
But I wonder, where might we contribute to our own disaster? Of course, we must not pretend that we are greater than these people who fell. We must not suggest that we are so personally good that we could never be tempted and fail as they did. Thank God for his Holy Spirit who sanctifies us and holds us back from the evil we would naturally do.
But, I think we should examine ourselves beyond the issues related to immorality here. What might come before our eyes to tempt us to compromise? What social issue or popular hot button might make us set aside the Scripture to embrace what God forbids? Looking around the landscape, it’s not hard to see it happening time and time again. And we must see, even here in Numbers, that such compromise is deadly.
May we, the people of God, those who know and worship Jesus, be fully confident in the Lord. May we also be fully committed to God’s ways. The Lord will not let us be conquered from outside. May we not compromise to our own destruction from within.