Internal Dangers

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.

A Scheme for Destruction

When Balaam could not curse the people of Israel because the blessing of God was upon them, he gave King Balak an idea. Balaam helped Balak understand how to bring the people of Israel into sin that would dishonor God and bring his judgment upon them.

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.

What was the plan? An evil government opposed the people of God, but that government was unable to harm the nation. So, the evil government used two strategies to weaken and attempt to destroy God’s people.

One strategy is the strategy of false religion. The Moabite women invited the Israelite men to join them in worship of their false deity. The trick was to call the people of Israel to be a little more open-minded. The trick was to get them to accept as worthy of worship someone other than the Lord, Yahweh, the God of the Bible.

The second tactic, tied closely to the first, was to get the people of Israel to compromise themselves morally by participating in sexual immorality. This, of course, was a part of the Moabite worship. God designed humanity with clear standards of right and wrong as regards our sexuality. God made those standards clear to Israel. Israel three times agreed to follow God’s standards. And Balaam knew that, if Israel were to compromise here, they would face God’s wrath.

Christians, the strategies of Satan have seldom changed. The three points we see in the verses above are the same three points of attack we have always seen oppose the church. Even in our world today, they are active.

There are evil governments in the world that are opposed to the faith. In some places, we see governments attempt to outlaw the faith and forbid freedom of religion—think China and North Korea. In other places, we see governments attempt to make faithful followers of the Lord unwelcome in the local economy—think right here in the United States and cases of bakeries and florists being harassed by those who hate that they will not applaud events they religiously oppose. The devil is still using politics and political leaders, the state and the force it can bring to bear, to try to push people away from the faith.

The devil surely still uses false religion. This includes religions that worship a God other than the God of the Bible. But it is also present in the community that calls itself Christian. Churches are becoming more and more unclear about the gospel, about significant issues in the word, and about what is right and wrong in society. Doctrinal compromise had led many a church to barely resemble biblical Christianity.

And, of course the destruction of souls through sexual immorality is prominent in our world. Whether it be the obvious evil of pornography, the social confusion on issues relating to gender, or the more hidden evil of compromise in the mind, the devil loves to lead people away from the Lord and his standards regarding our sexuality. Even in the church, there is a present-day move to minimize the significance of sexual sin. But, Christians, you must understand that God is clear that rebellion against him and his standards in the area of sexual immorality is devastating.

What then do we do when the world is full of evil governments, false religion, and sexual immorality? We cling to the gospel. WE cling to the word of God. We seek to avoid compromise. We confess our sin and repent when there has been compromise in our past. God is gracious. The blood of the Lord Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

And, we keep our guard up. Satan’s tricks have not changed. His schemes to use government, false religion, and sexual immorality have not changed. Take the attack seriously. Trust in the Lord. And fight, with the word, in the Spirit, for the glory of God.

An Age-Old Ploy

When the king of Moab was unable to entice Balaam to curse the people of Israel, it seemed that the nation might be safe. After all, how great is it for Israel to be totally protected by God from outside attack? Thus, at the end of Numbers 24, it looks like the people of Israel are set up for a great success as they face down their enemies from Moab.

But Balaam was a bit more clever than all that. Balaam had to obey the sovereign command of God. He could not pronounce a binding curse over Israel. God was protecting the nation. But Balaam had another strategy. Balaam knew what to do to make Israel fail. Balaam advised King Balak of Moab, and they hatched a plan that still works against men today. Moses points it out a few chapters later.

Numbers 31:15–16 – 15 Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? 16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.

Jesus also mentioned this in his letter to the church of Pergamum in the Book of Revelation, which indicates to me that it is a serious point that should not be forgotten.

Revelation 2:14 – But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.

What was the trick? Balaam knew that God would not let him curse Israel. So, this evil man devised a simple plan. He would send Moabite women to seduce Israelite men. These women would lead the Israelite men into idolatry as the worship of Baal was tied together with immoral sexual activity.

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.

Note, this is not some sort of nasty, anti-woman indictment. There is nothing here to say that women are the temptresses and men are innocent pawns. It simply was the structure of that culture, these women, including priestesses of pagan idols, were able to entice the men who were leaders of Israelite clans. The men who fell into the sin were just as guilty as the women who tempted them.

But here is the key for us to consider. Sexual sin is deeply dangerous. This has always been the case in Scripture. And, strangely, though Christians talk about sex a lot in our modern culture, we so often seek the approval of the culture around us that we seldom speak the truth about the deadliness of rebellion against God in our sexuality. So, let me say it very clearly. Sexual immorality is deadly. To rebel against God in your sexuality is deeply sinful, self-destructive, and dangerous.

Is this true because God is a prude, all dull and anti-sex? No, that is not at all the case. God invented humanity, and thus he invented our sexuality. Song of Solomon, among other places in Scripture, speaks very clearly of the beauty of a sexual relationship between a husband and his wife.

What is true is that there is seldom a more tempting, more clinging, more personal form of fighting against God and his design than when we fight against his will in our sexuality. The drive is great. The emotion is deep. And once we have decided to compromise here, we will compromise in a variety of other areas to continue to have what we desire.

Christians, I will now say something that many are refusing to say. Sexual immorality is not just the same as every other sin. Many are teaching from pulpits that all sins, especially sexual sins, are equal, because they want to be seen as loving and not condemning. And there is a grain of truth in the notion. All sin is damnable. All sin separates us from the Lord God. All sin merits hell for being an infinite offense against an infinitely holy God.

But the Bible does not present every sin as just the same. Look to the beautiful law of God. A thief must pay back what he steals with interest. A murderer must be put to death. Those are clearly not equal sins. Paul talks about sexual immorality as being a sin that is uniquely personal in 1 Corinthians 6:13-20.

I’m surely not writing this from a position of superiority or perfection. But, I do need to tell the truth regarding this topic. God is clear that sexual immorality is uniquely a big deal. And Balaam shows us that sexual temptation is one of the most common ways that the enemy of our souls will use to draw us away from the Lord and into destruction. And so we must see this sin as uniquely a big deal, and we must guard ourselves with everything we’ve got even as we run to Christ for grace and mercy.