Strength for the Journey: “Who Speaks for God?” – Numbers 23:27-24:25

jay carneyEvery important leader needs an eloquent spokesman. It isn’t enough to be right, or to have good policy initiatives, the leader needs a consistent, clear voice that can present the views with persuasive arguments and kind personality. President after President in our country has found that to be true. Yet, somehow as believers we forget that God placed us in that important role of spokesmen and women for Him. Many of us have the unique opportunity to speak for God at work, in our trailer park or condo association, or sitting around the kitchen table with our dear friends. If you have ever been in the situation in which God used your life and voice to share His love and His grace, you know what I mean. If you know Jesus and that hasn’t yet been your experience, get ready – your time is coming.

Key Principle: To speak for God, we need to first understand what He has said to us, and then share it with enthusiasm and compassion – regardless of whether people like what they hear.

A First Lesson:

It has taken us a few lessons, but we have been following a fascinating story of a noted itinerant preacher of antiquity who suffered from a spiritual “heart attack” and passed through a recovery. The account is found in Numbers 22 to 24. Our first lesson of the series (in Numbers 22) reminded us of some delegations of Moabite men that enticed a prophet to leave his home in Mesopotamia and follow them to Moab for a paid prophetic assignment. Moab was ruled by a chief named Balak, who had a demoralized army in the face of the overwhelming Israelite advance from the deserts of the south, and he imported Balaam to prophesy a pre-conceived curse over Israel to help him bolster the spirits of his fighters. Balaam agreed to come to Moab because although he was a prophet, he was not walking in obedience to God at that time. In disobedience and greed, he traveled – and God met him on the way to confront him with his compromises. It was his “heart attack” – a confrontation with his wayward heart before God – that ended in repentance with a picture of the stumbling of a believer, and his restoration by God. Unfortunately, being right with God didn’t help the fact that he was now in Moab in the difficult situation of compromise before the chief and armies of pagan Moab. By the close of the Numbers 22, Balaam stood observing Israel from a pagan high place – a place he never would have gone as a prophet of God, while his nostrils were filled with the smell of pagan sacrifices. Balaam faced the results of his compromised life. He had to keep going with his agreement, even though he knew that he shouldn’t be in the relationship.

A Second Lesson:

In the second lesson of the series we dropped into the scene with the two men engaging one another in Numbers 23. In that story, we found there is only one RIGHT WAY to handle God’s Word, and three WRONG WAYS to react to it. Balaam’s life was a picture of the RIGHT way is to respond – to allow “molding”: He faced the Word of God, repented from his stubbornness and obeyed (22:34-35). Yet, Balak was not a believer in the God of Abraham. He responded to the Word of God in three distinct WRONG WAYS that we have all seen repeated by people through the ages:

Manipulating: Balak tried to manipulate the Word of God to say what he wanted to say (23:11-12). He pressed Balaam to hear from God, and then “work the message” to be what Balak wanted it to say. We have all seen this approach before – it is all too common even in our own day.

Misinforming: Balak suggested it was “just a matter of interpretation and perspective” (23:13-14). When Balaam and his God wouldn’t validate the wrong message of Balak, the chieftain suggested the problem was one of perspective. He just wasn’t “seeing it properly” and needed help interpreting what he heard from God. Who hasn’t heard the old: “that’s just your interpretation!” statement from someone who didn’t like the plain reading of the text?

Muzzling: Balak wanted Balaam to stop speaking if it wasn’t what he wanted to hear (23:25). Nearing exasperation over the stubbornness of the prophet and the resistance of God’s Words to bending, Balak just wanted Balaam to STOP TALKING. “If you can’t say something bad, say nothing at all!” he said.

There we are. The world tried to “buy” a message from God that conformed to its own definitions of morality. Standing in the way in the unyielding truth of God’s message – truth didn’t bend with popular sentiment – that isn’t how it works. We pick up our reading in the end of the story…

One Last Attempt:

Numbers 23:27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will be agreeable with God that you curse them for me from there.” 28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor which overlooks the wasteland. 29 Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.” 30 Balak did just as Balaam had said, and offered up a bull and a ram on [each] altar.

Poor Balak! He kept trying to get God’s Word under control! Why wouldn’t God just shut up and do what He was told? The answer was simple: the Sovereign of the Universe bows for no man. He needs no popular vote of approval to know He is right and true. It is not just His response, it is His very character. When you have spun planets, you don’t need to get compliments to feel important – you know you are!

Observe God’s Unveiling of Truth

1: God made it clear that His position was not negotiable – first to Balaam:

24:1 When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times to seek omens but he set his face toward the wilderness. 2 And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him.

Look at the first phrase of Numbers 24. When the world needed to hear from God, it needed the clear tones of a believer who was SURE of what God has spoken. Balaam had fiddled around long enough. Move here, altars, rams dead, fires lit…searching out God, move there, more altars, sacrifices… searching out God… it was time to quit and just listen to EXACTLY what God wanted shared with the pagan world in front of him. I can’t help but feel that some hesitation was probably the result of a desire on his part to survive the scene. Balaam was, after all, in front of an army of a potential enemy and far from home. Nobody wants to volunteer to be in tomorrow’s obituary section quite that easily.

As we face a generation bound to redefine the most important foundations of morality, I have to ask, “Where are the brave men and women of God who will speak the message that pleases the Lord?” I trust some are engaging this passage right now. We need bold believers – hopeful, helpful men and women of God who will speak His Word and not pull back from the public square. We need preachers and teachers who will not shrink from the truth under the hot lights of the interview – but in tender firmness will make clear that God has spoken and is not unsure of what He wants.

Balaam quit looking at the omens – quit the endless searching of the signs – and just opened his mouth to deliver God’s message. He did two things:

• First, he turned his face toward the wilderness, where Israel had encamped after a generation of journeys. In other words, he faced squarely the desolate place that God used to form a rabble into a nation that He intended to use.

• Second, Balaam moved his eyes (in verse two) directly into the line of the object of God’s prophetic vision – the tents of the sons of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. Look at the words, “tribe by tribe”. You can picture the slow and deliberate way his eyes moved across the tent tops as he took time to survey the multiplied seed of Abraham.

The church that is unconvinced that God’s standards are immovable and correct will waiver with public opinion rather than stand true in the storm.

2: God’s Spirit blew in with the truth:

The last part of verse two simply ends: “and the Spirit of God came upon him.” Even though it was long past time to quit dawdling and speak up –he wasn’t ready to do that by himself. The verse continues and notes “the Ruach of God came upon him”. God breathed His Spirit and Balaam was filled with the very Word of God. Does that sound exciting? Wouldn’t you LOVE to have that experience? You can! All you need do is read aloud the words that follow, and you too will utter the prophetic words of the Living One of Israel!

The believer that thinks you can argue people to faith doesn’t understand the operation of the Holy Spirit in communicating truth!

3: The prophet clearly and loudly pronounced that God spoke:

3 He took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; 4 The oracle of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered,

Balaam made clear that the prophecy was NOT his own idea, but the powerful and transforming Word of God! Note the description in verses three and four:

• He heard the Word of God.
• He saw the visions of God.
• He couldn’t see the physical world (tripped and fell) but he could grasp the spiritual world (his eyes were uncovered).

This is the message for which the world is thirsting. It is the clear, crisp, quenching water of truth to a wandering heart – the message of one who will record and echo ONLY what God has said.

• Let missions ring with the sound to the 533 people groups that have yet to be engaged with the Gospel – for 70 million people have not been touched with the HOPE found in Jesus!

• While the message spreads abroad, let our pulpits clearly call men and women back to the Holy Word of God that must again be heard in our land.

They must know His Word and speak His Word. We cannot walk about proclaiming a God who is so small that He could not write the story of His work and preserve it faithfully – for such a God is too weak to heal the broken families of our nation! We need the proclamation of the Bible as God’s truth – clearly, systematically, unapologetically taught from one cover to the other. Nothing else will do! Nothing else has that purpose, that promise and that power!

The church that expends all its energy in social causes but neglects prayer and pronouncing the Word of God will find its energies used up on the wrong life – temporal improvement over eternal pronouncement.

4: The prophet learned that God’s message didn’t just offer the thoughts of God’s mind – the message openly exposed His heart.

5 How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! 6 “Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens beside the river, Like aloes planted by the LORD, Like cedars beside the waters. 7 “Water will flow from his buckets, And his seed [will be] by many waters, And his king shall be higher than Agag, And his kingdom shall be exalted. 8 “God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations [who are] his adversaries, And will crush their bones in pieces, And shatter [them] with his arrows. 9 “He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, And cursed is everyone who curses you.”

God isn’t hiding what He wants or how He feels. He is ready to reveal to any who will listen. Look at how clear God was about the objects of His blessing:

• God was pleased to see them where they were (24:5 – “fair” is the Hebrew term for pleasant or good, the word “tov”).
• God knew they weren’t staying there (24:5b – “dwellings” is the term “mishkan”- the term “tabernacle” which is laden with the implication of a temporary nature).
• God delighted to see the growth of the people (24:6 – they were like a “river” – the term “valleys” was nachal, the river beds).
• God celebrated the camp teeming with life (24:6 – the term “gardens” – “gannah” is one wrought with living imagery!)
• God was present with them in the camp! (24:6 – the people were “like aloes planted by the Lord” – a reference to God’s investment in their placement – the God whose robes are fragrant with such aloes and cassia (Ps. 46:8).
• God was strengthening and growing Israel for great things! (24:6 – the phrase “like cedars beside the waters” is a picture of something with a great, deep and rich future!
• God wanted them to multiply as He exalted their kingdom! (24:7).
• God would fight for His people, and stand opposed to any who fight her (24:8).
• God renewed His promise to BLESS those who BLESSED HER (24:9).

Here is the point: God isn’t as vague about what He loves and what He wants. If we learn and teach His Word carefully – we will understand not only WHAT God instructed, but a larger picture of WHY HE CARES ABOUT what He has said.

Let me offer an example. In the Bible – self-discipline is a GOOD THING. We live in a time when people want to make the claim that abstinence education won’t work – because kids will have sex. Almost without missing a beat in the sentence, our schools move to tackle obesity. If our nation refuses to see the truth that there are massive benefits to insisting on students using moral restraint and self-discipline – we will pay a price in early funerals and inflated health care costs. God has spoken – self-discipline is a GOOD thing because it is a GOD thing.

• Marriage is HOLY because God made it. Sexuality is a HOLY EXPRESSION of God’s Sovereign choice of our body based on HIS desire, not our mood and our ability to convince the pagan world around us. Life is SACRED because it people hold HIS BREATH.

• If we divorce our country from a basic understanding of the things God said were important, we will kill our nation. God hasn’t been silent… His people have become timid and uninformed of what He has said – and we do not carry the message into the streets because we are not sure what we are to say. It is not the growth of secularism among the unsaved that is our chief problem – it is the distance between God’s Word and the bold lifestyles of God’s people that is killing us. We MUST know what He has said, and be clear in both word and deed to reflect just that.

We aren’t preaching “pet peeves” of the Pastor. We are trying to connect the dots between the unbiblical attitudes that are widely being adopted and the out workings of damage they will create. God’s heart is in our home, our community and our eternity. When we don’t speak against the areas the deceiver is shouting, we let God’s heart be set aside for the drifting standard of our culture.

5: The unbelievers made clear their rejection.

10 Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! 11 “Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the LORD has held you back from honor.”

This is the good news. Balaam did not need to play religious games with unbelievers anymore. They wanted him gone, and in truth – he wanted to go home. This is the benefit of clarity. When we can cogently defend the Scriptures but do so with love and humility – people who KNOW they want to be in charge of their own lives simply send us away. The contrast is clear. In the days ahead, it will be very clear that there are three groups of people in our country:

• Unbelievers who don’t want God, His standards or any moral restraint unless it benefits them directly in some obvious way.

• Believers who want to surrender to God and follow Him.

• A shrinking number of people who BOTH want God and any freedom that seems fun. They will be squeezed out – and that is a good thing. The fence they have been walking upon is about to become virtually impossible to straddle.

The believer that places his hope on God’s smile and not the affirmation of the crowd will please his Master. The others will please their cultural peers – but then face a Master whose desires were swept aside in this life.

6: The believer that has committed to follow the Word is able to point to his testimony.

24:12 Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, 13 Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the LORD, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the LORD speaks, that I will speak’? 14 “And now, behold, I am going to my people; come, [and] I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.”

There is a simplicity and elegance to being able to show that no compromise was made to the Word of God in your life. That is exciting news. When we bow and scrape to be loved by the world, we are tolerated by them for a time, but in the end, they are using us. When we are clear about the Word and do not allow ourselves to be baited into battles of emotional ego or be compromised by our financial dealings, etc. we have a platform of testimony to stand upon.

Churches must pull back from the borrowing of money to grow, and pay attention to maximizing their budgets. When we need money, the pressure becomes greater to compromise truth, allow bad behavior and look the other way. If we don’t borrow it, we won’t owe it. The borrower is the slave of the lender unless the borrower decides to work more in cash and less in loan. Ministries are going to get tighter to run in a world that is less benevolent to the things of God – and we must be faithful to care for the ministry, but inside of it we must be smarter with stewardship than ever before!

The church that is beholden to the world’s system will not be an honest broker of God’s truth.

7: God offered a very special picture of the future – but not until it was clear who was willing to follow and who was NOT:

Balaam offered a second set of prophecies – and this time he uncovered four specific promises of God:

He made clear the future of Moab, who just openly rejected God’s Word (but He offered a surprise of a Messianic prophecy!):

15 He took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, 16 The oracle of him who hears the words of God, And knows the knowledge of the Most High, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. 17 “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.

We have spoken about this prophecy in the past – but it promised that a Messiah would arise from Israel, and that every deception would one day be broken down – including the Balak “pay for prophecy” plan!

He spoke concerning Moab’s southern neighbor Edom, who resisted Israel’s move through their territory when it was offered in peace:

18 “Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly. 19 “One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.”

Here is the warning: Block God’s people from obeying His Word – and there will be a price to be paid. Let our modern courts and legislators take note.

He addressed the Amalekites that had warred against Israel in the desert over the long journey through the wilderness:

20 And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first of the nations, But his end [shall be] destruction.”

Here again came a lesson: Kick God’s people when they are down, and God will get the last kick.

He exposed the ruin of the Kenites, who also would not aid Israel.

21 And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, “Your dwelling place is enduring, And your nest is set in the cliff. 22 “Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; How long will Asshur keep you captive?” 23 Then he took up his discourse and said, “Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? 24 “But ships [shall come] from the coast of Kittim, And they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber; So they also [will come] to destruction.” 25 Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way.

Over and over God showed this truth: He knows how to protect His people, and He knows what He cares about. He was with them in the battle with Sihon. He stood with them as they fought Og in Bashan. He gave strength to them as they battled Amalek with Moses’ hands held high. He never left them, even when they forsook Him.

He waited for them to seek His face, hear His Word, and share His Word.

If you are used of God to share what He has said and done, you will find new strength, new hope, and new enthusiasm!

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was present at the Vienna Music Hall where his oratorio The Creation was being performed. Weakened by age, the great composer was confined to a wheelchair. As the majestic work moved along, the audience was caught up with tremendous emotion. When the passage “And there was light!” was reached, the chorus and orchestra burst forth in such power that the crowd could no longer restrain its enthusiasm. The vast assembly rose in spontaneous applause. Haydn struggled to stand and motioned for silence. With his hand pointed toward heaven, he said, “No, no, not from me, but from thence comes all!” Having given the glory and praise to the Creator, he fell back into his chair exhausted. (sermon central illustrations).

Oh that some would find His truth so compelling, and His promises to important, they would collapse in exhaustion from expending energy accurately reflecting God’s Word!

To speak for God, we need to first understand what He has said to us, and then share it with enthusiasm and compassion – regardless of whether people like what they hear.