Who is Balaam?
Some may know him as “The guy the donkey talked to in the Bible!
However, his story is in Numbers and not many individuals or Bible Study groups spend a ton of time in Numbers. Balaam makes the list of our “Small Matters” lineup because he wasn’t even an Israelite prophet, yet God used him and in so doing, he learned an important lesson – even if the lesson came via some amazing communication from a donkey!
Here is the situation:
In Numbers 21, the Israelites were expanding their territories and with God’s blessing, conquering many powerful foes. King Balak of the Moabites, as he saw this unfold, was probably expecting his Kingdom to be next. So, fearing the worst, King Balak sought help from a certain someone named Balaam who was a proven expert in accessing the supernatural, and was willing to pay Balaam big money for his expertise.
A look at Balaam and his abilities:
Let’s pick up the story:
Balak son of Zippor, the Moabite king, had seen everything the Israelites did to the Amorites. 3 And when the people of Moab saw how many Israelites there were, they were terrified. 4 The king of Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This mob will devour everything in sight, like an ox devours grass in the field!” So Balak, king of Moab, 5 sent messengers to call Balaam son of Beor, who was living in his native land of Pethor[a] near the Euphrates River.[b]His message said: “Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. 6 Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.”
7 Balak’s messengers, who were elders of Moab and Midian, set out with money to pay Balaam to place a curse upon Israel.[c] They went to Balaam and delivered Balak’s message to him. 8 “Stay here overnight,” Balaam said. “In the morning I will tell you whatever the Lord directs me to say.” So, the officials from Moab stayed there with Balaam.
9 That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men visiting you?” 0 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent me this message: 11 ‘Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come and curse these people for me. Then perhaps I will be able to stand up to them and drive them from the land.’” 12 But God told Balaam, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!”
13 The next morning Balaam got up and told Balak’s officials, “Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.” 14 So the Moabite officials returned to King Balak and reported, “Balaam refused to come with us.” 15 Then Balak tried again. This time he sent a larger number of even more distinguished officials than those he had sent the first time. 16 They went to Balaam and delivered this message to him: “This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Please don’t let anything stop you from coming to help me. 17 I will pay you very well and do whatever you tell me. Just come and curse these people for me!”
18 But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God. 19 But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” 20 That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”
21 So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along, 23 Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So, Balaam beat the donkey again.26 Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. 27 This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff.
28 Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam. 29 “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!” 30 “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” Balaam admitted. 31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him. 32 “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. 33 Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” 34 Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.” 35 But the angel of the Lord told Balaam, “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.” So, Balaam went on with Balak’s officials.36 When King Balak heard that Balaam was on the way, he went out to meet him at a Moabite town on the Arnon River at the farthest border of his land.
37 “Didn’t I send you an urgent invitation? Why didn’t you come right away?” Balak asked Balaam. “Didn’t you believe me when I said I would reward you richly?” 38 Balaam replied, “Look, now I have come, but I have no power to say whatever I want. I will speak only the message that God puts in my mouth.”
Before we go any further, let’s look at this from God’s perspective.
Why would God speak through a pagan sorcerer like Balaam? It is important to realize that God can use whatever means He chooses, including a pagan sorcerer. God wanted to get a message to the Moabites & King Balak. Balak had already employed the services of Balaam, so Balaam was available for God’s use (much like God using wicked Pharaoh to accomplish his will in Egypt).
God, came to Balaam at night in verses 9-12. God asked Balaam what he was doing and who he was doing it with? Balaam answered with the situation described to him by King Balak and what the King wanted from Balaam.
God told him not to go with the messengers from Balak sent to bring Balaam back, i.e., to leave the Israelites alone – don’t curse them, because they’d been blessed by God Himself.
So, what happens?
But Balaam had a fateful flaw – he made one very significant error – he said “but!” When it comes to obedience to God, you never, ever, ever say “but”! Let’s look at verses 19 & 20 again: “But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”
Now, one might say, did the Lord change His mind? God saw that Balaam was waffling – the lure of the money was great, so yes, God did come to Balaam that night, and He did allow him to go, but - with one very important caveat – “don’t say anything don’t tell you to say.”
Balaam had originally intended not to go against the will of God. However, the next morning, God saw through Balaam’s attitude, that he was going for the money and not to just give the Moabites a message from God. So, God became angry and sent an angel to stand in the road Balaam was traveling on his donkey.
5 questions that would be beneficial for us to consider our answers to today:
Arabian horses go through rigorous training in the deserts of the Middle East. The trainers require absolute obedience from the horses and test them to see if they are completely trained. The final test is almost beyond the endurance of any living thing. The trainers force the horses to do without water for many days. Then he turns them loose and of course they start running toward the water, but just as they get to the edge, ready to plunge in and drink, the trainer blows his whistle. The horses who have been completely trained and who have learned perfect obedience, stop. They turn around and come pacing back to the trainer. They stand there quivering, wanting water, but they wait in perfect obedience. When the trainer is sure that he has their obedience, he gives them a signal to go back to drink.
Now this may be severe but when you are on the trackless desert of Arabia and your life is entrusted to a horse, you had better have a trained obedient horse. We must accept God's training and obey Him.
Read Philemon 1 (The Message)
I, Paul, am a prisoner for the sake of Christ, here with my brother Timothy. I write this letter to you, Philemon, my good friend and companion in this work—also to our sister Apphia, to Archippus, a real trooper, and to the church that meets in your house. God’s best to you! Christ’s blessings on you! 4-7 Every time your name comes up in my prayers, I say, “Oh, thank you, God!” I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other believers. And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it. Friend, you have no idea how good your love makes me feel, doubly so when I see your hospitality to fellow believers. 8-9 In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request.
10-14 While here in jail, I’ve fathered a child, so to speak. And here he is, hand-carrying this letter—Onesimus! He was useless to you before; now he’s useful to both of us. I’m sending him back to you, but it feels like I’m cutting off my right arm in doing so. I wanted in the worst way to keep him here as your stand-in to help out while I’m in jail for the Message. But I didn’t want to do anything behind your back, make you do a good deed that you hadn’t willingly agreed to.
15-16 Maybe it’s all for the best that you lost him for a while. You’re getting him back now for good—and no mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother! That’s what he was to me—he’ll be even more than that to you. 17-20 So if you still consider me a comrade-in-arms, welcome him back as you would me. If he damaged anything or owes you anything, chalk it up to my account. This is my personal signature—Paul—and I stand behind it. (I don’t need to remind you, do I, that you owe your very life to me?) Do me this big favor, friend. You’ll be doing it for Christ, but it will also do my heart good. 21-22 I know you well enough to know you will. You’ll probably go far beyond what I’ve written. And by the way, get a room ready for me. Because of your prayers, I fully expect to be your guest again.
23-25 Epaphras, my cellmate in the cause of Christ, says hello. Also my coworkers Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. All the best to you from the Master, Jesus Christ!
Who are the major players?
Paul – an apostle of Jesus Christ and the writer of this letter. Paul, while not the founder of the Colossian Church, had visited there and obviously had a great deal of influence and leadership.
Philemon – a member of the Colossian church, more than likely wealthy, and host of a “house church.” Known to be a kind, loving, and generous person.
Onesimus – a useless slave of Philemon, who had not only run away, but had more than likely stolen property from his master, Philemon.
Onesimus was a runaway slave and more than likely a thief. The punishment for a runaway slave was varied and often severe. If he were to return (or be returned) his transgressions could lead Philemon, his owner, to inflict beating, imprisonment, branding and even death upon him. For Philemon to be reunited with his slave and accept him as a brother in Christ and treat him as such (without any punishment), would truly be possible only through incredible grace and mercy shown.
Paul, while imprisoned in Rome (house arrest – able to receive friends and visitors), had met Onesimus and more than likely led him to the Lord. As he discipled Onesimus, Paul obviously was struck by Onesimus’ heart for God and for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For a “slave” and a new believer to trust Paul enough to return to his former master showed the incredible faith of Onesimus had in not just Paul, but in his Savior. Obviously, Paul knew that Onesimus, now a Christ-follower, must return to his master to make things right. So, confident that Philemon would receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ rather than a slave, he gave Onesimus a letter to give to Philemon. However, even though Paul was hopeful all would go well with this “re-uniting,” he used his influence to create the best scenario possible for this meeting:
What Philemon would have to do to receive Onesimus as a brother, rather than a slave:
We have no Biblical record of what happened when Onesimus returned.
It is interesting however, that Paul did hint that he would visit when he was able (vs. 22 - And by the way, get a room ready for me. Because of your prayers, I fully expect to be your guest again). Perhaps Paul thought this might give Philemon the final “push” to accept Onesimus as a brother. How would it look if Paul showed up and Philemon, a leader the church, had not taken heed of Paul’s encouragement?
It is possible however, that Onesimus became a bishop of the province of Asia.
Church history tells us that 50 or 60 years later, in a letter written to the Christians at Ephesus by the Christian martyr Ignatius, the name Onesimus appears again – this time as a highly-regarded bishop in the province of Asia.
Where is your standing with Christ?
Do you realize that no matter your past - you are offered eternal life – equality with all mankind who also believe in the Name of Jesus Christ?
So… Onesimus – a former slave leading the church of Asia?
You – a child of God – brother of Jesus – home for the Holy Spirit of God - literally a partaker of the Divine?
The letter to Philemon illustrates the power of forgiveness - this is the beauty of Christ – the beauty of the Bible – the glory of the Church – the story of grace and mercy.
What will you do with this story?
God is calling you today, urging you today and making possible for you today to receive and give Christ’s unlimited, unrequited love and forgiveness for yourself and in turn granting it to all.
& Puah (Phua)
Questions to begin today! Do you fear God more than you fear man? If Christ is your Savior – If you truly understand how important it is to comprehend the Nature of God, you will fear God!
God holds solely within His hand the destiny of every person that has lived or will live. We all have been given a choice. Eternity with God or eternity apart from God? In the time our characters (we will talk about today), lived - God loved His people, but they still had to obey His laws or face judgement from the Almighty.
Who were these women? Simply put – they were two Hebrew midwives to whom the nation of Israel owes big debt of gratitude. And their example serves as a powerful testimony to all of us today.
Let’s set the stage! Joseph – the one with the coat of many colors - Yep – that’s the one – had single-handedly with God’s power and through an incredible series of events, mastered the most amazing peaceful relationship with the powerful Egyptians.
As years went by, however, this symbiotic relationship came to a screeching halt in the most cruel way. When Joseph and his brothers all died, ending that generation – and the King of Egypt who was in power at the time knew nothing of Joseph and the wonderful things he had done for the people of Egypt in the past. He only saw the Israelites flourishing and was convinced something had to be done about that. We pick up the story in:
Exodus 1:8-22 - 8 Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. 10 We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.[b]” 11 So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. 12 But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. 13 So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. 14 They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.
15 Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, gave this order to the Hebrew midwives, Shipporah (Shiphrah) and Puah: 16 “When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver.[c] If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live, too. 18 So the king of Egypt called for the midwives. “Why have you done this?” he demanded. “Why have you allowed the boys to live?” 19 “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women,” the midwives replied. “They are more vigorous and have their babies so quickly that we cannot get there in time.” 20 So God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.”
In order to squash the possibility of rebellion from the slaves who were growing more and more numerous and powerful, the horrible mandate was given to ruthlessly kill every baby boy as they were being born! When the King discovered a bunch of baby boys running around, he challenged the midwives as to their actions – the Hebrew midwives gave an answer – because they feared God more than King Pharaoh.
How significant was it that the Hebrew Midwives feared God more than the King? Let’s compare King Pharaoh to the Midwives to further comprehend how significant their actions really were as they acted to preserve their people. These differences are indeed dramatic!
King P – Great political and military power. Shipporah & Puah – None
King P – Official Prestige. Shipporah & Puah – Very Little
King P – He was a Man. Shipporah & Puah – Women
King P – He was King of the ruling people.. Shipporah & Puah – Slaves
King P – He was rich with the power to make others rich. Shipporah & Puah – Poor
They should have been intimidated – they were not. Why? They simply feared God more than man. Besides, as midwives, Pharaoh gave the order to the wrong people! They were all about preserving life, not ending it. They gave their lives to make sure the babies were born! They were not going against their standards.
Let’s Unpack the subject of the “Fear of God” at little more. What actually is the fear of God?
Let’s consult a theological writer, Charles Buck, who authored of the “Theological Dictionary” sometime before 1815. This book has been replicated in 2013 page by page so it’s system of divinity could be enjoyed by us today. Rev. Buck says this: Fear of God is that holy disposition or gracious habit formed in the soul by the Holy Spirit, whereby we are inclined to obey all God’s commands and evidences itself by:
1. A dread of His displeasure.
2. Desire of His favour.
3. Regard for His excellence.
4. Submission to do His will.
5. Gratitude for His benefits.
6. Conscientious obedience to His commands.
Does your fear of God include these things? If not, maybe you don’t truly fear God. Let’s look at three verses. Two in Proverbs & one in Psalms.
Proverbs 1:7 - Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Proverbs 9:10 - Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
Psalm 25:14 - The Lord is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant.
When the Fear of God is part of our DNA, we simply take Him and His Word more seriously than anything else in the world. When we do, we are able to hear from Him more effectively.
It was said of Lord Lawrence – an incredible force for good in India in the 1800’s – “He feared man so little, because he feared God so much!”
Dr. Hugh McMillan, Presbyterian writer, says it this way:
“If we fear God, we need know other fear. That Divine fear, like the space which the American settler burns around him as a defense against the prairie fire, clears a circle, within which we are absolutely safe…. The Citadel of a man’s heart that is set upon God, is impregnable! The Hebrew midwives, despise the patronage of a crown and set a king’s edict at defiance. There is no bravery equal to the bravery that is moral. Pharaoh may frown but his frowns will be unseen and un-regarded amid the light of an approving heaven!
Let’s Contemplate Lessons Learned from S & P by answering the following:
1. Do you fear God more than anything else?
2. Does obedience to God at any cost mean more to you than anything else?
3. Are you afraid of the consequences of doing the right thing?
4. Are you easily intimidated by people that would lead you away from God?
One time many years ago, the king of Hungary found himself depressed and unhappy. He sent for his brother, a good-natured but rather indifferent prince. The king said to him, "I am a great sinner; I fear to meet God." But the prince only laughed at him. This didn't help the king's disposition any. Though he was a believer, the king had gotten a glimpse of his guilt for the way he'd been living lately, and he seriously wanted help. In those days it was customary if the executioner sounded a trumpet before a man's door at any hour, it was a signal that he was to be led to his execution. The king sent the executioner in the dead of night to sound the fateful blast at his brother's door. The prince realized with horror what was happening. Quickly dressing, he stepped to the door and was seized by the executioner, and dragged pale and trembling into the king's presence. In an agony of terror he fell on his knees before his brother and begged to know how he had offended him. "My brother," answered the king, "if the sight of a human executioner is so terrible to you, shall not I, having grievously offended God, fear to be brought before the judgment seat of Christ?"
Shipporah (Shiphrah) and Puah could have easily been intimidated – they were not.
"Ittai the Gittite"
Listen to this sermon here
Takeaway: Are you a loyal person? Are you a loyal person to your friends? Will you stand by them no matter what? Are you a loyal follower of Jesus Christ? Will you stand by Jesus no matter the situation?
Bottom Line: You are a friend of God – Are you faithful and loyal like Ittai?
2 Samuel – 15:13-22 - 13 A messenger soon arrived in Jerusalem to tell David, “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!” 14 “Then we must flee at once, or it will be too late!” David urged his men. “Hurry! If we get out of the city before Absalom arrives, both we and the city of Jerusalem will be spared from disaster.” 15 “We are with you,” his advisers replied. “Do what you think is best.” 16 So the king and all his household set out at once. He left no one behind except ten of his concubines to look after the palace. 17 The king and all his people set out on foot, pausing at the last house 18 to let all the king’s men move past to lead the way. There were 600 men from Gath who had come with David, along with the king’s bodyguard. 19 Then the king turned and said to Ittai, a leader of the men from Gath, “Why are you coming with us? Go on back to King Absalom, for you are a guest in Israel, a foreigner in exile. 20 You arrived only recently, and should I force you today to wander with us? I don’t even know where we will go. Go on back and take your kinsmen with you, and may the Lord show you his unfailing love and faithfulness.”
21 But Ittai said to the king, “I vow by the Lord and by your own life that I will go wherever my lord the king goes, no matter what happens—whether it means life or death.”
22 David replied, “All right, come with us.” So Ittai and all his men and their families went along.
Just who was Ittai? Why did he come to Jerusalem?
Ittai was from Gath – people from Gath were called “Gittites.” The Giant Goliath, was from Gath! The very giant David had killed as a young boy. Even though Ittai was a fellow Gittite to the legend Goliath, he was barred from his country and on the road with a force of 600 fellow mercenaries under his command. They came to Jerusalem with their families, basically on the run from their own country.
Why come to Jerusalem? It was not uncommon for David to have foreign, but loyal “non-Israelites in his armed forces. It is highly likely that Ittai and many of his fellow soldiers were friends of David that he had acquired when he was hiding from Saul many years before. The incredible gift of leadership and ethics given to David by God, obviously had a profound affect on Ittai and his countrymen. For that reason, they were ready to stand beside King David in spite of the pending rebellion led by David’s own son, Absalom.
Faithful Ittai wins the distinction for Most Loyal New Friend, encourages David, and secures the kickoff spot in our list of amazing, yet under-recognized biblical characters.
Ittai was faced with a situation that could land himself, his family and 600 fighting men and their families in a situation that could result in submission, slavery and even death.
In verse 21 we hear these incredible words spoken by Ittai in spite of that situation: “I vow by the Lord and by your own life that I will go wherever my lord the king goes, no matter what happens—whether it means life or death.”
Ittai’s loyalty to King David is quite remarkable for many reasons. Ittai was used to frontal attacks that he could see. But this time, Ittai was standing with David against a most formidable foe – David’s own son – which complicated matters considerably. Ittai more than likely didn’t know the extent of the complications this “son in rebellion” created for his friend David.
Just how formidable of a foe was Absalom? Let’s take a look!
In 2 Samuel 15 the beginning of the chapter, shows Absalom’s double-crossing intent of his own father, King David.
He was incredibly handsome and charismatic – a Bible-Times Rockstar! see 2 Samuel 14:25-27 - Now Absalom was praised as the most handsome man in all Israel. He was flawless from head to foot. 26 He cut his hair only once a year, and then only because it was so heavy. When he weighed it out, it came to five pounds![a] 27 He had three sons and one daughter. His daughter’s name was Tamar, and she was very beautiful.
Absalom was a schmoozer! See 2 Samuel 15:5-6 - When people tried to bow before him, Absalom wouldn’t let them. Instead, he took them by the hand and kissed them. 6 Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel.
Absalom was David’s son, but similarities stopped there – David was a King for his people, Absalom wanted to be a King for himself. He wanted to take Jerusalem because it was the capital city, full of government actions and businesses and culture.
Why didn’t David just “squash” Absalom and his rebellion as Absalom entered Jerusalem? Three probable explanations:
1. The rebellion was wide-spread and would not be suppressed easily.
2. He loved his son and didn’t want harm to come to him even though his son was bent on unseating him as king.
3. He loved his city, it’s architecture and its culture and didn’t want it destroyed during a historical battle.
Ittai was a true “loyal” friend. His loyalty extended as far as humanly possible.
What do we learn from Ittai?
If your commander is God – then serve Him without reservation or condition.
If your commander is God – then be faithful and loyal.
If your commander is God – then follow Him until you die.