Numbers 31-32: Balaam and the People of God

Back in Numbers 22, we were introduced to a prophet named Balaam, best known for the conversation he had with his donkey. He was commissioned by the enemies of Israel to curse them but, upon hearing from the Lord, blesses them and prophesies of the eventual conquest over their enemies (the very same ones who hired him).

That is where his story ends, and we assume that he goes off to continue serving the Lord. Numbers 31 tells a different story. In Numbers 25 the men of Israel are led astray by the women of Midian and begin to follow after Baal (I wrote about Phinehas’s response to this here), and God sends a plague to punish them. In Numbers 31 we read the following:

Behold, these (women of Midian), 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.
(Numbers 31:16 ESV)

We also discover that Balaam was not spared when God took revenge on Midian.

What do we make of all this?

That many who appear to know God truly do not. There are those who appear godly, they may even prophesy, but they are not of God. Jesus spoke of this when He said:

[21] “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
(Matthew 7:21-22; Matthew 7:23 ESV)

Now, if we go trying to think of people who may fit this category of “prophesying yet unknown to God”, we miss the point. We must examine ourselves, work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Are we putting on heirs of religion but leading people astray? Or, are we truly waling humbly before God, not satisfied to offer burnt offerings, but giving HIm our broken and contrite hearts?

The story of Balaam should make us seriously consider the measure of our faith and run to the cross, the only source of assurance we have that we are truly known by the great God of all creation. Our hope of salvation is in Christ alone. Let us draw near to God though Him.

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