Sovereign: Numbers 22-24
Background: Last week we noticed a transition that has begun to take place in God’s people in the wilderness as the old generation that has rejected God’s promises passes away and the new generation begins to step into trusting in God’s promises. The people have now wondered in the wilderness for around 40 years after they rejected God’s gift of the Promised land and now God is preparing the new generation to enter in and receive the land they were originally promised to Abraham almost 500 years before. As they travel towards that land they have already defeated two kings that have come out against them when they were attempting peaceful travel. As can be seen in our passage today many of the other kings & peoples from in and around the land are seeking to preemptively strike at this people before God can do what he has promised for them. Put quite plainly people in the passage are trying to control or manipulate their current situation.
I wonder if any of these photos resonate with you?
-Maybe I wouldn’t need to be such a control freak if you would just do as I say when I say it.
-You think I’m OCD? Well I think you’re a slacker who can’t do things right.
-I adore spontaneity, providing it is carefully planned.
-I’m not really a control freak. But…Can I show you the right way to do that?
-Stress is directly related to how out-of-control we feel.
-Control Freak: a person whose behavior indicates a powerful need to control people or circumstances in everyday life.
Maybe you are not a “control freak” but all of us wrestle with the affects of other people and circumstances in our lives that are out of control. We on a near daily basis attempt to control or manipulate others and situations to accomplish what we believe is best.
Main Point: God sovereignly rules every area of life!
Sovereign Defined: Sometimes we throw around theological words like sovereign and don’t really have a great grasp on what it means, so I want to make sure from the outset today that we are all working with the same understanding. “Sovereign” as a noun is defined, “a supreme ruler, especially a monarch.” “Sovereign” as an adjective is “possessing supreme or ultimate power”. Both are true of God he is the Sovereign King, but in our passage today we are mainly speaking about his sovereign activity or how his actions display his supreme power.
Outline: So our outline for today sees God’s sovereignty in three areas: 1st God is sovereign over blessing & cursing, 2nd God is sovereign over seeing, & 3rd God is sovereign over speaking.
1. God is Sovereign over Blessing & Cursing (22:1-21)
Balak seeks supernatural battle advantage/Curse (1-6) The events of chapters 22-24 happen outside of the people of God and give a vignette glimpse into what was going on in the other peoples of the land. We are not sure how the information was ultimately communicated to Moses for inclusion in Scripture, whether it was by divine proclamation or he found out later when fighting against these people. (see Num 31) What we know is that Balak and the people of Moab are scared. God has brought this massive group of people out of Egypt and they have been wandering in the wilderness or camped out in the wilderness for 40 years but now they are moving near to the Promised land which threatens Balak’s kingdom and so he sends out for the help of a “seer” named Balaam. Clearly Balak wants some kind of supernatural advantage in the impending crisis he and his people are facing, so he has heart this prophet for hire can curse people and it comes to pass.
God answers absolutely not to Balaam (7-14) So Balak’s ambassadors come to Balaam and present the request, to which Balaam says he will need a night to get an answer. Shockingly we are told that Yahweh speaks to Balaam, and answers his request to go and curse Israel with an unequivocal “Absolutely Not!” Specifically God says, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” Balaam communicates he may not go to the envoy.
Balaam requests a 2nd time (15-21) Balak is not willing to give up and assumes Balaam’s denial is just a negotiating ploy for more money and so Balak sends more money and a more noble envoy to ask again. Balaam’s response is the same, give me a night to ask the LORD if anything has changed. Clearly Balaam has an interest in the amount of money and may even be negotiating with that tactic. Yahweh responds to his second request with a, “Fine go with them like you clearly want to.” “but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam saddles his donkey to leave with them in the morning.
Balaam is a confusing character in the text because God uses him as a mouthpiece several times in the next few chapters and Balaam even sounds like he is pursuing God’s will at times. Nevertheless the overwhelming characterization of Balaam in Scripture both Old & New Testaments is of an evil man. This fuller picture helps us to understand what is happening in these verses. Just a quick snippet to paint the picture for you:
(Nu 31:8, 16) "They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword… 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."
(2 Pe 2:15) "Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing,"
(Re 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."
How often do you and I try to manipulate our situations? We can attempt to manipulate our situation by trusting in superstitions or false ideologies from a rabbit’s foot, to an athlete eating at the same restaurant every day after hitting a homerun. Or in more serious ways like going to physic or tarot card reader and actually investing some kind of serious belief in them. Of course for many of us the way we seek to manipulate our situations is by playing tit for tat with God. God if I live this way, read my Bible, go to church, or some other moral behavior we expect God to treat us a certain way.
We are reminded quite bluntly in these chapters that God has supreme power (sovereign) over good and evil in our lives, over blessing and cursing!
2. God is Sovereign over Seeing (22:22-35)
God’s anger kindled (22) At first glance when we see v.22 it can confuse us to see God’s anger kindled since he just told Balaam to go with them. However we need to remember that God permitted Balaam to go but that it was clearly a concession because God had already commanded him not to go the first time. The Angel of the LORD was a to impress upon Balaam the seriousness of saying only what God declared. Again be reminded of (Dt 23:4–5) which explains more fully "because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. "But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you."
Donkey sees what Seer cannot (23-27) It is a rather humorous story that has several ironic twists. For example the hired “seer” cannot see the angel that is right in front of him while his lowly donkey could. The account is simply the donkey sees the angel with drawn sword and first turns aside into a field, second pushes up against a rock, and finally lays down because there is no path around the destroying angel. Balaam in anger struck the beast all three times.
God controls who speaks (28-30) It is clearly not normal for animals to speak in an intelligible way to humans, but this is another irony of the story. Balak is calling Balaam this “special prophet seer” to speak for him, but God can use any old donkey to speak he does not need Balaam. God is communicating to us and to Balaam that he is no better than the donkey he is striking. God controls who speaks!
God controls who sees (31-35) “then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand.” You see the Seer cannot see until God opens his eyes to see. Balaam’s offer to return, betrays his genuine loyalties. “If it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” Remember God’s first word to him, “you shall not go with them. You shall not curse them.” If Balaam actually wanted to obey God and do his will, he would not have went with them at all. But instead he is hoping somehow to walk the fence of not making God angry and still making a big financial profit. God alone controls who sees! Has God given you eyes to see? The scriptures speak of spiritual blindness as those who have not yet received the saving gospel message of Jesus. Paul after given eyes to see Jesus was called to proclaim the message to those who could not see, so the scales could fall from their eyes like they did from his. So if you are here today and still blind to the saving power of Jesus and how much better he is then pray to God to open your eyes and see Jesus for the first of many times as your beautiful Savior and friend.
God is sovereign over blessing & cursing, he is sovereign over seeing and
3. God is Sovereign over Speaking (22:36-24:25)
People may attempt to manipulate their circumstances & God (22:36-23:6)
But God controls the results (read 23:7-12)
People may attempt to manipulate their circumstances & God again (23:13-17)
But God still controls the results (read 23:18-26)
People may attempt to manipulate their circumstances & God again (23:27-24:2)
But God still controls the results (24:3-9) (Nu 24:8–9) "God brings him out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows. "He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up? Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.”"
People may get angry at their circumstances & God (read 24:10-13) It is amazing how many times I get angry at God for doing exactly what he said he would do. I make selfish, prideful, sin-filled decisions and I experience frustration and sometimes punishment for my poor choices.
But God still controls the results & the future (24:14-25) This series of oracles begins to point to the future as Balaam communicates, “what this people will do to your people in the latter days.” We can see a dual fulfillment for example of (Nu 24:17, 20) "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth…..Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said, “Amalek was the first among the nations, but its end is utter destruction.” So King David fulfills these things most immediately, but that is still decades and decades in the future from this point. But ultimately these prophecies point to the one that comes after David fulfilling all the things that David could not Jesus Messiah! We are reminded by these oracles spoken by a pagan seer that God is in control of the world no matter what our hearts or eyes communicate to us. When we are angry because things are not going the way we planned, God is in control. When we are anxious because we don’t know what is going to happen, God is in control. When we try to control our situations and fail, God is in control. When tragedy strikes, God is in control. When the suffering in our life has no potential end date, God is in control!
Points of application.
Are you seeking to manipulate God’s blessing or cursing in your life? Or are you trusting his purposes to ultimately bring about blessing in your life, even if in the short term suffering is your lot.
We can trust God to bring about ultimate good in our life because he has already brought about the most heinous evil in this world on the person of Jesus, God’s very own Son, on our behalf. You see the message of the gospel is that Jesus was cursed, so that we might be blessed. Jesus tasted the tree of death so that we might eat from the tree of life. He the perfect Son was crushed for what he did not deserve so that we the imperfect sons and daughters might not be crushed for what we do deserve!
So we proclaim in the words we will sing at the conclusion of this service:
From life's first cry to final breath,