One of the mistakes we often make as Christians, especially young Christians, is to think that if we are on the right path with God, we won’t have any opposition and that everything is going to be smooth sailing. Not only is that not the case, it’s almost always the opposite. The more we’re following after Jesus Christ, the more opposition we will have, because the world and the devil are opposed to Him. And to the extent that we are on His side, the world and the devil will be opposed to us, too. We ought to expect that, because when you look at the Bible, there was never anybody who was more on the right path than Jesus Christ. Yet the author of Hebrews writes, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:3).
The Israelites haven’t been perfect, neither was their leader, as we have seen. But they are on the right track, moving in the right direction. They are trying to follow the leading of the Lord, and the whole book of Numbers has been filled with various stories of opposition. Up to this point the opposition has all been internal. Now it becomes external.
The first part is the story of Balaam, who was a pagan prophet hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the people (Numbers 22). Balak’s thinking has an element of humor. The idea of a pagan king hiring a pagan prophet to stand against the people that God has blessed is simply ludicrous. God had called them out of Egypt with mighty miracles; He had led them, two million people, through the desert; He kept them alive in the wilderness for nearly forty years, giving them food and water and defeating their enemies; and He had brought them to the very border of the promised land. And here is this petty king hiring this petty prophet to try and resist what God is doing.
This is humorous, although it doesn’t seem that way when you are going through the battle. We can see this humor only when we realize that Satan and the world opposing us are just as ludicrous when the Almighty God of the Jews is on our side. We are going to persevere to the end because God perseveres with us. It’s ludicrous to think that anyone could stand against the Church of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t mean that the world and Satan don’t succeed at times; God’s people do fall into sin, as we will see here.
Now here is the thinking that was going on in the mind of Balak. He had been defeated earlier by the Amorites, who had taken away his cities. Now the Israelites had come out of the desert and defeated the Amorites. He put two and two together and concluded that if he wasn’t strong enough to stand against the Amorites, and if the Amorites weren’t strong enough to stand against this horde that’s come out of the desert, then obviously he’s not strong enough to stand against them either. Furthermore, Balak had gotten reports that two of his northern neighbors, Sihon and Og, had also been defeated by the Israelites.
Balak didn’t know that God had forbidden the Jews to attack Moab. (We don’t know this either until Deuteronomy 2:9). Balak thought that two million people are simply going to overwhelm his kingdom, and the only thing he could think to do in circumstances like that was to appeal for supernatural aid. He remembered that there was a prophet named Balaam, who lived near the Euphrates River—quite a distance away—who, if the reports were right, was really successful in his blessings and curses. When Balaam blessed somebody, they seemed to be blessed, and if he cursed them they seemed to be cursed. Balak thought this was who he needed, so he sent for him:
“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country. For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed” (Num. 22:5-6).
From this, we ought to think back to some of the things that God said to Abraham when He had first called him: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3). The language used by Balak is similar, as this pagan king approaches Balaam to curse the Israelites.