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reading numbers 20 to 31

Striking the rock. (Numbers 20.) Two strikes and Moses was out! What happened here? Moses, the humble servant of Yahweh, was disqualified from entering the promised land. Why is that? There are two important things to note:

1) God specifically told Moses how he was to provide water for the people. Moses did not do what God commanded and engaged in some dramatic grandstanding: “‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice…” (20:10-11)  It would not be “we” who would bring the water forth from the rock.  Moses did not uphold the Lord as holy in the sight of Israel.  He did not honor the direct commandment of the Lord.

And 2) the Bible tells us that there was a symbolic purpose for the rock which brought forth water. The Apostle Paul noted, “…the rock was Christ…” (1 Cor. 10:4)  In Exodus 17:6, on the first occasion, the rock was “struck once” and water came out. In the second occasion the rock was to be “spoken to” for life-giving water. The rock was to represent the true Rock of living water, Jesus Christ, who would be struck once for sins (judged upon the Cross), and that death for sins would be “once for all” (see Hebrews 9-10). Christ would never again suffer judgment, that is, never be struck for sins again. So Moses in his carelessness and folly not only did not obey God, but he also marred a beautiful symbol to represent the Savior to come. Jesus died once for sins for all time.

Final note: Moses did finally see the promised land (Matt. 17:3-4) and of course, he will be in the eternal company of God’s people.  He was a true believer, but even believers can suffer the consequences for sin.

The curious case of Balaam. (Num. 22-24) There’s a surprising amount of space given to Balaam and his prophecies. But was he a real prophet or not?  Apparently, he was a Midianite by background, and he practiced divination by profession. He was called upon by the leaders of Moab and Midian to curse the advancing Israelites.

He made a great show of not being able to curse Israel, though he was certainly interested in the payment involved. Driven by money, he made a show of supporting Israel, but told the leaders of Moab how to defeat Israel through seduction and compromise rather than battle (Num. 25).  “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.” (Num. 31:16)  He never in any way aligned himself with Israel, as did Rahab the Canaanite later (Josh. 6).

Balaam was killed by the Israelite army in the victory over Midian (Num 31:6; Josh. 13:22). The assessments of Balaam given later in Scripture can be found in 2 Peter 2:15-16 (“the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing”) and Revelation 2:14 (“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.”)

He’s a curious Bible character because his message, and seemingly his posture and demeanor, appeared duly “prophetic”. At least on that occasion he was enabled to truthfully state God’s words. For example, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19)

He is like some other “mixed” characters in the Bible: King Saul (1 Sam. 9ff), Judas Iscariot (Matt. 26ff), and Simon Magus (Acts 8:9ff), who each in some sense appeared to be a legitimate follower of God.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives this assessment: “This may furnish us a clue to his character. It, indeed, remains ‘instructively composite.’ A soothsayer who might have become a prophet of the Lord; a man who loved the wages of unrighteousness, and yet a man who in one supreme moment of his life surrendered himself to God’s holy Spirit; a person cumbered with superstition, covetousness and even wickedness, and yet capable of performing the highest service in the kingdom of God: such is the character of Balaam, the remarkable Old Testament type and, in a sense, the prototype of Judas Iscariot.” (“Balaam”, ISBE Bible Dictionary)

And isn’t this a warning to us all? You can’t dabble on the margins of obedience to God. Such a half-baked, mixed kind of faith ends in disaster.


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