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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated | Main | Book Review: The Sinfulness of Sin, by Ralph Venning »

    Images of the Savior (41 -- Balaam's Prophecy)

    I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but it is not near; a Star shall come from Jacob and a Scepter shall arise from Israel, and shall crush the corners of Moab and the head of all the sons of Sheth; and Edom shall be a possession and Seir, his enemies, shall be a possession, and Israel shall be doing valiantly. And he shall exercise dominion from Jacob and destroy the survivor of the city. – Numbers 24:17-19

    In all the Old Testament scriptures, there are very few prophecies of the coming Messiah that shine with a greater brilliance or more explicit certainty than the testimony of Balaam, the false prophet who sought to destroy Israel, but ended up blessing her and confirming her great victory through the light-bearing, scepter-wielding Christ. How all this came about, that he who sought to frustrate God's redemptive design was constrained to render an indisputable testimony to the final triumph of the Church through Christ, and how God caused Israel to prosper at every turn, and protected her with his might, we shall now observe from the account at hand.

    We must notice, first, how God has been giving Israel many blessings and victories after her rebellion and the punishment of fiery serpents which it brought, and after her subsequent pardon, wrought by the brazen serpent lifted up on a pole. For first, even as God had entirely delivered up Arad the King of the Canaanites into her hand, so that she destroyed him utterly (Numbers 21:1-3), so now he also gives up Sihon, king of the Amorites and Og, king of Bashan, so that she possesses their land, and the whole world stands in awe of her, and is very greatly frightened (Numbers 21:21-35). Now, this Sihon, in particular, was a very powerful and ferocious ruler, and a type of the devil, in that, from his throne there went out a flame and consumed all the nations of the world, bringing them all into captivity (Numbers 21:27-30); and so also, the devil had brought all the nations of the world into the fire of his destruction and the chains of his hard bondage, until Christ came to defeat him (Matthew 4:8-9); so that, for the rest of Israel's history, the defeat of Sihon and Og would be remembered as a monumental victory, and the pledge, as it were, of her eternal victory over every other foe that should rise up against her (cf. Deuteronomy 31:3-4; Psalm 135:10-12). And we must also mention, before we move on, that God was also continuing to sustain her in the wilderness, providing her with a well of water springing up to life, which stirred up in the people songs of true praise (Numbers 21:16-18), and which was a type and foreshadow of the Messiah, who would one day freely offer to make in all people a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:13-14; 7:37-38).

    Now, it stands to reason that this display of God's mighty power to preserve and bless a nation, and utterly to destroy all that stood before her, should cause the surrounding nations to quake in fear, and to oppose her by any means they should devise, and most especially, to try to defeat her by her own weapons, as it were, and to take the Name of the God who had blessed her, and attempt to use that very Name for her eternal downfall; and this is indeed what happened in the case of the Balak the son of Zippor, the ruler of Moab and Midian, and Balaam the son of Beor, the false prophet of Yahweh. Let us learn from this: the people of God will always be opposed by these two sources, the states and governments of the world, whom Satan has raised up in his own image, and the false prophets, through whom he counterfeits many lying wonders and blasphemous deceptions; and so, if he cannot terrorize and destroy the followers of Jesus, he will strive to lull them into heresies and teach them to apostasize and blaspheme. Thus it is, that in the Revelation of the Apostle John, Satan, that ferocious Dragon, calls up from the sea of the peoples of the world a Beast in his own image, which is the state, i.e., the world system which is opposed to Christ and hates his people; and then, he also raised up a False Prophet, who works together with the Beast, and deceives many (Revelation 13; cf. also Revelation 16:13; 19:20). Now, the Beast is as Balak, who hopes to serve Satan by waging cruel and bloody warfare against the Church, and the False Prophet is as Balaam, who pretends to be a servant of the Lord, but who is greedy for filthy lucre, and is in league with the Beast, and destroys by lies and deception. But even this triad of evil power is impotent before the Christ, as we learn from this history.

    Let us first examine in what ways Balaam was acting as a False Prophet, so that we may learn from his example to flee from imposters and hypocrites, and then see how Christ appears to thwart his wicked designs.

    First, we see that Balaam was a man who was very religious, and claimed to serve Yahweh, the one true God, and spoke very piously that he could do nothing unless God should speak to him. Let us beware that, even if a religious leader is very well-known, and claims always to be a Christian, and refuses to do anything unless God should command him, he is not necessarily a true believer, therefore. Satan is very subtle, and we must not be ignorant of his schemes (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:11).

    Second, we see that his underlying motivations compel him to seek worldly prestige and riches, even though he protested never so vigorously against doing anything but what God should command. Christian, do you see a Christian leader who is greedy of earthly accolades, and who has much fame and success in the world, and a swelled up bank account, and a life of luxury and fame? Then be very careful, for he may speak smooth, enticing words of his devotion to Christ, but do not his visceral, bestial passions compel him to seek the applause of the Beast, even while he is claiming to serve the Lord? What true prophet has there ever been who was not hated and persecuted and killed by the world? So that, “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:15-20).

    Third, we see that Balaam was willing to humble himself and repent when confronted with his sin, but his heart was not really changed. For when a brute beast was wiser than he, and knew to fear before the glorious Christ, when he charged blindly on ahead to his certain destruction, then he admitted his error, and said with his lips that he would turn back again. But his repentance was false, and was only a ruse to deceive men yet the more. Ah, believer, how many false prophets and deceivers, when caught in their sins, have shed great tears of repentance, and besought forgiveness, but only to worm their way back into a place of respect and authority, so that they might exult in their power and wealth? We are by no means to cast out any man who is truly repentant (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8), but we must also be wise as serpents, and not be deceived by false repentance either; and thus, we are admonished not to accept into the bishopric any man who is not well-proven and above reproach, nor yet a novice, lest, his repentance having turned out to be insincere, he should lead many astray (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Now, we may learn from the matter of the dumb ass speaking the wisdom of God, that even the foolish brutes of nature are wiser than the wisdom of men; for all the creatures under heaven, and the sun, moon, and stars hear and obey the voice of God, but only wicked men go astray (cf. Jeremiah 8:7); and if we would be wise, we will learn to submit to Christ as the dumbest beast on earth, and to see in the events of nature and the terrible cataclysms and catastrophes that she brings upon men whispers of coming judgment, so that we might fear, and bow before Christ, and obtain his mercy. For except we repent, we will all likewise perish (Luke 13:1-5).

    And fourth, we see that, when he was frustrated in his evil designs on every hand, and God had turned his schemes into blessings, Balaam then enticed the children of Israel into sin, and so brought down God's judgment upon them (cf. Revelation 2:14); and we must learn this, as well, that every false prophet will strive to bring us into condemnation by leading us into sin, whether it be through the pride of self-righteousness or the lasciviousness of self-gratification. Believer, let us beware of false prophets!

    But now, we must see how Christ is ever strong to fight our battles, and to turn the schemes of Balaam into victory. First, Christ comes and stands against false religion, and opposes it with his own omnipotent person: thus the Angel of the Lord, who is Jesus, stood before Balaam with his sword drawn, as if to say, “You will not destroy my people until you have vanquished me,” which of course will not happen for all eternity. Thus, when we doubt and fear that we may be led astray, we must assure our hearts by looking to Christ, with his sword drawn in our defense, and know that no evil schemes will prevail against us. For the lying wonders of the false christs would be sufficient to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect (Matthew 24:14); but since that is not at all possible, we may rest in our Savior's prevailing grace.

    Second, Christ uses the very schemes and ragings of the enemy to bring about salvation; for when Balaam and Balak had joined together their forces and conspired three times to curse Israel, yet every time God brought about a blessing, and assured her of victory and the complete destruction of her enemies. So too, when every enemy rages against us, and the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet all rise up to cast us down, yet God will work out everything for our good (Romans 8:28); and thus we may rejoice that in China and North Korea, where the Beast is raging, God is protecting and purifying his Church; and in North America and Europe, where the False Prophet is deceiving the masses, he is preserving and enlightening the elect. When the False Prophet spews forth his dark cloud of deception, then is he a brilliant Light (John 8:12), the Star of Jacob (Numbers 24:17), the Bright and Morning Star (Revelation 22:16), so that they might not be led astray. When the Beast rages in bloody persecution, then he is the Scepter of Judah, reigning from the Throne of David, casting down all his enemies beneath his feet, and trampling upon them in great fury (Numbers 24:17; cf. also Acts 2:32-26; Hebrews 10:12-13; Psalm 2:9). So that, instead of bringing destruction to Israel, by combining deception with physical persecution, Balak and Balaam instead turned her heart to the coming Christ, who should be the Star from Jacob, and the Scepter from Judah.

    We must also mention, third, that there is a type of Christ in the actions of Phinehas, who, when Balaam had enticed the people into sin, came in great wrath and destroyed the wicked from among the people, and turned away God's anger (Numbers 25). In the same way, Christ often uses bloody persecution and judgment to purify his Church, and will not let her be cast into sin entirely, but always preserves a remnant purified by his grace.

    Ah, believer, let us rest our hearts upon this great prophecy of the One who will wield dominion from Jacob, destroying every survivor of the world city, that great whore Babylon (Numbers 24:19; cf. Revelation 18), and preserving all his people forevermore! When they are confused, he is a bright and shining Star of light and guidance, when they are weak and oppressed, he is the mighty Scepter, beating down their foes and giving them victory. Jesus is the Angel of the Lord, who draws out his mighty sword against our enemies, and the ruling King, whom that deceiver Balaam was forced to acknowledge, even as every tongue, even those who once denied him, will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11), some to their eternal destruction, who hated him on earth, but some to their everlasting joy, who did not go in the way of Balaam (cf. 2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11). He whom Balaam acknowledged was not coming soon, and his time was not nigh (Numbers 24:17); and even so, the very breath of his promised coming destroyed the enemy like a whirlwind; how much more will his presence defeat all our foes, who have lived in the days of the prophecy's fulfillment, and who may look up even now to see the mighty Christ reigning from his throne, exalted above all his enemies?

    Posted by Nathan on January 23, 2009 10:58 AM

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