Numbers 25:1-3 “Battling Your Temptations” November 24, 2013
Maple Glen Church Pastor Louis Prontnicki
“While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’S anger burned against them.”
In the space of a chapter break, the people of Israel go from the heights of being blessed three times by a pagan prophet to the depths of sexual immorality and idol worship. One minute they are riding high with all of God’s blessings upon them, and the next minute they are stumbling headlong into some of the worst possible sin and rebellion against the Lord who saved them!
The people of Israel may not have been aware of the spiritual battle that had gone on in Num. 22-24, with the Lord shielding His people from the curses that Balak wanted Balaam to put on Israel. But meanwhile, the men were seduced by the women of Moab to indulge in sexual immorality, which led to idolatry.
We read later in Num. 31:15-16 “… the women….were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’S people.”
Think about it: What Balak could not get Balaam to do by cursing Israel, Balaam enabled Moab to do through cunning. What was not possible by sorcery was achieved by sexual temptation.
How could that happen? Didn’t the men of Israel know what they were doing?
I. When Are You Tempted?
In matter of hours, I can go from the mountaintops of spiritual victories and satisfying accomplishments for Christ’s Kingdom to the cesspools of sin, selfishness, and giving in to my fleshly appetites. One day I am moving along in the service of the Lord at 65 mph, and the next day I have crashed my soul in the ditch along the road.
How does that happen? Indeed, many of our greatest triumphs are often followed by our most grievous sins and/ or deepest depressions Why is that? Are we filled with pride? Are we empty, having given something our all? Is it to humble us and keep us dependent on His grace? Do we relax and let down our guard, coasting on our success?
Have you experienced this too? If we are honest, I think we would all say we have known those times of crashing and burning, right after some good times.
We often see this pattern in Scripture: a juxtaposition of the brightest revelation, followed by the darkest of sins.
Think of the giving of the commandments at Sinai, followed by the incident of the golden calf (Ex. 20-32).
Consider the ordination of Aaron as High priest followed by the disobedience and death of two of his sons (Lev. 8-10).
Recall God’s covenant with David, and then his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 7-12).
Think about the prophet Elijah and his great victory over the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel, followed by his suicidal depression (1 Kings 18-19).
Or what about the cheering crowds on Palm Sunday, followed by the calls of “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday.
Likewise, here in Numbers 22-25, we have these wonderful prophecies and God turning curse into blessing, followed by Israel’s great apostasy.
Bottom Line: We are often most tempted to fall into sin when we are doing well, after a spiritual victory. Take heed!
II. What Temptations Pull You Down?
Most of you have heard about or seen pictures of powerful whirlpools or vortexes in the ocean, which are caused by tides, and can actually suck a small boat down into the bottom
There is one off the coast of Norway which reaches speeds of 23 mph, which is faster than you or I could row a boat. (Or think about a powerful undertow or rip tide in the ocean)
What has such a vortex pull on you? On your eyes, your heart, your will, your body?
Idolatry, Immorality, and Appetites (Hungers Cravings Desires Passions Inclinations)
Let me allow you to look into the mirror of God’s Word so you can say, “Yes, that’s me. There’s my idol. There’s where I struggle with immorality and with my appetites.”
A. The Vortex of Idolatry: An idol is anything that functions in place of God.
Comfort (good health)
Control over the situation.
Affirmation from others
Pleasing others (Fear of man)
Self (The need to complain, the need to steer every conversation back to yourself)
B. The Vortex of Sexual Immorality:
Fornication (“sleeping together” before marriage)
Homosexual behavior/ giving in to same sex attractions
Crude jokes/ anything that cheapens/ debases God’s gift of sexuality.
C. The Vortex of Your Appetites:
Eating: gluttony (no control)
Anorexia/ Bulimia (too much control)
Drinking: coffee, tea, alcohol
Needing your next drug fix
Desiring tasty morsels of gossip
Craving for a new “toys”
Hungry for more money
Hooked on your body image/ exercise
Snacking on a critical judgmental spirit
So… what’s pulling on you? What are the vortexes that you need to guard against?
III. How Can You Defend Against Temptation?
A. Always Be Vigilant
Satan knows our Achilles’ heel, our weak spots, and he is just waiting for the opportune time to subtly attack us. When we stand up to him in one area, he tries another. We must always be vigilant. Satan is a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8, but see vv. 9-11 as well). If we are successful, he tempts us to be proud; if we fail, he tempts us with discouragement.
While we may not give into a frontal attack, we may open the back door to all sorts of temptations and sin. In Numbers 22-24, Balak tries a direct assault on Israel, and it is thwarted, but here in Num. 25, Balaam suggests a back door approach, by sending the Moabite ladies as a “welcome wagon” to the men of Israel, and they fall for it completely.
We are often sorely tested and tempted shortly after our successes and triumphs…. Because we let our guard down; because we are spent; because we push the off button. Satan is often working the hardest on us just when we think sin and temptation are most absent.
1 Cor. 10:12 “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
If we do not carefully set our defenses against temptation, and regularly maintain them, our appetites and idols can overwhelm us and control us in a flash.
The simple secret to not getting sucked into such a vortex is to stay away from it; for the closer you get, the more powerful the force becomes. So you need to know where they are (keep on guard) and to stay away from them (avoid/ flee)
B. A Word to the Men
As I mentioned earlier, we see here that what Balak could not get Balaam to do by cursing Israel, Balaam enabled Moab to do through cunning. What was not possible by sorcery was achieved by sexual temptation.
Men are particularly prone to sexual temptation, beginning with the lust of the eyes, and therefore we men must double our guard in this area:
– What you look at: Job 31:1 “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.”
– How you view and treat other women: 1 Timothy 5:2 “Treat….older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
– Your plan for dealing radically with causes of sin: Matt. 5:28-29 “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
One practical tip: Use the buddy system: alert your buddy when you are tempted.
C. Come Clean
When we give in to our idols, immorality, and our appetites, we will be tempted to sin on another level: we will try to cover them up, to compartmentalize them, and lead double lives… instead of confessing and repenting. This is especially true of sins that are shameful in our culture.
D. Come to the Lord
Erwin Lutzer said “Temptation is not a sin; it is a call to battle.”
Every temptation is a reminder that we need God’s grace and strength to face the enemy.
Every temptation is a reminder that God is our highest joy, the fulfiller of all our desires and needs, and that God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness, in Christ.
Luther said that you cannot stop the birds flying about your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.
What would it look like for you to prevent the birds of your idol, of sexual immorality, and of your cravings/ appetites from building a next in your hair?
Cry out to the Lord for a way of escape! 1 Cor. 10:13 “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Recognize God’s presence in the midst of the temptation.
Hebrews 2:17-18 “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Heb. 4:15-16 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
“Scripture shows us the full wonder of God’s grace in the face of man’s incorrigible propensity to sin” (Wenham)
Stubbs: The stark juxtaposition also tells us something about God. It highlights the great mercy and patience of the Lord while at the same time showing the great seriousness of sin. It also speaks of the fact that Israel was not saved by their good works; no, it was all of God’s grace… and the same is true for us.