Numbers 23:27-24:14 Maple Glen Church November 3, 2013
“How Do You See Yourself?” Pastor Louis Prontnicki
How do you see yourself… really?
What do you see when you look into a mirror? Do you see blemishes, gray hair, and do you wonder where all those lines came from?
What do you see when you look into your past? Do you see scars from abuse? Do you see brokenness and loss? Do you see choices you now regret and wish you could take back?
What do you see when you look into the future? Do you lose hope because it seems you will be stuck doing the same old, same old? Do you see hopelessness, and more aches and pains? Do you wonder how you will deal with getting older and what kind of suffering you’ll go through on the road to death? So… how do you see yourself… really?
Here are three ways we sometimes we ourselves:
i. “I’m so bad. I always fall back into the same sin. God couldn’t possibly love me.”
ii. “I’m so much better than other people, at least in some areas. Therefore God must love me!”
iii. “I’m so-so. I guess I’m okay with God. But I don’t want God to really know me.”
But how does God see you?
God uses Balaam’s third oracle, in Numbers 23:27-24:14, to tell us how the Lord sees Israel, and by extension, how the Lord sees you and me, as His bride, as He views us through the lens of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And how He sees us- and feels toward us – should greatly encourage us and give us much joy!
The setting for the third oracle is found in Num. 23:27-30. The pagan seer Balaam has already twice uttered prophetic blessings upon Israel, despite the fact that Balak, King of Moab, is willing to pay him handsomely if he will curse Israel for him. So here Balak takes Balaam to another location where he can get a different perspective on the nation of Israel, camped below, hoping that the third time will be a charm, and that Balaam will finally put a curse on Israel.
I. How Balak saw Israel (23:27-28; 24:10-11) (How the world sees us)
Election Day is this Tuesday, and we’ve all seen those nasty campaign ads on TV where the other side shows the worst possible picture of their opponent, right? It’s usually a grainy black and white photo that shows the person at their worst, so you won’t vote for him, right?
Well, that’s how Balak is trying to portray Israel to Balaam, so he will curse them. I say this for two reasons.
First, the location: “the top of Peor” (v. 28). Mt. Peor was the center of Baal worship; it was the focal point for worshipping the local idol. (See Num. 25:3 “So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.”) Balak chose this place with the thought that since it was the HQ of Baal, the god of Moab, then the God of Israel could not come there to hinder this cursing operation. It was similar to taking someone to an occult bookstore or an opium den. Balak was hoping that the Lord God of Israel didn’t have “coverage” in this area.
Second, the backdrop: “overlooking the wasteland” (v. 28) When you want to take a nice picture of someone, you usually choose a pleasant background, right? But here Balak shows Balaam the people of Israel against a background of a stark, desert wasteland. He wants them to appear ugly, wasted, and harsh. It would be as if you took your family Christmas photo against the backdrop of a trash landfill!
This is how Balak wanted Balaam to see Israel… and this is how Satan wants you to see yourself.
But in this most unlikely place God wants to show Israel how beautiful she looks to Him… as a fruitful land, as a beautiful bride! In the cesspool of wickedness, with a wasteland as the backdrop, God says “I love you!”
So don’t believe what Satan tries to show you about how you look. Don’t look at how the enemies of the gospel try to paint you. Instead, look at how the Lord sees you: as His beloved in Christ!
Do you know that? Do you feel that? It is true, if you are trusting in all the Christ is for you.
II. How Balaam saw Israel (as the Lord saw Israel) (24:1-4, 12-14)
Let’s remember who Balaam is. He is a famous seer/ wizard from Iran, who is going to be paid big bucks by King Balak, if he will just put a curse on Israel. So Balaam had everything to gain by going along with Balak’s wishes and cursing God’s people.
Yet we read something amazing in 24:1 “Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times, but turned his face toward the desert.”
Did you notice what Balaam saw? “Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel.”
That was the grace of God at work! For a pagan seer to see what pleases the Lord can only be explained by God opening his eyes. For at that moment, Balaam was seeing Israel as the Lord saw Israel: as His covenant people; as His chosen nation; as His holy priesthood!
And because Balaam sees Israel differently this time, he did not resort to sorcery [“to seek enchantments or spells”] as at other times, but turned his face toward the desert.
Previously God had put a word in Balaam’s mouth (23:5, 16), but this time the Spirit of God came upon him (24:2). And the Hebrew words found here are the same as at the end of the Aaronic blessing on Num. 6:26 “The Lord lift up his countenance upon you…” It is as if the pagan seer Balaam is functioning as the high priest of Israel, blessing her with God’s fullest blessing!
This opening of Balaam’s eye to see Israel as the Lord saw Israel points us forward in time to the cross of Christ. How so? Well, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, all the people could only see Jesus as a tragic figure, put to death on an accursed cross, right? But how did God the Father see His Son? Isaiah 53:10 (KJV) tells us: “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him.” It pleased the Lord to send His Son to the cross, because that was the best way, the only way, for us to see and comprehend the amazing love of God for us, that our God would die for us, for our sins and rebellion, and make us whole and make us His children.
The story of a friend who is willing to go to jail and take the place of the prison term of another Christian, so that the prisoner can go free.
So grace was given to Balaam, so he could see what pleased the Lord; and what pleased the Lord was to graciously bestow His richest blessings upon His people, through His Son.
That’s how Balaam saw Israel, and that’s how you should see yourself, in Christ.
III. How the Lord saw Israel/ How God sees you and me, through and in Christ. (24:5-9)
God sends Israel two cards, two poems, two messages: First, a love poem, to His beautiful bride; and second, a song of triumph for her certain victory; a card of congratulations for a mighty achievement!
A. First, God writes a love poem to His beautiful bride (vv. 5-7a)
“How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
6 “Like valleys (wadis) they spread out, like gardens beside a river,
like aloes planted by the LORD, like cedars (mighty/ tall) beside the waters.
7 Water will flow from their buckets; their seed will have abundant water.”
As you read these verses, you get the picture of God opening Balaam’s eyes, so that he was really seeing Israel as God’s beautiful bride for the first time. What I mean is that in the first two oracles, it was as if God simply overruled what Balaam planned to say, and filled his mouth with blessings about Israel. But this time, Balaam’s eyes are opened to see the beauty of the Lord upon Israel. It’s like a man seeing a woman with open eyes for the first time, and he says, “I want to marry this woman!” It’s like Adam seeing Eve for the first time, and saying: “Wow!
Here is a man writing a love poem to his beloved. Here is a husband sending a personalized Valentine Day card to his wife, who is beautiful and wonderful in his eyes! His words remind us of the Song of Songs, as Israel is pictured as a fruitful garden, for the husband to come into and enjoy! This oracle emphasizes the beauty, prosperity, and fruitfulness of Israel, as if Israel had returned to the Garden of Eden. It is a vision of Shalom prosperity. (Num. 6:22-27)
Furthermore, this Valentine’s Day card morphs into a Mother’s Day card, as the husband praises his wife for her fertility, for bearing him an abundance of children. V. 7a gives us the image of a man with two pails of water hanging from his shoulders and overflowing with water, with water being used as a symbol of great fruitfulness. This refers to a growing population as the result of sexual intercourse (Prov. 5:15-19). Though Israel may already be too numerous to count, Balaam declares they will multiply yet further.
And this, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is how God sees you!
B. Second, God sings a song of triumph for Israel’s certain victory; like a card of congratulations for a mighty achievement! (A battle epic/ praise for military might)
24:7a- 9 “Their king will be greater than Agag; their kingdom will be exalted.
8 “God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox.
They devour hostile nations and break their bones in pieces;
with their arrows they pierce them.
9 Like a lion they crouch and lie down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse them?
“May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” (Gen. 12:3)
God sees Israel not only as His beautiful bride; He also sees her as a people who will be given great victories, who will possess immense power, and who will be instruments of the Lord’s blessing to all the other nations! And so we can imagine the Lord singing a song that embodies these glorious truths about His people, telling the world about their honor and advancement,
their power and victory, their courage and security, and their amazing influence upon their neighbors. (Think of the Rocky theme song inspiring you to rise up to the challenge! Think of being a roaring lion, the king of the jungle!) All because we are victorious in Christ, in His power and grace.
And just how would this love poem and this song of triumph come to fruition for God’s people?
Not through their own good looks or cunning military tactics; not through their own good deeds or determined efforts. No. All this would come true for God’s people when God’s own Son became these things for us. It is only because Jesus is God’s beloved Son and because Jesus is God’s mighty Savior that you and I are seen in this light by God the Father. It is “In Christ alone” that we are these things.
God the Father looks upon His Son, Jesus Christ, and sees Him as the Lion and the Lamb; the High Priest and the Pascal victim; the King of Kings and the servant of all, and then He views you and me through that same lens. That’s how God sees you. That’s amazing grace!
So… how do you see yourself? So bad, that God couldn’t possibly love me?
So much better than other people, at least in some areas, that I deserve God’s love?
So-so. I guess, but I don’t want God to really know me?
I invite you to see yourself as God the Father sees His beloved Son… but trusting fully in all that Christ is for you, and seeing yourself in Him.