Road Blocks of the Holy Spirit Numbers 22 - Written July 15, 2007 By Joe Cunningham
We’ve all had moments of weakness in our lives when sin had a hold on us, and we were heading in the wrong direction. And, because we are sinful by nature, this probably happens every day. “For all have sinned and all have fallen short of God’s glorious standard” – Romans 3:23. Sin disguises itself in all kinds of packaging. Some sin is more obvious than others. It would be hard to imagine that a person plotting a murder or a bank robbery could do it without knowing that they are doing something wrong. But most of the time, sin is a lot less conspicuous. The sins of greed, lust, covetousness, lying and deceit are a part of our daily life. Society today allows for such sins and gives us easy ways to justify them to ourselves. We call them white lies and half truths. We tell ourselves that no one will know and that it won’t affect anyone else anyway. But, in the eyes of God, sin is sin – “If you break any part of the law, you’ve broken the entire law.” (James 2:10)
As children, the line between right and wrong was a huge, thick, black line that was so obvious that there was no way you could miss it. But, as we grow older and become more of a part of this world, the line starts to become thinner and thinner, until it finally starts to fade to a grey smudge that no longer even resembles a line. Sin becomes more of an automatic response than a conscious thought. So, how can we live our lives and avoid sin?
Be thankful that we serve a God that is always working in our lives, and always trying to draw us back to Himself. And it is the Holy Spirit working in our lives that helps guide us to the truth (John 16:13).
Have you ever found yourself in a moment of weakness, where you were determined to do something that you knew wasn’t right, but, for some reason, things just kept getting in the way?
Balaam (Pronounced Bay-Lum) had one of those experiences, and his story is found in the Book of Numbers - Chapter 22.
To set the stage, the Book of Numbers records the events of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert after Moses led them out of Egypt. Chapter after chapter, the book records their faith in God, His powerful blessings, which always seemed to lead to them taking God for granted, which turned into rebellion against God, which led to God’s judgment and punishment… And the cycle would start over again.
Just so that you understand, the journey from Goshen, in Egypt to Beersheba, in Canaan – the Promised Land is about 150 miles. The average man could easily walk that in one month’s time, carrying or dragging all of his worldly possessions. Now granted, there were about two million Hebrews on this journey, carrying all of their belongings – including wives and children – and the Lord didn’t lead them in the most direct route. They made their way south through the Sin Desert to Mount Sinai, picked up the Ten Commandments, and started heading north again. They made their way to Kadesh-Barnea, in the Wilderness of Shur, and found themselves about 50 miles south of Beersheba. So, the walk from Goshen to Kadesh-Barnea ended up being a little more than 400 miles.
All things considered, the Hebrews most likely could have made this journey in one year – two years at the most. So, why did it take 40 years? It was their lack of faith in God, which led to rebellion, judgment, and punishment…over and over again. In Numbers 13, three years since they left Egypt, Moses sent twelve scouts into the Land of Canaan. Joshua and Caleb came back with positive reports, and the other ten came back saying, “There are giants in the land. There is no way that we can defeat them.” The ten scared the rest of the Hebrews to the point that they would not obey God and attack Canaan. So, God judged them by saying that not one Hebrew man (that was over the age of eighteen when they left Egypt) would ever enter the Promised Land – with only two exceptions – Joshua and Caleb. Even Moses would never see the Promised Land. (See Numbers 20:1-13)
It’s hard for me to understand how they could lose faith in God. The Spirit of God Himself appeared to them as a pillar of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire every night. Every morning they would wake up and find fresh manna on the ground to eat. It almost makes me laugh to think of them saying, “Oh, there’s that stupid cloud again.”, or “Can somebody turn off that pillar of fire? I’m trying to sleep.” They had the privilege of experiencing the true physical presence of God in their lives – a Theophany.
Throughout scripture, and even through to today, people are quoted as saying,” If God would just appear to me in person, I would believe in Him.” Would you really? The Hebrews didn’t recognize God in the pillars, even when He spoke to them. And, the Jews didn’t recognize Jesus when He performed miracles that only God could perform.
The Holy Spirit, of course having an infinite supply of wisdom, works through people, circumstances and events that shape our lives and guide us back to Himself. Our lives would be so much easier if we would just pay attention and let Him lead us.
Balaam was not a Hebrew. He was a self-proclaimed prophet of what ever god happened to be in fashion at the moment. But, none-the-less, he is one of the more noteworthy Old Testament characters. Although he wasn’t one of God’s chosen people, he was willing to acknowledge that Yahweh (the Lord) was indeed a powerful God – but he wouldn’t acknowledge that He was the One True God. Balaam was willing to do what God asked of him, as long as he could profit from it.
Thirty-nine years had passed since they left Egypt. Over the past few years, the Israelite army, under the command of Joshua and Caleb, had grown into a force to be reckoned with. They had just defeated the Amorites and were traveling to the Plains of Moab to camp on the east side of the Jordan, across from Jericho, in preparation of entering the Promised Land (Numbers 22:1-2). King Balak, the Moabite King, knew what the Israelites had done to the Amorites, so he and the people of Moab were terrified (Numbers 22:3). King Balak sent officials to Balaam with a request for help. It read,
“A vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. Please come and curse them for me because they are so numerous. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on the people you bless. I also know that the people you curse are doomed.” (Numbers 22:4-6)
King Balak’s officials arrived with the note and some money to pay Balaam to curse Israel. They explained how urgent it was that Balaam act right away. But, Balaam told them, “Stay here overnight and I will tell you in the morning whatever the Lord directs me to say.” (Numbers 22:7-8)
That night, God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men with you?” So Balaam explained to God that Balak had sent them to pay him to curse the Israelites so that Balak could conquer them (Numbers 22:9-11). God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for I have blessed them!” (Numbers 22:12).
The Lord knew exactly who the men were, and why they were there. He also knew what was in Balaam’s heart. Balaam was attracted by the money. Throughout scripture, God is recorded asking questions that He already knows the answers. In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had sinned and found themselves naked, God asked Adam, “Where are you?” (Gen 3: 9). God knew exactly where Adam was and what he had done. By asking the question, He convicted Adam and Balaam of their sins. When we feel the Lord’s conviction, we should stop and turn back to God…confess, repent, and get right with God. Adam responded by first blaming God, then blaming Eve, who in turn blamed Satan. Balaam appeared to obey God at first, but couldn’t get the money out of his mind. He would obey God as long as he still got the money.
The next morning, Balaam got up and told the officials to go home because God would not let him go with them. The officials went back to King Balak and reported that Balaam refused to come. King Balak decided to try again, this time sending a larger number of more distinguished officials, and offering more silver and gold than he had the first time. Balaam answered, “Even if you filled an entire palace full of silver and gold I would still be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God. But, stay here one more night and I will see if the Lord has anything further to say to me.” That night, God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But, be sure to do only what I tell you to do.”(Numbers 22:13-20).
So the next morning Balaam saddled his donkey and started off with the Moabite officials. But God was furious that he was going, so He sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way. (Numbers 22:21-22)
At first, this may seem like a contradiction of scripture. In verse 20, God tells Balaam to go with them, and in verse 22, God is furious that Balaam went. God knew what was in Balaam’s heart. You can believe that when God told Balaam he could go, Balaam was dancing around yelling, “Show me the money!!!!” Whoo – Hoo!!!! He could very well have been riding along with his servants, talking about the new tent he would buy with a new camel in the barn. God told Balaam to do only what he was told to do, and Balaam was doing the opposite. God had to stop him.
As Balaam and his two servants were riding along, Balaam’s donkey suddenly saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing there, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So Balaam beat the donkey again. Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place so narrow that the donkey couldn’t get by at all. This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat it again with his staff. (Numbers 22:23-27).
Then the Lord caused the donkey to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me these three times?” it asked Balaam. (Numbers 22:28)
“Because you have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!” (Numbers 22:29)
“But I am the same donkey you always ride on,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” he admitted. (Numbers 22:30)
A few years ago, during the most spiritually dark time of my life, I was going somewhere that I shouldn’t be going to do something that I shouldn’t do. As I was driving, I was justifying to myself the reasons for why I was doing it, but knowing good and well that it was wrong. About three hours into my journey, I came upon a highway construction project in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois. Traffic was stopped. They were lifting a steel beam into place for an overpass and the beam had fallen onto the roadway, blocking all four southbound lanes. I sat there for two hours while they cleared it. I thought of nothing else but how this would delay my journey. Other motorist suggested that we turn around and go back home. I wouldn’t think of it.
I was finally on my way when, about two hours later, I got a flat tire. Not a big deal – I’m good at that kind of stuff. I was on my way in no time. Feeling the need to make up lost time, I had the cruise control set on 80 mph. A motorcycle officer was clocking us as we sped by, and radioed ahead to a swarm of state troopers that pulled over 15 or 20 cars at the same time. After writing me the ticket, the officer asked me, “Do you know where you are going?” I thought the question seemed a little odd at the time, but I continued on.
I accomplished what I had set out to do. And, to no surprise, I didn’t feel any better. I was in a horrible place both spiritually and emotionally. I was lost. I didn’t recognize the road blocks that the Holy Spirit put in front of me until He revealed them to me months later. It was during my darkest moment, in the most horrible conversation you could imagine, with Kathie – the one that my Heavenly Father had hand picked to be my wife, my partner, my soul mate, my best friend – my donkey that I had abused so badly. Just like Balaam, my eyes were opened, and my sins were revealed.
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam fell face down on the ground before him. “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will go back home if you are against me going.” But the angel of the Lord told him, “Go with these men, but you may say only what I tell you to say.” (Numbers 22:31-35)
Balaam went on to meet with King Balak. But instead of cursing Israel, Balaam blessed them three times. He obeyed God and did the right thing this time, but his heart was never right with God. Balaam was still more preoccupied with the wealth he could gain in Moab. In Numbers 31:16, we find that Balaam was the one who led the Israelite men to sexual immorality and idolatry. He returned to Moab and eventually died when the Israelites invaded.
Balaam never realized how blessed he was by God. In most of the biblical accounts, God spoke to the prophets in dreams or visions. But in Balaam’s case, the scriptures say that, “God came to Balaam.” (Numbers 22:9,20) Much like the Hebrews and the pillars of smoke and fire, God appeared to Balaam in a physical form – a Theophany. I would hope that if God chose to appear to me in some sort of physical form, like He did with Moses and the burning bush, that I would know that it is God. If He did appear as a talking, burning bush, or a talking pillar of smoke or fire, I would have to be blind or a fool not to recognize Him. But what if God chooses to make his presence known through a friend, just like He did with Balaam’s donkey? Would we recognize Him then?
How many times in our lives have we had family and friends confront us with something that we thought was secret? They would say things like, “What’s happening with you lately? You’ve been acting differently for the past couple of weeks. Are you in some sort of trouble?” The truth in their question slams down on us like a ton of bricks. Our sinful nature immidiately shifts us into defensive denial mode and we respond, “Nothing’s wrong…why are you picking on me like this?”
I love the character of Balaam’s donkey. Donkeys, back then, were more than just basic transportation. They were an integral part of a person’s life. They were a companion when you were traveling alone, a protector when trouble was around, they were the ones who carried all of your life’s burdens, and at times provided warmth and shelter on a cold night. This donkey was Balaam’s trusted steed, his closest friend. Although scriptures doesn’t say, I can only imagine that Balaam had many conversations with the donkey…not that they were talking back and forth, but in the same way that our friends listen to us ramble as we gather our thoughts. The donkey loved being Balaam’s servant, and just like a good friend, he was always looking out for Balaam.
Three times, the donkey tried to warn Balaam that he was headed for trouble, and three times Balaam rewarded his close friend by beating him. Doesn’t that sound familiar? How many times have we been heading for sin when someone close to us confronts us? And, how many times have we made this person feel terrible for having the courage to speak up? No one, no matter who they are or what they believe, wants to be caught sinning.
Christ told Nicodemus in John 3:19-21 –
“Their judgment is based on this fact: The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear that their sins will be exposed and they will be punished. But those who do what is right come to the light gladly, so everyone can see that they are doing what God wants.”
Like I said earlier, thank our Father in Heaven that we serve a God that is always trying to draw us back to Himself. Some say He is the God of second chances. If you read through the Old Testament, I would say He is the God of endless chances. How many times did the Israelites turn away from God, and how many times did God put some sort of a road block in front of them to stop them and turn them back to Himself? Dozens…hundreds? Who knows? Their trip from Egypt should have taken 2 years, and it ended up taking 40.
As long as we are alive on this earth, we will continue to sin. I’m sorry to say that no human has ever lived a sinless life…with the exception of Jesus Christ Himself who was 100% human and 100% divine at the same time. “For all have sinned, and all have fallen short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23) But here’s the best part; God knows that! And, since He is such an awesome God, He put a system in place to accommodate for our sinful nature. It is the sanctifying power of the Blood of Jesus Christ.
We make the choices that shape our lives. I chose to sin. I put myself in the position that I did. I chose to turn away from God. But, this amazing God of ours took what was intended for evil and turned it back towards Himself. I wish I had never gone down that road, but the reality of it is that if I didn’t, I would still be lost. The burden that I carry is the pain that I caused those who love me – the donkeys in my life that I beat up along the way.
I rededicated my life to Christ in January of 2002. With His help, I am working on being the husband, the father, the son, the brother and the friend that He intended me to be.
2 Corinthians 5:15 & 17 say, He died for everyone so that those who receive His new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them. What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!
We can’t change the past, but we can change the future. If we keep our focus on Christ, the roadblocks that He puts in front of us start to become more obvious. When we recognize them and turn back towards Him, we are doing exactly what He wants us to do.
If you are not where you should be, spiritually, than take a minute right now and rededicate yourself to God. Remember, Christians are not holy and righteous people, Christians are sinners that recognize the need for a savior.
Make the commitment, and watch what God will do in your life. Your prayer could go something like this: Father God, I know that I am a sinner, and I thank you for giving us Your one and only Son to pay the price for my sins with His Blood. It is only through faith that we can be made right in Your eyes. It was through Christ’s Blood that sin was conquered, and through His Resurrection that death itself was conquered. I turn from my sins right now, and ask that You will forgive me, and come into my heart and make me a new person. Be my savior, be my Lord, and be my God. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen!
If you’ve prayed this prayer, and meant it with your heart, you are on the right road. Paul explains in Romans 10: 9-13,
“For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They all have the same Lord, who generously gives His riches to all who ask for them. For “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
It’s really that simple. You don’t need to change anything in your life except for your focus. From this point on, focus on the Lord and see where He leads you. My life over the past five years has been an incredible journey of success and failure, celebration and disappointment. But in all of it, I can clearly see the hand of God guiding my life. He has always put me in exactly the right place in order to shape me into the person He wants me to be. The successes and celebrations keep me looking toward the future, and the failures and disappointments allow me to never forget the past, but strengthen me and equip me for what lies ahead.
In Psalm 139, King David was praising God for being such an awesome God. He describes God as all-seeing, all-knowing, all- powerful, all-creative, all-holy and ever-present. God knows each and every one of us, He is always with us, and God’s most awesome gift to us is that He wants us to know Him.
Read and meditate on Psalm 139, and see if you come away with a better understanding of who God is and how He works in our lives.
I hope that this little study has been a blessing to you. Your questions and comments are always welcome, but never necessary.
I write these studies constantly. It’s my way of getting to know God better through His Word. If you want to study something specifically, let me know. I might already have one written.
May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, be with you all.