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Balaam and the Fringes of the Camp

January/February 2020 WFJ Article

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14 Jan 2020
Balaam and the Fringes of the Camp

Choosing the right outlook towards God’s people

One of the Bible’s most tragic figures is the prophet Balaam. He was a hired-gun prophet lured by fame, honor and money to curse the people of God. Three times the New Testament uses him as a warning and example for similar type of evil prophets who would emerge in the last day’s church (2 Peter 2:13; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14). In many ways Balaam’s story is an example of how Satan tries to attack the people of God – both Israel and the church today. The same strategy is repeated throughout history in the way nations and individuals deal with the Jewish people and it is also employed by Satan when dealing with the church – through attacks from without and from within.

The story begins at the very end of Israel’s 40 years of desert wandering; the nations in and around Canaan increasingly perceived the people of Israel as a major threat. After successfully countering attacks from the Canaanite King of Arad (Numbers 21:1-3) and the Amorites (Numbers 21:21-31) Israel stood at the banks of the river Jordan opposite Jericho just about to enter into their destiny, the land of Israel. Then the Bible tells us: “Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel” (Numbers 22:2-3).

Balak, the Moabite king’s name, is best translated as ‘devastator’. Balak saw his influence shrinking and made a noteworthy decision. Unlike the king of the Canaanites and the Amorites, he did not resort to his army and military experience but looked instead for a spiritual solution, a curse. He called for Balaam, an expert prophet known to communicate with Jehovah the almighty God. According to Jewish tradition Balaam’s position among the Gentile nations was equal to that of Moses in regard to Israel.

While God repeatedly warned Balaam not to engage in that mission, Balaam persisted in looking for a spiritual loophole to still curse the people of Israel, and even a talking donkey could not dissuade him. When Balaam arrived at Moab, ready to fulfill his mission, what happened next is a textbook lesson on Satan’s schemes against God’s people.

Satan’s viewpoint
Immediately upon Balaam’s arrival Balak took him to a place overlooking the people of Israel.
“So it was, the next day, that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, that from there he might observe the extent of the people” (Numbers 22:41).

But the scheme of Balak did not work and Balaam was ordered by God to bless Israel, which he did. “How can I curse what God has not cursed … behold a people dwelling alone … let my end by like his” (Numbers 23:8-10).

Balak, furious about Balaam’s blessing, repeated the scheme but shifted the perspective: "Please come with me to another place from which you may see them; you shall see only the outer part of them, and shall not see them all; curse them for me from there" (Numbers 23:13). But even there, Balaam could only bless Israel: “God is not a man that he should change his mind … he has blessed and I cannot revoke. He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob … for there is no enchantment against Jacob…” (Numbers 23:19-23).

Note what Balak did: He never gave Balaam the full picture but only showed him the ‘extent of the people’ and ‘the outer part’ of Israel. He only allowed Balaam to see the fringes of Israel and never the entire camp. The question is what exactly did Balaam see? You might be surprised but the Bible tells us what he most likely saw.

The fringes of the camp
The word of God provides great detail of happened at the fringes, at the outskirts of the camp. In Leviticus 13:46 God commanded lepers where to live ‘outside the camp,’ and is also where criminals and blasphemers were stoned to death (Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:35), the unclean lived (Num 5:3) and, in a case of war, ‘outside the camp’ served as the army’s latrine. Imagine what Balaam saw when he looked at the ‘outer parts of the camp’: Unclean people, lepers, stonings and most likely constant toilet runs. It must have looked awkward and was thus an easy prey to curse.

It must have been even more amazing for Balaam when God was not willing to curse such an awkward-looking people. On the contrary when Balaam prophecies by the Holy Spirit: “He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob nor has he seen trouble in Israel,” he might have wondered about who is God speaking. “Is this really the people I see,” Balaam might have asked himself.

The full picture
But as Balaam prepared to prophecy a third time he now understood it was a hopeless endeavor to curse Israel. God was obviously determined to bless Israel and thus there must have been more to the people of God than what he saw, so Balaam tried to see the full picture. “Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times, to seek to use sorcery… And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him” (Numbers 24:1-2).

What a magnificent view it must have been. The 12 tribes of Israel arranged in perfect order: Three tribes each towards east, south, west and north, with every tribe’s banner directed towards the center. An inner ring of tents was reserved for the levitical orders Kehat, Gershon and Merari, and in the center of it all stood the tabernacle, with the cloud of the glory by day and a pillar of fire by night. When Balaam saw this the Spirit of God came upon him and he cried out: “How lovely are your tents oh Jacob, your encampments oh Israel!” He began to understand the purpose of God for Israel and declared “Blessed are those who bless you and cursed are those who curse you” (Numbers 24: 3-9).

A spiritual battlefield
This story has tremendous applications for us as Satan employs exactly the same scheme today. Small incidents in Israel make it with incredible ease into the world media. Just a few weeks ago the United Nations looked again at Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, a nation with a more free and diverse media than most other nations of the world, a nation which provides more international aid in global crisis situations than most other countries, and turned the desert into a garden of eden.

But Israel was not commended by the UN for its leadership but instead, was condemned eight times that day. In an entire year, countries like North Korea, Syria, Iran and similar states received only one (1) resolution against them in total. Israel received eight in one day! Surely, Israel is not a perfect country and many issues still need to be solved. But considering they are surrounded by entities and groups that plan 24/7 to annihilate them, the Jewish State is doing remarkable well, in fact better than many western democracies.

Why is the world is so obsessed by Israel? What other explanation can there be than indeed dark spiritual powers are directing minds to look only at the ‘outskirts of the camp’ as Balaam did in the biblical account. The word of God teaches that spiritual principalities rule over nations and regions. The Prophet Daniel experienced this when, during his prayer time, angelic powers were mobilized and he received revelation about a ‘prince of Persia’ and a ‘prince of Greece’ with authority over powerful kingdoms (Daniel 10:13, 20). As Paul describes: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Just as Balak (the destroyer) directed and manipulated Balaam to look only at ‘the fringes’ of the camp and curse the people of God, these evil principalities of destruction guide the minds of decision makers today according to his desire (Ephesians 2:1-3). Illogical decisions are made which defy reason but amazingly they are applauded by a majority of the nations. The ‘settlements’ which in many places become true places of co-existence between Jews and Arabs, where Palestinian workers earn equal to Israeli workers and often support entire families, are called ‘obstacles to peace.’ Israel that defends itself against barrages of rockets from Gaza is condemned as the aggressor. Why? Because the full picture is so often withheld from decisionmakers.

Satan also works this way within the church and among believers. We all have our ‘fringe issues’; areas in our lives that are imperfect. That is true for any individual and for the church. None of us is perfect and there is no perfect church. On the contrary John says if we pretend to be perfect we deceive ourself and even make God a liar (1 John 1:8-10). But these ‘fringe issues’ in our lives and in the lives of others are exactly the areas Satan likes to bring to our attention. He highlights what is imperfect in our church, with our Pastors and with brothers and sisters around us. He points out the ‘fringe areas’ of our spouses and our children, and encourages a verdict based on them. If we dwell on these ‘fringe issues’ and give them room in our thinking and judgement this can lead to church splits or broken families and instead of blessings we declare curses and cause division.

The view of God
What amazes me is the way God declared his view through the Holy Spirit through Balaam:
"He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them” (Numbers 23:21). This is a rather amazing statement, considering Balaam was looking down on the place where leprosy, impurity and sin was to be found. Even more astonishing, a review of the preceding chapters does not portray people in which there is no iniquity or wickedness, but rather describes a complaining people (Numbers 11). The Bible recounts key tribal leaders attacking Moses (Numbers 16) and even Aaron and Miriam attacking their brother (Numbers 12). It depicts a people refusing to enter the promised land (Numbers 13, 14) and being impatient with God and Moses. Balaam could have found plenty of material to base his curses on. But in spite of all this God declares “He has not observed iniquity in Jacob” and “How lovely are your encampments o Israel!”

This divine view is beyond human logic. I can only explain it by what happened day in and day out in the tabernacle right in the center of the camp. Twice a day, the priests would sacrifice a perfect lamb (Exodus 29:38-45) which would provide sanctification and allow God “to dwell among his people”. It is the blood that atones for our sin and covers them before God’s sight (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9;12).

Therefore, if you are a believer and have put your faith in Jesus, the Word of God declares that Jesus is your lamb and we are justified through his blood. This how heaven looks at us and is how we should look at each other. Knowing that we ourselves have received forgiveness in Jesus for all our shortcomings we need to see our brothers and sisters likewise.

Balaam’s story is repeatedly used in the New Testament as an example for what will happen in the last days. We do well to heed these warnings and act accordingly. It may not only prevent great harm but also, if we act in the right way, it can release a new blessing to our lives, churches, nations and even upon Israel.

I pray that as we look upon each other and upon Israel that we choose heaven’s perspective and confess with God: How lovely are your tents o Jacob!

Practical Applications to Combat the "Devastator's" Schemes:

1.) Prayer
One of our most powerful tools is prayer. Fervent prayer can change the atmosphere of a family, church and even a nation. Daniel’s 21 days of prayer and fasting affected the heavenly realities in his time (Daniel 10). Targeted and persevering prayer of the believer can change a hostile atmosphere in a country that looks at and highlights the faults and shortcomings of Israel (and the church.) Persevering prayer can break the spirit of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.

2.) Speak the truth
Secondly if Israel’s enemies highlight her faults and perceived problematic issues, we need all the more to boldly proclaim the truth. The book of Revelation tells us they overcame the Devil “… by the word of their testimony…”. If you read an unbalanced, one-sided article about Israel, write back to the paper and show the full picture, ‘the whole camp.’ Speak about Israel’s amazing contribution to the world and the Middle East and ask the paper to be more balanced next time.
The same is true with your nation’s political stand. If you live in a country that encourages political dialogue, make your voice heard through letters to your representatives or join or even organize a solidarity initiative in your city.

3.) Love
This is particularly true within the church. Peter makes an amazing statement: “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins."” (1 Peter 4:8). An atmosphere of love and forgiveness will attract God’s favorable look upon his church and thus attract his blessing. Of course, sins need to be called by name and we are encouraged to admonish our brothers and sisters. But it must be done in love and compassion in the same way God is merciful to each one of us.


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