Introduction: Welcome to Expound our weekly worship and verse by verse study of the Bible. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God as we explore the Word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Chapter 21 tonight. Let's talk to the Lord. Father, we bring our very hearts, our persons before you, the very core of our beings. We bring them to you, Father, we pray that we could hear your voice. We read that the Lord spoke to Moses or the Lord spoke to even Balaam, and then he even used and spoke to and through a donkey. So, Father, with complete faith and expectation, we trust that you will speak to us through your Word, and then you will speak through us your Word to our friends and family in a world that needs to hear.
Father, we think that tonight, which is in many places tomorrow around the world, there are children and families who know Jesus Christ because of the love of so many here that have packed shoe boxes to send around the world. All of that to celebrate the greatest gift, God wrapped in flesh, human skin, sent into this world. And ever since that event, we look for creative ways to tell that story. Thank you, Lord, for igniting our hearts with your love, and thank you for the promise of your presence with us as we gather two or more in the name of Jesus.
And as there are many more here in this place, tuned in by some device, and then this message and this service being heard at a later date, how grateful we are for the multiplication abilities that are at our disposal. Bless, Lord, this time, in Jesus' name, amen. In any nation the death of a statesmen is often a turning point. I remember as a little child when John F. Kennedy was murdered. I'll never forget that date. I'll never forget hearing the news, and myself along with all the students in school weeping, crying, because something we never thought possible actually happened.
The security of that office had been so easily breached and a president lay in a hospital in Dallas, Texas, murdered. It actually served as a turning point in this nation. It changed, in many respects, the psyche of the entire nation. In the last chapter of the book of Numbers there were two deaths, not one, but two notable deaths. The chapter opened with the death of Miriam the sister of Moses and the chapter closed with the death of Moses' brother Aaron. But the two deaths of these two statespeople marked the end of an era and the beginning of another era.
It became a landmark time for the nation. What happens after the death of Aaron is the children of Israel are no longer wandering, now we begin marching. For the first time, for the first time just prior to them entering the land of Canaan at the end of their wandering, for the first time we read that they are victorious. They win some battles. So they go from meandering to marching. They go from wandering to worshiping in this chapter. It's landmark. And the death of Aaron and Miriam are the things that mark the end of their wandering and the beginning of their marching in the wilderness.
However, though there are victories and they are beginning to march, and chronologically they are not far from the Promised Land, still---and listen carefully---still they get discouraged. I want you to mark that. Even when you forsake the wandering, and you're starting to move in the Lord, and you're making progress, don't think that discouragements won't come. Have you ever been discouraged? You might be in the middle of discouragement right here, right now. You might be facing one of the greatest trials of your life tonight.
I remember when before this building---and we've been in this building a long time. We were getting into our second building. It was in an area called Snow Heights. The building no longer exists; it's been torn down. But when we were leaving our location on Eubank and moving to our second location there on Snow Heights, we were moving, making progress, all excited to move in our new location. It had more seats. It was in a good area. We couldn't wait. We got a great deal. We were ready to occupy. The weekend was coming up.
And then the city inspectors came in and looked at what we had built. All we had done was built a few extra rooms, put up some walls, doors according to what they told us. But then they inspected us and said, "No occupancy." We needed to put another sheet of drywall across an entire area to make it a firewall. The rating needed to be extended. Doors had to be replaced by panic hardware doors and fire-rated doors. So it cost us another month or so in waiting and another $10,000. And I remember walking home so discouraged.
"Lord, I don't get it. Why? How could you let this happen? We believed you were leading us all along the way. And everybody is going to be here on the weekend, and now we can't even meet here on the weekend." So we had to have people there telling them go to the old location. "I know we announced the opening this Sunday, go to the old location." And it just felt so---I felt defeated. "The old location? We told everybody about the new. Lord, why?" So discouraged over that. And so, yes, the end of their wandering; yes, the beginning of their marching; yes, they're about to enter into the Promised Land, and, yet, discouragement.
On top of that, they've been in tents. I don't mean that it's been an intense situation, though it has been. They have been literally in tents, camping inside tents for almost forty years. Have you ever gone camping for a long time? How many of you have camped more than a week? Not in a nice---yeah, there you go, hands go down. Not in like a trailer with a bathroom and a TV, [laughter] like in tents. You've done it a week? Anybody go like a few weeks, three weeks? Are you serious? Straight in a tent? Have you done it for a month? Anybody for a month?
You've done it for a month? Some of you have. Are you homeless? [laughter] Do we need to help out? [laughter] Okay, so year after year after year raising your families, wandering around in the desert looking at rocks and horny toads, anybody would get discouraged. Even though they are close to the Promised Land, it's still a promise. They're not living in it. So, "The king of Arad," chapter 21, verse 1, "the Canaanite, who dwelt in the south, heard that Israel was coming on the road to Atharim, and then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners."
Well, that sort of sounds like their old story, but hold on. "So Israel made a vow to the Lord, and said, 'If you will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.' And the Lord listened to the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed them and their cities. So the name of that place was called [total destruction] Hormah." I believe that when our prayers to get rid of our enemies are that intense, that the Lord will listen. When there's an area of your life, an area that you battle in your flesh, and you---"Lord, I just need your victory, your help."
"I need to utterly destroy that area of my life," that when you come to this place, that the Lord, like here, will listen. "Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way." They just won their first victory, but "the soul of the people was discouraged on the way." The King James Version says they were "discouraged because of the way." This is the New King James, but the old King James they were "discouraged because of the way." The way itself was difficult.
The Amplified renders it, "because [of the trials] of the way." So living in those tents for years, staring at rocks, raising your kids in that environment---it's always interesting to me that every new generation of kids looks around at the town they live in---any town they live in, doesn't matter where, trust me. It can be in Orange County or Los Angeles, California---and kids will say, "It's boring." [laughter] Now, imagine living out in the desert for forty years in a cloth tent raising kids. Talk about boring. When your kids say, "It's boring," you say, "I agree with you. It is really boring."
Imagine trying to go courting. How do you date a young woman in the wilderness? What do you go do? Do you go see a movie? There is no movie. Do you go to the mall? There is no mall. "Let's go Canaanite watching, [laughter] lizard hunting." Not much to do. Very difficult, the way itself is difficult, discouraged because of the trials of the way. Maybe you are in a place tonight where your life is just flat-out difficult. The way is hard. Everything just seems hard. Victory, yes, but even after victories you'll find the want to be discouraged. What will you do? We'll see what they do.
Can I just suggest if you are, that you admit that you are. It says they were. I think if you were to take a poll and you said, "Are you discouraged?" They'd say, "Yes, I am." Now, that's not a negative confession, that's really reality. I think the road to encouragement is to admit first discouragement. Because if you were to walk up to somebody, like after the service, and say, "I need prayer, I'm discouraged," just to admit that is part of the battle. It's half the battle. You're admitting you have a need, and you're asking for God's strength and the strength of your brothers and sisters.
It would serve you well to just admit, "I'm discouraged because of the way, because of the trials of the way. Yes, God has given me some victories in some areas, but it's been hard." "And the people," verse 5, "spoke against Moses." Now remember, this is a new generation. Their moms and their pops, their aunts and their uncles, they did that too, but they're dead. This is a new generation. New generation---same old sin, same old issues. "The people spoke against God and against Moses: 'Why have you,' " speaking to Moses, " 'brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.' "
What is the bread? The Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. [laughter] The stuff that was so sweet. It looked like coriander seed. It could be baked and manipulated into various food forms and types, but they were just sick of it. And I suppose even if you had Krispy Kreme Doughnuts all the time, you would give up before forty years. "'Our soul loathes this worthless bread.' "This is the eighth, mark it, number eight, the eighth and final complaining, grumbling, murmuring of the children of Israel in the wilderness as recorded in the Scripture, the eighth and final one.
It's a threefold complaint: it's a complaint against God, it's a complaint against God's man, it's a complaint against God's provision. Or, if you will: it's a complaint against God personally, it's a complaint against God's prophet, and it's a complaint against God's provision. They complained against God. Ultimately all sin is sin against God. Did you know that? All sin is first and foremost a sin against God. Even if you sin against a brother or sister, even if you sin against a person, you ultimately sin against God first and foremost.
David committed sin by committing adultery with Bathsheba, killing Bathsheba's husband. He sinned against a lot of people, but in Psalm 51 the way he frames it is this way: "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and committed this iniquity in thy sight." It's ultimately against God. So when you complain, just know this: you are ultimately, first and foremost, you are complaining against God. If you have given the Lord your life, and you as a believer are complaining about your lot in life, you are essentially saying, "What you have provided for me, God, isn't good enough."
You're complaining against the way God has treated you. And if you complain a lot about the way God has treated you, don't think that your evangelism is going to be effective. How are you going to talk anybody into following the God who doesn't treat you right? "Hey, I have good news, follow God and be miserable like I am." That's the good news? There is no good news there. That's bad news last time I checked. Second, they complain against God's prophet, God's man, Moses. It says they complain against God and Moses.
And this is how it works: God is invisible. You can't see him. You can shake your fist at the sky, but what we typically do is find those who represent somebody else that we can't see. Moses is the visible representative of invisible God. That's why if you're in the ministry, don't expect it to be a cakewalk. If you are representing the Lord and people come in for counseling or questioning or quandaries or queries, they're going to look at you and go, "I can't believe a God of love would allow this," and they'll look angry at you.
No wonder the Lord said to Jeremiah, "Don't be afraid of their faces." Because sometimes people's faces that you minister to aren't happy faces. But third, it's a complaint against God's provision, this manna, this "worthless bread." Now they were wrong, were they not? Was it really worthless bread? Uh, they are alive because of that bread. In fact, not only are they alive, but in the book of Deuteronomy, I think chapter 8, Moses talks about the manna in the desert, and he gets them to think back to the provision of the desert. And he goes, "Think back. Your clothes did not wear out. Your feet did not swell."
Nutritionists tell us that if you have the same diet all the time without changing it up, that you can get certain conditions. One of them is a swollen foot. When you walk a lot, you don't have the proper nutrition, that sameness of diet, you don't get all the balance necessary that your feet will swell. The fact that their feet did not swell is Moses' way of saying, "You had all of the necessary ingredients and requirements for health provided by those Krispy Kreme Doughnuts." Would to God it was that way today. God's provision, everything you need was right there, and yet they called it "worthless bread."
So, verse 6, "So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died." "Fiery serpents," some think bright colored, fiery colored serpents. Probably a reference to how it felt when they bite you. Probably a reference to the fiery pain that would move through one's body, fiery serpents that bit the people and they died. "Therefore the people came to Moses." Now they had come to Moses complaining, but listen how spiritual they are now:" 'We have sinned"---that's confession---" 'for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord' "---that's intercession---" 'that he take away the serpents from us.'
"So Moses prayed for the people." Again, I'm always amazed at the meekness and the love of this man. He's put up with generations, even though by now you might think he would fold his arms with just a little bit of a smile and go, "I'll pray about praying for you." [laughter] Moses did it. He saw the need and there was immediate intercession. "And the Lord said to Moses, 'Make' "---now watch---" 'Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it should be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.' So Moses made a bronze serpent and put it on a pole."
Bronze is a metal that speaks of judgment. The altar in the outer courtyard was a bronze altar. It's where judgment took place, animals were killed and burned, sacrificed on that altar. It became a symbol of judgment. A serpent on a pole speaks of judgment. Put it on a pole, whoever looks at it, they're going to be cured. "So he made a bronze serpent, put it on a pole; and so it was," it really happened, "so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived." In the New Testament Jesus our Savior has a conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. He came to Jesus by night.
"Master, we know that you are a teacher sent from God; nobody can do the miracles that you do unless God is with him." "Nicodemus, unless a man is born again, he will never see the kingdom of God." "Wh-born again? How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time in his mother's womb and be born?" "Nicodemus, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life."
That's the context of that famous verse of Scripture. This incident is that context. Now, seems silly. "I'm going to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole. 'Hey, look this way. You'll be healed?' ""Oh, that's so silly. That's ridiculous. That's so unscientific. How is that possible? I don't need to look at a bronze statue, I need antivenom. I'm dying of a snakebite." "I know it sounds silly, but just look. If you look, you'll be saved, you'll be healed." Now for a person to look in the wilderness at that bronze serpent, it required a couple things.
Number one, he had to admit he had done wrong, he had sinned. It's an admission of my guilt: "I'm dying because of what I have done in complaining against the Lord and against Moses and against God's provision." So you have to admit that you have sinned. And number two, it's a statement of faith: "I'm believing that if I look at that, I'm going to walk away completely okay." Silly? Yes. But it happened to work, because it says, "So it was, that whoever looked who had been bitten, if he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived."
If you think about it, and you were in that situation, and you were of the mind-set to say, "It's unscientific. I need antivenom." It would be much easier for you to look, not at the bronze serpent, but to look at yourself to find an answer. That's the way it is today. You will find people out in the world much more apt to look to themselves to find a solution for their sinful condition before God. "I gotta do something. I'm gonna work hard. My solution is found in religion or in a self-help book. Because when I look to Jesus, I admit there's only one place and one way to look. There's no other help. There is no other hope. I am hopeless."
But it's a simple look of faith will save. That's why Jesus brought it up. Now fast-forward from this incident in the book of Numbers to the book of Second Kings. In Second Kings, and I'll just read it to you, chapter 18, we find an interesting passage. Let me just read it to you. "It came to pass in the third year of Hoshea the son of Elah, the king of Israel, that Hezekiah, King Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, the king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done."
Now, listen to this: "He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel had burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan." Nehushtan means a brass thing, a thing of brass. Interesting, the object that was used in their history has now become a relic that they worship. They're actually worshiping a brass serpent. This is one of the reasons, I've told you before, that though the ark of the covenant would be an incredible archaeological discovery, I am so grateful that it hasn't been found.
Because people would worship that box. I don't know if you've ever traveled to different parts of the world where there are relics of a saint, like the tooth of John the apostle or the hair of this person or that person. I'm serious. And it's just, you look in this little box and it's grotesque. It looks like dried blood and hair. It's worshiped. And people believe there's special powers that you get. And Hezekiah had enough sense to take that bronze serpent, that pole, and not let it be enshrined in some church as a relic, just break that thing and burn it, if it's going to become an object of worship. Now it's become an idol. Kill it. Smash it. Get rid of it.
They had even called it Nehushtan. It's a thing of brass. So that happened years later. Now back to our text, Second Kings---I mean Numbers. I'm all over the map. Numbers 21 verse 10, "Now the children of Israel moved on and camped in Oboth. And they journeyed from Oboth [ō•vōth' or ŏ•vŏth'] and camped at Ije Abarim, in the wilderness which is east of Moab, toward the sunrise. And from there they moved and camped in the valley of Zered. From there they moved and camped on the other side of the Arnon," that's a little brook, a river, "which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites; for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites."
"Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord"---did you ever know there was a such a book? Wouldn't you love to have a copy? The Book of the Wars of the Lord, a book that did not make it into the cannon of Scripture, it's noncanonical. It was never considered to be inspired, but obviously a book they were aware of at that time. Evidently it's a journal, a war journal, a book of the victories, a record of the victories of the children of Israel, in a sense God's victories over the enemies of his people.
"It is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord: 'Waheb in Suphah, the brooks of the Arnon, and the slope of the brooks that reaches to the dwelling of Ar and lies on the border of Moab.' "So they're quoting from this book to give a geographical reference, because they're giving a geographical location, and they're referencing it with another reference book of the time."From there they went to Beer." The proper pronunciation would be Beér [be•ār']. So if you don't mind, I'm going to give it the proper pronunciation, otherwise you'll get in your mind that they went to, like, the place where Budweisers are made or something. [laughter]
"They went to Beer," which simply means a stream, and it's not a beer stream, "which is the well where the Lord said to Moses, 'Gather the people together, and I will give them water.' "Now watch this: "Then Israel sang this song"---whoa, whoa, whoa, right there. I'm stopping right there. This is first time Israel is singing in the wilderness. All these years, now suddenly they're singing? It's because for the first time in thirty-eight and a half years they recognize God's provision. They stop and they sing this song. "'Spring up, O well!' "Sound familiar?
There's a song we used to sing around here. Some of you remember it. "I've got a river of life flowing out of me; makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Opens prison doors, sets those captives free. I've got a river of life flowing out of me. Spring up, O well, within my soul!" "Spring up, O well!" It comes from this passage. So they're singing, "'Spring up, O well! All of you sing to it.' "That could mean, "I'm starting the song, sing along with me" or "Let's sing to this well. Let's, by faith, since the Lord brought us to this stream, let's all sing to it."
Because whoever is starting it is singing to it. "It" being the well, right? "'Spring up, O well!' "and then he says," 'All of us sing to it---the well the leaders sank, dug by the nation's nobles, by the lawgiver, with their staves.' And from the wilderness they went to Mattanah, from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth, and from Bamoth in the valley that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah." Pisgah is the mountain range where Mount Nebo sits. In Jordan you can view that land. That's where Moses will view the land and he will die there, that looks down on the wasteland.
So, what a change, from a funeral dirge to a praise and worship service; from the Sinai blues---that's what they were singing, the Sinai blues. I don't know how it goes, but some of you musicians could come up with one. From the Sinai blues to the hallelujah chorus. "Spring up, O well! All of you sing to it." I believe we have a principle here. They were discouraged because of the way. Snakes then bit them because of their complaints. They looked to the bronze serpent. They're healed. They come to this place for refreshment and they sing, "Spring up, O well!"
What do you when you feel dry, when you feel discouraged? Well, what do most people do? Yeah, complain. Rather than sulking, try singing. "Well, I don't feel like singing." Do it anyway. You will discover that when you make a choice, a choice, a deliberate choice to give praise and worship to the Lord and to sing, something happens to you. You become transformed. Now, I know some of think, "Well, I'm not that---I'm not a singing type. You know, when the people start singing, here's the position of some people.
Hands go up and it's like hands go down. But unleash some power by taking a step of faith and saying, "Rather than sulking, I'm going to start singing in that dry place, in that place of discouragement." In that place of depth they sang and they were refreshed. It's a challenge to you, and it's meant to be. My mind often goes to Job. Whenever it comes to suffering, he's like the epitome of the worst suffering in the world. And Job lost everything. You remember he lost his kids, he lost his health, he lost his home, he lost his property.
And his wife came to him one day and said, "Curse God and die." Rather than doing that, it says he fell down on his face and he worshiped the Lord. He worshiped the Lord. See, worship isn't just an expression when the cupboards are full, and you're health is good, and everybody in your family is doing great, they're all following the Lord, and it seems as though God is smiling on you. God is smiling on you when all of that is not happening. He has a covenant relationship with you. And when the cupboards are barren, and your health isn't what it's supposed to be, and people in your life aren't where you think they ought to be, sing.
Spring up, O well! The joy of the Lord is your strength. "Then, then Israel sent messengers to"---this character by the name of Sihon [sē•khōn'] or Sihon [sī•hŏn']. Sihon [sē•khōn'] is the right pronunciation. Now, there's a couple of kings here: Sihon and Og, O-G, Og. Easy to remember. They become immortalized throughout Israel's history. You know, we read these and you think, "Oh, I'll just forget those names." Don't forget them because they keep coming up and they'll be recorded throughout their history, throughout Scripture, because these are the victories in their march.
"Israel sent messengers to Sihon the king of the Amorites, saying, 'Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into fields or vineyards; we will not drink water from the wells. We will go by the King's Highway until we have passed through your territory.' "Now does this sound familiar? Remember they asked, last time when were together, the king of Edom if they could go through and he said, "No way." So they had to make a circuit back and around and take the long way. So now they're asking another king in another territory, "Can we go by you? We're going to stick to the highway and go up."
"But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and he came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. Then"---here's the second victory. "Then Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok," again, two streams of water that flow into the Jordan that mark territories north and south. "As far as the people of Ammon; for the border of the people of Ammon was fortified. So Israel took all of these cities, and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon and in all the villages."
"For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, had taken all his land from his hand as far as the Arnon." So it's sort of like poetic justice. Sihon stole that land from Moab; the children of Israel, by God's grace, are taking over that land as part of their inheritance. "Therefore" verse 27, "those who speak in proverbs"---we don't know who "those who speak in proverbs" are. My guess is these were like the wise guys, the wise men, the pundits of the Amorites, whoever they were. They were the smart guys, the wise guys, the Amorite professor dudes, and they spoke in proverbs.
Those guys had this proverb: " 'Come to Heshbon, let it be built; let the city of Sihon be repaired. For fire went out from Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon; it consumed Ar of Moab, the lords of the heights of Arnon. Woe to you, Moab! You have perished, O people of Chemosh! He has given his sons as fugitives and his daughters into captivity, to Sihon the king of the Amorites.' "So this is poetry immortalized evidently in some of the writings of the Amorites. It was probably a song. It was in the top forty Amorite chart, maybe number one for weeks on the charts. Everybody knew that tune. Everybody knew this little phraseology.
What I love is that God's people are taking this pagan song and they're redeeming it, and I love that concept. I love the concept of taking songs that are popular or styles that are popular with the world. "People say, "Well, that's a worldly sounding song." What does that mean? The old hymns were once worldly songs from the bars. And people like Martin Luther and Isaac Watts the great hymnwriter took those worldly tunes that were sung in the bars and added Christian lyrics to them, redeemed the songs and made them now venerable hymns. But did you know when they were written, they were controversial? They were redeemed songs.
So they took these songs and redeemed them. Here's what I want you to notice, look back in verse 29, which we have read down to. And it says, "You have perished, O people of Chemosh!" You see that term? That's one of the gods of this area, and he was worshiped, Chemosh this god of Moab, with human sacrifices. They killed people as part of their worship to this god Chemosh. Later on King Solomon, David's son Solomon of Israel will build a high place in Jerusalem to Chemosh, and he is called in that text "the abomination of the Moabites." Then later on one of the kings, Josiah, will break down the high places and destroy the images in Second Kings 23.
Verse 30, but the song goes on. "'We have shot at them; Heshbon has perished as far as Dibon. Then we laid waste as far as Nophah, which reaches to Medeba.' Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites. Then Moses sent to spy out Jazer; and they look its villages and drove out the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. So Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei." Edrei [ed•reh' ē] or Edrei [ed•rā] is north. So this is what I want you so see: they're coming from the south, okay, and they're going upward.
And as they take over Arad, which is down in the desert, down in the Negev Desert, the south---I've been to Arad---and they work their way up on the Transjordan the other side, the eastern side of the Jordan River. They take the river to the Arnon, the Jabbok, and all the way up to Edrei. So effectively now at this point Israel controls all of the Transjordan from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba down at Elath, all the way south, all the way up parallel to the Sea of Galilee on the eastern side of the Jordan. You follow me?
Now, why is that important? Because when Joshua brings the tribes in because of a promise that Moses will make, two and a half tribes will occupy that area. They don't want to cross the Jordan. Just remember this scene. They don't want to cross the Jordan, they want to stay here, especially up north in Bashan where it's beautiful and green. It really is luscious. So they---"We don't want to go into that land, this is good enough." So two and a half tribes remain behind and they settle in that area. "Then," verse 34, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Do not fear him.' "Who "him"? Og.
Now, why would God say, "Don't fear him?" Well, Deuteronomy, chapter 3, talks about his bedroom furniture, this king. Says he was a pretty big guy. In fact, his bed---now we don't know his size, but he was evidently a large guy. I mean, NBA and beyond. His bed was thirteen feet long by six feet wide according to Deuteronomy 3. I mean, that's---well, he is a king, that is a king size bed. That's like, I mean that's bigger than a California King; that's a Moabite-size king bed. [laughter] So he was a big dude. So now it makes sense when you put that text with this text.
"Do not fear him, for I have"---now that's past tense. They haven't even fought the battle yet. But in God's mind it's a done deal, so he makes the promise, " 'I have delivered him into your hand, with all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon.' And so they defeated him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left him; and they took possession of his land." So the chapter begins one way but ends another way. The chapter begins with them being discouraged because of the trials of the way; the chapter ends with them be encouraged by the Lord of the way.
The chapter opens up with them being victims; it closes with them being victors twice over, two battles. Instead of fearless or fearful, now, they're fearless, and they're filled with hope. Instead of meandering, now they're marching. "Then," chapter 22, verse 1, "the children of Israel moved," that's a good thing, "and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of Jordan across from Jericho." Let me give you just a little bit of preview of where we're going. Chapter 22, 23, 24, and 25, we're going to highlight an interesting and enigmatic character by the name of Balaam.
He's a mystery to me, powerful, prophetic. A pagan prophet, no question, but the Lord God speaks to him. And powerful because one of the most beautiful messianic prophecies comes through Balaam. "A Star," he said, "A Star will come out of Jacob; and a Scepter will rise out of Israel." That's his prediction. That's Balaam's prophecy of the coming Messiah. And, yet, without question the New Testament prophets cast him as a false prophet, a greedy prophet, speaks about the "error of Balaam," "the doctrine of Balaam," "the way of Balaam," always in negatives.
What's interesting is Balaam is mentioned some fifty-nine times in Scripture. There's a lot of biblical real estate devoted to him: the book of Numbers mentions him here, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Nehemiah, the prophet Micah mentions him. The New Testament authors Peter, Jude, and the book of Revelation all mention him. More is spoken about Balaam than Mary the mother of Jesus. More is spoken about Balaam than any of the apostles of Jesus. So he does play an important role. He is not a role model, he is a negative role model: "Don't be like this guy." But he is highlighted in these chapters.
"Now Balak," look at verse 2. Balak, he's the king of Moab. That's the place where they've camped, in modern-day Jordan. "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." I mean, he's looking out and watching the children of Israel come into his territory. He's heard about them, what they did to Og and Sihon. He knows the reputation. So, "He was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were so many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.
"So Moab said to the elders of Midian, 'Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up grass of the field.' And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time. And he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, 'Look, a people has come up from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and they are settling next to me!' "Now you'll notice that it says he come from Pethor. And the first thing you're thinking when you read "Pethor" is, "Where's that?" Right?
Do you do that when you read it? Do you ever go, "Where's that?" I do that, like, every day when I read the Bible. "Where's that?" Well, it tells you, "which is near the River." Now anytime you see those two words "the River," it most always speaks of one major river in that area; not the Nile, the Euphrates, the River. And he's with "the sons of his people." He's comes from Mesopotamia, the Euphrates River, that Tigris-Euphrates River Valley, the cradle of civilization, ancient Babylon, Iraq---all of that area. So because he comes from Pethor, we know where he came from.
There is a city, ancient Pitru, which is the area of Carchemish. I know, some of you are going, "You're just like giving me all sorts of these weird names tonight." Bear with me. Carchemish is a name some of you know; if you don't, you should know it. One of the most famous battles of all of history was fought at Carchemish. It was the battle of Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian against the pharaoh of Egypt in which the Babylonians defeated Pharaoh. Because of that battle it enabled Nebuchadnezzar to take over the world. It enabled him to destroy Jerusalem in 586 BC.
It enabled Daniel and his friends to get all the way to Babylon, and all of that scenario happened in Babylon---all because of the battle of Carchemish. All of that took place in this valley by the River, the Euphrates River. So in that ancient area is where Balaam is from. That's the setting of our text. And he says, "'Please," Balak from Moab says, "'please come, Balaam, come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.' "
In other words, Balaam already had a reputation. He was famous in the entire region for being one of the most influential supernaturalists in the area, powerful man, that he could speak a word, a curse, or a word of blessing and change the fate of individuals or nations. That's what Balak the king of Moab is using Balaam to get done. Now I want you to consider something, because Balak is correct in this. He sees all the people and he goes, "Too big of an enemy, I can't take them. In the physical realm, I can't handle this. This is a spiritual battle. A spiritual battle requires spiritual tools, weapons, spiritual people. The most spiritual person I know is Balaam."
Okay, he's a false prophet, but follow the principle. Knowing that the battle is bigger than him, he takes it to a spiritual level. If it's a spiritual battle---and they used to believe in those days that when one kingdom defeats another kingdom, essentially the gods of that nation have defeated the inferior gods of the nation that is overcome. So he recognizes this is a spiritual battle and I need spiritual help. Okay, it's pagan, it's superstitious, but he's accurate for our purposes. So much of life is a spiritual battle, and "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in high places."
And yet so often we resort to the weapons of the flesh to fight spiritual battles. No wonder we're so tired and discouraged. Move it to a higher level. Bring up the big guns. Get on your knees. Ask for God's people to help, to pray, to intercede. Take it to a spiritual level. "So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the diviner's fee," his little honorarium for the false prophet, "in their hand, and they came to Balaam and spoke to him the words of Balak. And he said to them, 'Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.' So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.
"Then God came to Balaam and said, 'Who are these men with you?' So Balaam said to God, 'Balak the son of Zippor, the king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, 'Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overpower them and drive them out.' And God said to Balaam, 'You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.' "We're not going to make it through the chapter, so we're going to be closing very shortly. But as we are introduced to this prophet, there's a couple of things that I want you to notice.
It is said that whoever Balaam blesses will be blessed, and whoever he curses will be cursed. God says, "Actually, that's my line." [laughter] I know they say that of you, but that's really my line. That's my description. I don't care who you curse or bless, whoever I bless is blessed. These people are blessed." Something else to notice: Balaam this prophet---and this throws people when they read the passage---speaks of the Lord. You see that in your text, he speaks of the Lord? And look at the word in your Bible. It's in capitals, right? Capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D. Do you see that?
That's because the English translation is giving you the tetragrammaton of the Hebrew, the Yahweh we would say. The Y-H-V-H or W-H, however you want to put it, the tetragrammaton. That's the covenant name. Now why would he use the covenant name? Simple, he just would do that no matter what god he was dealing with. He would pull down the name, the identity of that god. Because this guy Balaam was an oracle-priest from Mesopotamia, what is called a Mesopotamian baru, an oracle-priest who they believed superstitiously could tell the future by taking entrails of animals.
Like they would take the liver of an animal and put it out on a plate and move it around, and the little liver would jiggle around. And he would look at the jiggles, which direction they jiggle, and how it's formed, and he would say, "This means this and this means that." And they would take drops of oil and put them in water, and the formation of the oil on top of the water would form a sign to him. Or they would look at stars or cloud formations or the way birds fly through the air or cattle graze in formation, and they would make all this weird stuff up. "This means this, and this means that."
That's how they would make their predictions. So, you know, this guy would fit like in Santa Fe or Taos or--- [laughter] Like well, like they would go, "Yeah!" They could make a lot of money. If you went over to Sedona, I mean, that would be, like, he could cash in there. It's New Age perfection with this guy. That's what this guy was all about. So he's using the name Yahweh, thinking, "He's just another deity that I can manipulate." But then God speaks to him. But it doesn't say Yahweh speaks to him, it says God speaks to him. See the difference?
He uses the covenant name, but he is not a part of the covenant. So when the Bible describes the Lord's interaction with him, it's "God" speaks to him, without the covenant, and says, "'you shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.' So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, 'Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you.' " I wish that more people would understand this concept that we have just read, that these people, God says these people are---are what?---blessed.
This is the Jewish nation. Are they imperfect? Uh, in spades they're imperfect. They complain, God killed them with snakes, a whole bunch of them drop dead in the wilderness, a whole generation, but they're still blessed. They're God's people. He says, "I bless them." They are the children of Abraham. In Genesis 12, "The Lord said, 'I will make you a great nation," and peoples will come from you. "And whoever," Zechariah said, "Whoever touches you touches the apple of my eye." The Lord promises that whoever blesses Israel will be blessed, and curses Israel will be cursed. "Don't touch these people, I bless them. Don't curse them, I bless them."
Time's up; I mean, the struggle is that there's just so much to say after that. [laughter] So when we're together next time, we'll pick up on this blessing that God promised Abram who became Abraham, whose lineage was Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and these twelve tribes, this imperfect, sinful group of people. And God says, "They're blessed. They're blessed, they're mine, they're blessed." Because there were nations in this world that have reacted in the last several years to this blessing. And May 15 of 1948, the day after the independence of Israel, which is May 14, 1948, seven---seven nations, Arab nations around Israel attacked Israel to destroy it.
After the Balfour Declaration, after the United Nations sanction giving the land to the Jews, the Arab nations surrounded it to destroy it. And most of these nations have been unhappy about their inability to defeat Israel to this very day. And it holds the key to what is going on geopolitically now in the world and in future. So we'll get to that next time. [applause] Lord, I can't help but think of me, us, how humbling to think that you would say of a group of people that has just complained about you, your provision, and your representative, that you would call them blessed. It's all because of a covenant, the concept of covenant. You made a covenant with Abraham.
You passed that covenant on to Isaac, and then to Jacob, and to these twelve boys who were the tribal leaders of this nation we call the Jews. And because of the covenant you act a certain way and you declare certain things. And because of the covenant we have with you the most holy binding covenant of all, the new covenant, the Jesus covenant based upon the blood of the Lamb slain. We are blessed. And you treat us a way, not because of who we are, but because of who you are; not because of what we do, but because of what you've done; not because of what we say, but because of what you have declared. So we walk by faith and we give up, we abandon trying to earn our way or make you like us, because you love us with an everlasting love. And there we rest, in Jesus' name, amen.