TODAY’S READING: NUMBERS 22-24
Numbers 22 through 24 recounts Balak’s attempt to get Balaam to curse the people of Israel. But, while Balaam was going with the princes of Moab to meet Balak, “The angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary.”
Who is the angel of the Lord? What does it mean that the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as an adversary?
JESUS IS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD
The angel of the Lord makes many appearances in the Old Testament. The first time the angel of the Lord appears is in Genesis 16. In this chapter, he meets Hagar, a Gentile woman, at a well in the wilderness. Hagar had been looked on with contempt and dealt harshly with by Sarai. After Hagar fled, the angel of the Lord met her.
The angel of the Lord appears a second time when Abraham is just about to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22. The angel of the Lord calls from heaven to Abraham. Typically, angels go to meet men. But, the angel of the Lord is able to call from heaven. The angel of the Lord speaks of himself as God.
In Exodus 3, the angel of the Lord appears to Moses in a burning bush. Again, the angel of the Lord equates himself with God. He tells Moses his name is I Am That I Am.
There are several other appearances of the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. Each time he does things that are very much like Jesus. This shows us that the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Jesus. It’s fascinating to see that Jesus was actively involved in the creation all throughout the Bible and not just the New Testament.
THE ANGEL OF THE LORD TAKES A STAND AGAINST BALAAM
Jesus, the angel of the Lord, shows up in Numbers 22. He stands in the way against Balaam, who was being courted by Balak to curse the people of Israel.
The angel of the Lord stands in the road with a drawn sword. But, Balaam doesn’t see him. Only his donkey sees the angel of the Lord. So, the donkey turns out of the road and goes into a field. Balaam strikes the donkey to turn her back into the road.
Now, Balaam and the donkey are going down a narrow path between vineyards and the angel of the Lord takes a stand in the way again. While Balaam doesn’t see the angel of the Lord, the donkey does and presses Balaam’s foot against a wall. So, Balaam strikes the donkey a second time.
At this time, the angel of the Lord went ahead of Balaam and his donkey. The angel of the Lord stood in a narrow place. The place was so narrow there was no way to turn to the left of the right. Therefore, when the donkey sees the angel of the Lord this time, she just lays down in the path. Balaam strikes the donkey a third time. Bu, the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey so she could ask Balaam why he was striking her.
It was at this point that the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes so that he could see the angel of the Lord standing in the way with a sword drawn in his hand. The Lord tells Balaam that the donkey had seen him these three times. If she had not turned aside, then the angel of the Lord would have killed Balaam.
JESUS TAKES A STAND AGAINST YOUR OPPOSITION
I love this picture of Jesus standing against that which opposes us. Repeatedly, Jesus kept moving into the way of Balaam to turn Balaam the direction Jesus wanted him to go. Because Jesus knew the plans of Balaam, he was even able to get out in front of Balaam, forcing him into a place where he couldn’t turn to the right or the left. Eventually, Jesus let Balaam go with the princes of Moab. But, Balaam was not able to speaks curses over Israel. God wouldn’t allow it. The Lord took a stand against Israel’s opposition and turned the opposition so that he spoke blessings instead of curses.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” In this story, Israel was called according to God’s purpose. We see God working out for Israel’s good what Balak and Balaam planned for evil . It’s just like Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
Romans 8:31, 33, 35 goes on to say, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”
God is for you. Therefore, the angel of the Lord took a stand in the way against Israel’s opposition. Jesus does the same for us. He takes a stand in the way of our opposition. But, while the Old Testament pictures the opposition as other people, in this case Balaam and Balak, look at what Paul says. When Paul rhetorically asks what can separate us from God he never mentions people.
Ephesians 6:10-13 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
Israel’s enemies were nations and peoples in the Old Testament. But, Israel’s enemies are only a picture, a metaphor, of our real enemies. Paul says we don’t fight against flesh and blood, people. We fight against spiritual enemies. How do we fight? Just like the angel of the Lord in Numbers 22. We stand, but we stand in his strength with his armor upon us.
The angel of the Lord stood in Balaam’s way with a sword drawn. The armor God tells us to put on so that we can stand has a sword too. Ephesians 6:17 tells us to take “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Our sword is not a physical sword of the flesh. Our sword is of the Spirit. Our sword is the word of God. The word of God is Jesus. Jesus is our actual sword.
How do we wield our sword. Ephesians 6:18 says we wield our sword by “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”
It’s so clear in the New Testament that our battle is spiritual. We are not to fight other people. We are to fight against all of our own lusts – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. We are to fight against all of our own wrong desires. We are to fight against every wrong idea we have of God in our own minds that lead us to disobey Jesus. That is our Balaam that the angel of the Lord takes a stand against in the way with a drawn sword.
Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Balaam is a picture of the arguments and lofty opinions that are against the knowledge of God in our own minds. The angel of the Lord took a stand against Balaam. If Balaam wasn’t turned aside by the donkey, then the angel of the Lord would have killed him.
But, this doesn’t mean Jesus takes a stand, ready to kill people with a literal sword. No, Balaam represents every argument and lofty opinion against God in our own minds. Balaam represents the strongholds in our minds that need to be destroyed. Jesus, as the angel of the Lord, takes a stand with the sword drawn, with divine power, to destroy all of of our thoughts that are against him. That is what Jesus is taking a stand against and ready to kill if they do not give way to him.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The Bible is not the word of God. The Bible is not alive. Jesus is. Jesus is the word of God. He is alive and active. A physical sword is not alive an active. A physical sword can only separate flesh. But, Jesus is the living and active sword that can separate even between the soul and the spirit. He can separate what is of the earth and what is heaven in us. He can separate the flesh from the spirit in us. Jesus can do this because he knows the thoughts and intentions of hearts.
Jesus takes a stand against your opposition with a sword drawn. That opposition is every wrong argument, idea, and lofty opinion that is against Jesus. Let us stand with Jesus, in his armor, with our sword of the Spirit, the word of God, drawn. Let us pray at all times in the Spirit so that we can kill, put to death, crucify our flesh with its passions and desires.