Numbers 25, Isaiah 15, Psalm 130

Today, read Numbers 25, Isaiah 15, Psalm 130.

This devotional is about Numbers 25.

The end of the previous chapter, Numbers 25:24 says, “Then Balaam got up and returned home, and Balak went his own way.” This gives the impression that Balaam couldn’t find a way to curse Israel so he and Balak went their separate ways. At the beginning of today’s chapter, Numbers 25, we read, “While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods” (v. 1). This sounds like a separate event from the preceding chapters but it is not. The place mentioned in verse 1, “Shittim,” is, according to Numbers 33:49 “along the Jordan” which is also where they were when these Balak/Balaam incidents began (see Numbers 22:1). So the location where the events of Numbers 25 happened is the same location where Balak tried to get Balaam to curse Israel.

Furthermore, Revelation 2:14 refers to “...the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” This indicates that Israel sinned sexually and in idolatry here in Numbers 25 because Balaam taught Balak to entice Israel into sin this way. In other words, Balaam couldn’t call down a curse on Israel himself because that would involve asking God to do something that was against his revealed will. But Balaam could bring a curse on Israel if he could get them to sin. Sex was a gateway sin to idolatry (25:2) and this brought a curse on the people of God. Verse 3b says, “And the Lord’s anger burned against them.” The result was the death penalty for those who sinned and death by plague for 24,000 others.

Sin and its consequences, then, severely weakened the nation of Israel. Maybe it wasn’t as bad a a curse, but it was bad nonetheless. The lesson here for us is that if Satan wants to hurt you, hurt our church, and hurt the cause of Christ--and he does--then successfully enticing us to sin is an effective way to do so. Maybe it isn’t as damaging as a direct strike such as Job experienced, but it is an effective way to hurt the Lord’s work. We need to guard our hearts and lives against sin for many reasons. It is displeasing to God, dishonoring to the Lord, damaging to our spiritual life and more. But one result of sin that maybe we don’t think about as much is the damage it can do to the Lord’s church and his cause.

If you’re living in unrepentant sin, the best way to contain the damage is to come forward and repent. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” If you’re playing with sin in your mind, going over and over in your head what it would be like, how nobody would ever know, etc. then please consider how much damage your sin can do--to you, your family, our church, and more. Then turn from that sin, refusing to play with it mentally any longer.

Numbers 25, Psalm 68, Isaiah 15, 1 Peter 3

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 25, Psalm 68, Isaiah 15, 1 Peter 3. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Numbers 25.

With God as their Lord, Israel was like a military freight train—an unstoppable army that would blast through any nation that opposed her or lived in her land. Way back in Numbers 22, the king of Moab, “Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites” (Num 22:2-3). For the past several chapters in Numbers we have been reading about how the king of Moab tried to stop this freight train from plowing through his kingdom. His strategy was to entice Balaam to call down a curse on Israel. It is unclear whether Balaam was a true prophet and non-Jewish worshipper of God or a false prophet that God decided to use in this case but, whichever it was, God was clearly speaking through Balaam. Although Balak king of Moab was looking for someone to curse Israel, all Balaam did was pronounce prophetic blessings on God’s people. This angered Balak (24:10-11) and, at the end of yesterday’s reading in Numbers 24, these two men ended their collaboration and Balaam returned to his home (Num 24:25). 

Here in Numbers 25, however, we see, unexpectedly, a curse fall on Israel. It was not a curse brought on supernaturally by God by a prophetic utterance. Instead, it was brought on them by their own disobedience to God’s commands. God had preserved Israel as a separate nation in Egypt and kept them from intermarrying with the Egyptians which would cause them to lose their distinct national identity. God gave them all kinds of laws many of which were non-moral but designed to keep Israel worshipping the true God and  to keep them distinct and separate from their neighbors. But, despite God’s commands not to worship other gods and not to commit adultery, here in Numbers 25 God’s people forsake God’s commands and engage in idolatry and adultery with the Moabites. Passages such as Revelation 2:14 (and others) tell us what Numbers does not—that although he could not prophetically curse God’s people, Balaam taught the Moabites how to create a curse organically by sinning against God in adultery and idolatry. Because they disobeyed God’s word, which was designed to bless them, “the Lord’s anger burned against them” (v. 3). The rest of chapter 25 describes the devastation that God’s punishment brought on his people. 

Israel’s experience in this passage should sober us and warn us. We ask for God’s blessings in our lives and God has blessed us immensely in Christ. While the world and the devil would love to see us fall under the curse of God’s judgment, God’s promises in Christ stand between us and their desire to harm us. What removes God’s blessings in our lives and causes us to miss all he wants for us to have in Christ is our own choices to sin against God’s word. Remember James 4:4, which we read last week: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Sin is so damaging in so many ways but one of them that we should keep in mind is how it cuts us off from God’s blessings and makes us an object of his displeasure. Because Christ bore the wrath for our sins, we don’t ever need to fear being lost and becoming God’s enemies in the sense of losing our salvation. But when we sin, we do lose the power of God and his blessings in our lives and, instead, expose ourselves to the consequences that are embedded automatically in many sins. Our worship and daily exposure to God’s word is designed by our Lord to protect us from the deceitfulness of sin so that we can live in God’s power and enjoy his blessings in our lives.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.