© 2017 Lynn Abbott
Although it’s a classic and I am all grown-up, I still find “The Wizard of Oz” terrifying. Yup. When the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys appear, I cover my eyes and ears… and I sing very loud.
Perhaps, it’s because I relate to Dorothy’s quest to get home. Her pilgrimage speaks to me. And although Baum’s novel is secular and the Wizard himself is undeniably fallible, I nevertheless find some parallels in the story to my Christian walk through this world, a kingdom that is often hostile to Christ.
Just as C.S. Lewis’ Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were the focus of the White Witch’s venomous envy, Dorothy faces down a similar envious enemy.
And I am continually reminded that for those of genuine faith in Yeshua/Christ Jesus, the journey is also fraught with peril. Chosen by Abba from the foundation of the world, those who truly seek to do His will ultimately face the snares of the enemy.
Yes, Ephesians 2:10 assures us that “…we are His workmanship, created in the Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Nevertheless, Satan and his host do their best to sabotage God’s work. In other words, we are as much a target as Dorothy was when she donned those ruby slippers.
And the enemy doesn’t always use the blatantly evil to orchestrate his attacks. Sometimes, he simply seeks to distract us from God’s purpose with the beautiful or seemingly good.
For me, the image that comes to mind is that field of poppies that stood between Dorothy and the Emerald City. She and her friends needed to pass through those vibrant flowers in order to reach the Wizard, Baum’s modern-day prophet. She believed he would help her get home.
Disguised, however, by that beautiful field, danger lurked. The witch had perverted something of beauty in order to distract and ultimately harm Dorothy.
Indeed, our enemy doesn’t always send his “flying monkeys” to harm us. He frequently uses more subtle methods to ensnare us.
He, too, perverts things that God intended for our good, things of beauty, in order to promote an evil agenda. Or as our Savior warned, sometimes, the enemy employ wolves that masquerade as sheep, (Matthew 7:15).
Perhaps, like me, you have encountered someone who at first appeared friendly, but as time passed, that person began to undermine your best interests. What initially appeared fair actually revealed itself as foul…
Satan loves that strategy. He corrupts poppies in order to forestall or block our way home. He is bent on our destruction.
Balaam qualified as a “wolf” disguised in sheep’s clothing. In fact, Peter gives us quite a portrait of the seer, known as Balaam.
He writes that some seduce the “unstable,” and that, “They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam, son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness,” (2 Peter 2:14-15).
Peter certainly didn’t mince words.
Jude agrees with Peter, describing some who “have secretly slipped i among you. They are godless men who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord…they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error…” (Jude 4, 11).
The New Testament thus informs our evaluation of Balaam. Although at first glance, he seemed to be a prophet of God, it quickly becomes clear that his faith lacked authenticity.
Even so, as I recently began rereading the book of Numbers recently I found comfort in God’s account of Balaam in chapters 22-24. And I think that perhaps Balaam’s story has been included in Scripture not so much for what it reveals about Balaam as for what it reveals about the grace and greatness of Our Creator.
Numbers 22 sets the stage for Balaam’s drama. God’s people yet wandered in the desert. Because of their lack of faith and disobedience upon the spies return (Numbers 14), they had not entered the Promised Land. However, despite their disobedience, God did not abandon His people.
That’s right. God’s children may wander, but God will not allow His flock to come to ultimate harm. And while He sometimes allows them to follow their own will, He mercifully uses His rod and staff to redirect His lost sheep.
Paul writes, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose,” (Philippians 2:13).
Such was the case for Israel. God still led His people despite the scouting debacle. And Israel at the opening of Numbers 22 camped outside of Moab. Sounds harmless enough. But Balak, king of Moab, feared them.
And rightly so. After all, Israel had a reputation.
In fact, Moses and the Israeli army had completely driven out the Amorites and when Og, King of Bashan, led his military against God’s people, Israel had completely obliterated Og and his people. There were no survivors.
Understandably, the presence of the Israeli army on Balak’s borders caused some real concern. For this reason, Balak sent his princes and courtiers to summon the most well-known seer in the area…Balaam. These were no lackeys. No, Balak gave his best this important commission, and they carried with them a generous fee, the price of divination.
Balak took no chances. He fully intended to engage the services of the seer and to engage Balaam to curse Israel, Moab’s enemies.
Balaam greeted Balak’s diplomatic envoy with great courtesy and invited them to spend the night while he consulted God.
Whether or not Balaam fully expected to communicate with God isn’t revealed. However, I think it pretty clear that Balaam at least knew how to feign faith. He played his role well and worked the crowd.
Here’s where it gets good, though.
When Balaam inquired of God as to whether he should accompany Balak’s envoy, God showed up in a big way. And His command was unequivocal.
Based upon what follows in the narrative, I am convinced that God did not speak to Balaam because the seer was particularly blessed of God. After all, Balaam practiced divination, something that God had expressly forbidden ( Leviticus 19:26, 31).
God, then, did not speak to Balaam because he was any better than the Moabites. God spoke to Balaam for the sake of Israel.
Indeed, Yahweh had made a covenant with Israel. As a result, the children of Israel enjoyed God’s grace and favor. And despite the necessity of disciplining His children periodically, God protected them and continued to offer them mercy and grace.
The next morning , Balaam reported God’s message to Balak’s men, and sent them home.
Good move, Balaam.
But Balaam was a rather crafty fellow. He read Balak’s desperation well. After all, Balak had sent his best and made a generous offer in order to entire Balaam.
When Balak’s ambassador’s inevitably returned, Balaam begins to reveal his true character. He slipped in a subtle hint, “Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God. Now stay here tonight as the others did, and I will find out what else the LORD will tell me,” (Numbers 22:18).
Borrowing a little from Shakespeare, I must say, “Methinks Balaam protests too much.”
Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold…
What’s this? Is such a qualification necessary when a simple “No” would suffice? Balaam may have made some kind of profession of faith, but He certainly did not embrace the things of God. It appears that he had the material world on his mind.
Was a second consultation with God necessary? Methinks not. God’s commanded was clear: Balaam should not to accompany Balak’s men. Yet, here was Balaam–apparently looking for “wiggle room.” Obviously, the money and favor of the Moabite king definitely tempted him.
Things looked pretty bleak for Israel. If God’s blessing depended on this greedy seer of dubious faith, it looked as though Israel would certainly be cursed.
But our God always keeps His covenants. He is faithful even when we are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13).
God’s promises last from everlasting to everlasting. And this is as much true for those of us who, through faith in Christ, have been adopted into God’s family as it was for Moses and the children of Israel.
God has promised His people, “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” (Isaiah 54:17).
Does this mean we will never suffer in this world? Obviously not. At times, God allows the Balaams of this world to enter our lives.
But we can be sure of this: in Christ, our souls are secure. The enemy will not ultimately prevail. There may be minor setbacks. At times, Satan may waylay and deceive us. Yet, ultimately, God holds us sure.
Paul wrote, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who called you is faithful and He will do it, (I Thessalonians 5:23-24).
Just as our salvation is not earned or deserved neither is our sanctification deserved. We all go astray, yet, through God’s grace in Christ, God invites us to confess our sins and be restored, (I John 1:9).
This amazing grace for all of our failures became ours when we placed our faith in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross and confessed Him as Lord. Christ’s shed blood sealed our covenant with Yahweh. And God never drops the ball.
Balaam’s story proves that.
Balaam disobeyed God’s clear command. He went with Balak’s men to the place they had designated.
Of course, Balak expected Balaam to curse God’s people. But even though Balaam disobeyed God and attempted to profit by it, God remained on the throne. God said, “This far and no further.”
Scripture records that Balak gave Balaam three opportunities to curse Israel. And each time, the ceremonial preparations for divination were both elaborate and expensive. Yet, when it came down to it, the false prophet could not curse God’s people.
Yes, at times as a child of God, wolves may hound you.
Your circumstances may look grim.
Persecution may even strike you at your core.
At times, suffering certainly visits God’s saints.
Undoubtedly, Satan has the ability to wield all manner of difficulties in His attempts to derail God’s people.
But when I see a poppy nestled on a hillside, I remember…
Satan cannot snatch a child of God out of God’s hand (Romans 8:38-39).
No curse will stick.
No Satanic weapon will prevail.
Yahweh–the author of both the Old and New Covenants–remains constant, faithful and true. He ensures that those who have truly received Christ as Savior will safely reach His Celestial City.
The apostle Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves…”
And, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you,” (2 Corinthians 4: 7-9;14).
Balaam chose the temporal over the eternal. He proved himself a wolf in disguise. Yet, God prevented him from bringing ultimate harm to God’s people.
And God, our heavenly Father, protects you and me as well.
We are heading home… and all things will be restored to their original beauty, God’s intent. The enemy will no longer prowl. The curse of death will melt away and Satan will be destroyed by Christ, the Living Water.
Nothing can harm us in God’s presence. Without a doubt, God’s country infinitely outshines any fictional Emerald City.
His covenant of grace with us is guaranteed by His holy character.
You betcha. There’s no one like Abba.
And there’s no place like our heavenly home.
“The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him,” ~Psalm 28:7
“Thy loving-kindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Thy faithfulness reaches to the skies,” ~Psalm 36:5
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,”~ Psalm 46:1