“Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.” <Num.22:1 (NIV)>. This was to be their “staging area” from where they would enter and conquer the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. Who were the Moabites, and what or where was the plains of Moab?

Moab was the son of Lot and his eldest daughter <Gen.19:36-38>, and the territory in which the descendants of Moab lived was in three parts: the Land of Moab <Deut.1:5>; the Field of Moab; and the Plains of Moab which was located east of the Jordan River and opposite to the city of Jericho. As descendants of Lot’s son, the Moabites were related to the Israelites, and the Israelites were commanded by God not to “distress” them <see Deut.2:9>, and their land was not given to the Israelites as a possession. The Moabites and Ammonites, both descendants of Lot, were to become bitter enemies of Israel <see 1 Sa.14:47; 2 Chron.20:1> (NIV Study Bible).

For forty years this new generation of Israelites were instructed in godly living through the teaching of Moses and Aaron, and now they are about to put this training into real living. Such is the life of all wilderness travellers, the lessons we learn from God through the Scriptures must be put into practice. We must now identify the imitations and lies of Satan and be able to overcome the sinful life. The Israelites had two more lessons to learn, lessons that we all have to learn even today; lessons that prepared them as they conquered the promised land, that will prepare us for the daily toil of life.

One of the first lessons that each believer in Christ, wilderness travellers, need to learn is that there is nothing or no one that can separate us from the love of God <Rom.8:35-39>; not even Satan, though he hounds us wishing to devour us <1 Pet.5:8>; and although we are wrongly accused and some suffer at the hands of their accusers, Christ intercedes for us <Rom.8:31-34>. It is apparent that in this world, the culture in which we live, many individuals are terrified because of their sinful ways, and because they cannot attack God, the Jews and the Church are hated and persecuted; and we see this displayed in the attitude of the Moabites toward Israel. “Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.” <Num.22:3 (NIV)>; the Moabites had seen and heard of the Israelite defeat of the Amorites as well as other of the surrounding cities, and knowing that they were unable to defend themselves, Balak the king of Moab sent messengers to summon Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites <Num.22:4-6>. The word “curse” as used in this context is a prediction of misfortune, trouble, ordeal or tribulation. “These divine maledictions (curses) are not merely imprecations (curses), nor the expressions of impotent wishes; but they carry their effects with them, and are intended with all the miseries they denounce of foretell” (from Unger’s Bible Dictionary). This was a common practice in O.T. times and still is used in some cultures today. Who was Balaam, and what was his mission? Balaam was a heathen spiritualist who possessed some knowledge of the true God; he was very famous and became arrogant and covetous. The clue to his real character and motives is given to us in three N.T. passages: <Jude 11> speaks to his “error” – the error of consuming greed; in <2 Pet.2:15-16> we see his covetous conduct; and <Rev.2:14> speaks of “the teaching of Balaam” which is to abandon godly separation and a pilgrim character in favour of worldly conformity <see James 4:4> (from Unger’s Bible Dictionary). As we have seen previously it is only Christ that can truly condemn or curse, so Balaam was instructed by God to go with the men sent by Balak “but do only what I (God) tell you.” <Num.22:20 (NIV)>

As the narrative continues, we see that God used Balaam’s donkey to reveal His opposition to Balaam’s response to Balak’s invitation <Num.22:21-30>: three times the donkey sees the angel of God and tries to go off the path and finally God allows Balaam to see the angel; “Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.” <Num.22:31 (NIV)>. God tells Balaam that he is on a reckless path and reminds him again that he can only say what God tells him to say, he cannot curse Israel, he can only bless them. Balaam then offers four predictions in relation to the nation of Israel. In his first prediction he expresses: “How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?” <Num.23:8 (NIV)>; he must speak what God has told him. God’s message in his second prediction is: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it. “No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel.  The Lord their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them.” <Num.23:19-21 (NIV)>. In his third prediction he understands that God will not allow him to predict a curse and it is recorded that God’s Spirit came upon him and he now sees clearly and hears the words of God and sees a vision of the Almighty causing him to bless Israel with the words first spoken to Abraham by God; “May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” <Num.24:9 (NIV); cf Gen.12:2-3>. His fourth prediction was to a future event in the history of the nation of Israel that involved the birth of the Messiah: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city.” <Num.24:17-19 (NIV)>. In his final prediction he speaks of the demise of Amalek, the first enemy to attack the Israelites in opposition to God’s purpose for His people <see Ex.17:8-15>. In all this we see that when God saves an individual there is no longer any condemnation to that individual, or people, and therefore will be guarded by the divine power of God <Rom.8:1, 31>, a lesson to be learned and understood by every wilderness traveller.

The second lesson to be understood by every wilderness traveller is one of great importance. When Satan finds that a believer in Christ is securely defended by God’s Spirit and that he cannot curse the individual or group of individuals, he then attacks from a different perspective; he arouses the old nature within us especially our sexual desires. We are exposed to this type of temptation is virtually everything in the world today, and certainly it has crept into the Church. Our Lord Jesus Christ in His letter to the Church at Pergamum says: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” <Rev.2:14 (NIV)>, and we need to be on guard for Satan’s attempts to cause us to fall for the temptation introduced to the Israelites while they were encamped at Moab. “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. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.” <Num.25:1-3 (NIV)>. This type of behaviour is prevalent in our society today, as it was then, being displayed and practiced without any embarrassment, and unfortunately being introduced into the worship of the Church in some form. God’s people the Israelites were warned several times throughout their history, before and after they conquered the land, that they were to separate themselves from the ungodly inhabitants because of this very sinful indulgence; unfortunately, they did not obey God’s command, allowing some of the inhabitants to live among them and eventually they fell for Balaam’s teaching to abandon godly separation and a pilgrim character in favour of worldly conformity. This, among other sinful practices, led to their downfall and eventual exile from the land that God had given them. Today every believer in Christ is called to the same separated lifestyle, we are not to attempt joining with the ungodly especially to the extent of incorporating their lifestyle in our worship of God <see 2 Cor.6:14-18; cf 1 Cor.6:12-20; Eph.5:15-18>.  

These two lessons were the last given under the leadership of Moses; Moses died here in the wilderness and Joshua took over as leader, crossing the Jordan River and conquering the land promised to Israel. How well did they learn and practice what they were taught? How are you doing fellow wilderness traveller?