Earlier in this series, we discussed the fact that the Holy Spirit is sent to every person at birth. As we mature, we detect His influence. Since we are free will beings, we can choose to reject or obey His prompting. Many people obey the Holy Spirit even though they have no knowledge of Him or His ministry. (Romans 2:14–15) On the other hand, Christians look to the Holy Spirit as their guide into all truth (John 16:13) and desire His presence in their lives because He brings love, joy, happiness, forgiveness, and many other wonderful qualities. (Galatians 5:22–23) We have also discussed how the Holy Spirit works through those whom the Lord calls to be His prophets. We have found that as a group, Bible prophets were not perfect. Last month, we discussed a prophet who disobeyed “a plain thus saith the Lord” and he paid for his transgression with his life!
The book of Acts is filled with stories about the work of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Holy Spirit was very evident during the first century A.D. The Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to do miracles that validated the gospel of Jesus. (Acts 14:3) The beginning of Christianity was marked by manifestations of Holy Spirit power. When the Great Tribulation begins, the ministry of the Holy Spirit will be poured out more demonstrably than ever witnessed before as the 144,000 proclaim the revelation of Jesus!
The Holy Spirit will work through the 144,000 with all kinds of signs and wonders. There will be healings and exorcisms! Many wicked people will repent of their sins, live by faith, and be transformed into saints! The 144,000 will be empowered to cause their adversaries to be speechless with the same wisdom that Jesus spoke when He was on Earth. When the 144,000 speak, the Holy Spirit will give weight and authority to the testimony of Jesus and a numberless multitude will be saved! (Revelation 7:9–14) This is not all! The Holy Spirit will give courage and strength to God’s people; He will comfort those who languish in prison; He will encourage and inspire those who are persecuted for their faith; and, most of all, the Holy Spirit will bond together a huge number of people who love the truth. These people will experience fellowship, love, and comradery in Christ words cannot describe. The 1,260 days of Holy Spirit power are imminent. If you anticipate His coming ministry, you will quickly recognize His work.
A Bible story about the prophet Balaam provides additional enlightenment about the Holy Spirit. The story begins when the inhabitants of Canaan became terrified as they saw the Children of Israel (appearing as a great horde of millions) approaching. Israel had recently defeated the Amorites and won a great victory at Bashan over King Og. Balak, king of Moab, noted this and became very concerned that his tribal nation was about to become Israel’s next conquest.
To understand Balak’s response, you first have to understand that in those days, military victories were treated as divinely granted. (Deuteronomy 20:4) Everyone understood the God of the victor was greater than the God of the defeated, so war was understood to be a battle between the gods. After Israel’s decisive victories over Og and the Amorites, King Balak sought a divine solution to ensure his victory over the Israelites. He knew of a prophet living in another country whose reputation had extended to Moab. The king thought that perhaps if he could get the prophet to curse the Children of Israel, his kingdom would be spared.
Like Melchizedek before him, Balaam was a servant of the Most High God even though he was not a descendant of Abraham. King Balak sent messengers to Balaam asking him to come to Moab and place a curse on the Children of Israel because Balak said, “For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed.” (Numbers 22:6) Balaam told the king’s messengers to wait overnight while he inquired of the Lord. That night, “God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.’ ” (Numbers 22:12) The next morning, Balaam said, “Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.” (Numbers 22:13) Balaam’s response to the king’s messengers reveals a defect in Balaam’s heart. Balaam did not tell Balak’s messengers that the Lord had blessed the Children of Israel.
When the messengers returned without Balaam, Balak was disappointed. He sent higher level ambassadors to Balaam with this message, “Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come [quickly] and put a curse on these people for me.” (Numbers 22:16–17, insertion mine) Balaam told the second group of emissaries to wait overnight so he could ask the Lord about Balak’s request. The Lord relented because He saw that Balaam really wanted to go. God permitted Balaam to go with this caveat: “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” (Numbers 22:20, italics mine) The Lord allowed Balaam to go with Balak’s messengers because He would use the situation to accomplish His goals. For example, the Lord saw Balaam’s interest in Balak’s promise of hefty reward and the Lord wanted to teach the prophet an important lesson.
The next morning, Balaam left on his donkey, “But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.” (Numbers 22:22) You may wonder, why would God be angry when He permitted Balaam to go? Some Bible commentators suggest that God wanted Balaam to wait for King Balak’s messengers to approach him in the morning. Numbers 22:20 (KJV) says “If the men come to call thee, rise up and go with them.” I do not believe this explanation is correct. The Lord is not petty; Balaam’s departure has nothing to do with the Lord’s anger. I believe the Lord’s anger with Balaam was because of the prophet’s greed. The Lord had told Balaam that Israel was blessed and he was not permitted to put a curse on Israel. Knowing this, Balaam still wanted to go and curse Israel because he wanted the money. It angered the Lord that Balaam would “sell his services” as a prophet of the Lord for money. (See Acts 8:20.)
When the Lord confronted Balaam on the donkey, He did not kill Balaam because He wanted the prophet to know that God knew he was doing wrong. God said, “I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before Me.” (Numbers 22:32) According to His infinite wisdom, God allowed Balaam to go to Balak because the Lord wanted to bring these two men together. God wanted Balak and all the Moabites to know that He had blessed the Children of Israel and there was nothing that Balaam or Balak could do about it. Each time Balaam tried to curse Israel, the prophet pronounced a huge blessing which Balak and his princes heard. The blessings pronounced by Balaam were not the meaningless words of a voodoo witchdoctor. The blessings uttered by Balaam were wonderful promises showing the Lord’s purposes for Israel! After Balaam repeatedly failed to curse Israel, I think Balak and his princes realized they could not thwart God’s plans for Israel!
The Jewish historian Josephus indicates that after Balaam failed to curse Israel, the prophet told Balak the only way to defeat Israel was to make the God of Israel angry with His own people. Since the God of Israel did not allow Israel to worship other Gods and He hated sexual immorality, Israel could be defeated if Balak sent beautiful women to seduce the young soldiers of Israel. If the young men became involved with the women and worshiped the Moabite gods, Israel would be cursed by its own God! (Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter 6)
Weeks later, “While [the army of] 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 [the young men of] Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And [as Balaam predicted] the Lord’s anger burned against them.” (Numbers 25:1–3, insertions mine)
When Moses heard what was going on, he rushed over to Shittim and asked the officers of the army, “ ‘Have you allowed all the women [prostitutes] to live?’ he asked them. They [the prostitutes] were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people [and 24,000 were killed].” (Numbers 31:15–16, insertions mine)
Consider this for a moment. It appears that God not only went along with Balaam’s greed to teach the prophet a lesson (he returned home empty handed), but also God knew that some of the Children of Israel were wicked. They would worship other gods and engage in prostitution with the Moabites if the opportunity existed. Therefore, God was able to reprove Balaam for his reckless ways; He was able to inform King Balak and the Moabites that He had blessed Israel (a point that surrounding nations also needed to know); and God was able to purge Israel of 24,000 people who were sexually immoral and/or willing to worship other gods. (Numbers 31:7–8) I think these are the reasons that God allowed Balaam to go see King Balak!
I am so thankful the Lord is longsuffering with mankind. He remembers that we are made of dust. (Psalm 103:14) Before I close, please review the misadventure of another prophet. Jonah lived during the seventh century B.C. One day the Lord told Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2) Nineveh was a great city in Assyria, having a population of over 120,000; at that time, the Assyrians detested the Jews. (In fact, the Assyrians destroyed the ten tribes of Israel, located in the northern kingdom around 722 B.C.) If we put Jonah’s call in perspective, it would be like the Lord telling a Christian to go to a city controlled by ISIS and assert among the Muslims who live there that Jesus Christ will destroy their city within 40 days unless they repent of their wickedness. When Jonah considered the odds of getting out of Nineveh alive, he made a choice that human nature understands. To save his life, “Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (Jonah 1:3)
Instead of traveling overland to Nineveh, Jonah went to Joppa (about 55 miles from home), and quickly boarded a ship headed in the opposite direction! Of course, you know the rest of the story. The Ninevites repented and the city was spared from destruction for about 160 years!
The stories of Balaam and Jonah have been briefly examined to highlight the following points:
The Lord may call us, as Jonah, to perform a task we would rather not do. The Lord sent Jonah to Nineveh because the Lord knew the king had a good heart. The Holy Spirit was able, through Jonah, to impress the king with the validity of God’s threat. The Holy Spirit also touched the hearts of unbelieving Ninevites when they saw the king’s humility. The king decreed: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from His fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:8–9)
Balaam had a defect of character, yet God used his recklessness to accomplish important objectives in ways we could not have imagined!
Jonah and Balaam are good examples showing us what the Holy Spirit accomplishes when an ordinary person is willing to obey His prompting.
One final point:
When the 144,000 begin their ministry, God is going to remove their sinful natures so they will faithfully obey the Holy Spirit’s direction without carnal influence. This has never happened before! They will speak the testimony of Jesus, regardless of the consequences. They will be persecuted and suffer in the extreme for Jesus. Nothing will deter them and no defect will be in them because the Holy Spirit will empower them to overcome the world as Jesus overcame the world. Because the temptations and challenges which the 144,000 will face will be far greater than people with sinful natures can overcome, the Lord will perform a miracle within them. He will complete the deposit and seal them. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what [the completion that] is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:21–22, insertion and italic mine)