The story of Balaam and Balak is actually one of the more humorous in Scripture. Balak hired Balaam to curse Israel for him, and the Lord took over the prophet’s mouth five separate times and turned his intended cursing into blessings. The heart of his problem is stated in 23:8-“How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?” A frontal attack on them, through physical or magical means, would never work. The Lord had declared that these people were under his protection, and as long as that was so, nothing could touch them.
The humor ends in chapter 25, however. The Moabites (along with the Midianites) seduced the sons of Israel into sexual immorality and idolatry, and “the Lord’s anger burned against them.” In fact, he sent a plague against them which claimed 24,000 lives. It only ended when the zeal of a man named Phineas placated the Lord’s anger.
Was the seduction by the Moabites planned out, or was it a coincidence that this happened right after Balak (the king of Moab) failed with Balaam’s magical attempt? Nope. Read 31:1-16, and note carefully the last verse. Apparently what Balaam failed to accomplish in his crude attempt to curse Israel, he succeeded in doing by turning the people against the Lord and the Lord against his people. A frontal assault didn’t work, but a more subtle attack (from the inside-out) caused much more damage. He initiated the plan to seduce Israel into idolatry and sexual immorality, and thus he separated Israel from God's protection.
I think that this is a vital lesson for the church in America today. Let me start by saying that I believe that spiritual warfare is real. There is a real person named Satan, he has minions, and he can (in certain circumstances) attack believers and what God is doing through them. I believe he's behind most of the persecution of the church abroad. I also believe that sometimes he's capable of physical assaults on individual believers. Here in America, however, he has a much more subtle approach. He slips into our lives through laziness, or materialism, or sexual immorality. I think the main weapon in his “arsenal,” against the church in America, is spiritual apathy. He doesn’t attack us, so much as distract us. By turning us against our Savior in our personal lives, the church is rotted within like a hundred-year old large Oak that looks magnificent on the outside but inside is eaten up by termites.
Will it take a wave of persecution to wake up the church? I hope not. I know that the Holy Spirit is fully capable of bringing revival into our personal lives, which will spill out into church-wide renewal. I also know that whatever he has to do to get our attention, he will do. He loves us too much to do anything less.
Spirit of Holiness, change me. Please do your work of burning off of me anything that doesn’t look like Jesus. When the enemy is starting to make headway in my life, show it to me and give me the strength I need to make the tough choices.