Numbers 22 to 25
You don’t read the word ‘altar’ or ‘sacrifice’ of the first instances where it’s mentioned. I often wonder why those words were left out, why did God not make a big deal out of something that was a foreshadow of what was about to fulfill in Christ as history unfolded? I’m talking about Genesis 3:21. Those of you who grew up in the church can repeat the sermon backwards of how that portion talks about God making the first sacrifice, how God had to kill a lamb to offer Adam and Eve tunics of skin (let’s leave the argument of ‘God can give them tunics of skin without sacrificing a lamb’ for another day), how that points to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary, how that tunic signifies the ‘robe of righteousness’ that we are clothed with as we are saved and so forth.
This message will not define or explain altars or sacrifices, but shed light on the significance thereof. I would like to look at what is acceptable and unacceptable to God as sacrifices. At the end of the day we are interested in finding out what pleases God and do it!
So, God did it first and our forefathers caught on. Eventually it became a law for Israel and as we read through the Pentateuch we see a sacrifice for every season and every reason; from sin, to dedication to thanksgiving. But through Israel’s rebellion and disobedience temple was destroyed, they were carried away captive and even though it was restored for a while, but after the perfect Lamb of God (Christ Jesus) was sacrificed on Calvary for the entire human race once and for all, and the temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, the sacrifices ceased completely. Now all the Jewish people are left with are the synagogues, to the present day. The preparation for the third temple is underway. Altars and sacrifices are also planned. They even have found red heifer and Aaron’s descendants to conduct the services. Is it God’s will? I do not think so. No more sacrifices are needed because Christ was sacrificed for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.
As I was driving to work listening to the bible as usual, the story of Balaam was being read and the mention of ‘altars and sacrifices’ detained my attention. I have heard and read this portion numerous times since childhood but I never gave much thought to the altars built and sacrifices offered by Balaam and Balak. I will allow you the pleasure of counting how many times they built altars and offered sacrifices. Just by listening to the passage you can tell that they built more altars and offered more sacrifices than it is RECORDED about Abraham!
Mind you, sacrifices are expensive! Well, you can say Balak was a king so he could afford. But think about the effort it will take to build those 7 altars! And bringing wood and sacrificial animal (7 bulls & 7 rams) to the mountain. Then imagine the effort of cutting up those animals, cleaning them, arranging the fire wood and then burning it all up. And, this was repeated several times! The saddest part is, they gained nothing out of it! Every time an Balaam opened his mouth to pronounce a curse on Israel, he ended up blessing them and obviously it was a curse for Balak. All the sacrifice that Balaam and Balak earned them the displeasure of God! To me the saddest part is Numbers 23:4-5, in verse 4 Balaam tells God about the sacrifices he offered, but in verse 5 God totally ignore his mention of sacrifice!
You can build all the altars in the world and offer a million sacrifices, if God is not pleased with you, He will have no regard for your sacrifice. You could be building mega churches, undertaking huge projects and sacrificing your time, energy, effort, family and all that you have towards such endeavors, but if God is not pleased with your life, if God is not pleased with the way you conduct yourself, if God is not pleased with your heart and your attitude; it’s all a waste. All your efforts amount to nothing. It would be nice if it would amount to nothing, but in fact it will bring you shame! Imagine, if at the end of it all God says, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me.’ May none of us ever end up like that, is my prayer. And, may all of us hear ‘good and faithful servant…’.
Why did God have no regard for Balaam? Because Balaam was a pagan priest? Because Balaam was a medium, a spiritist? Because Balaam disobeyed God? Because Balaam was arrogant? Because Balaam was greedy? Listen, we can set up idols in our life. Anything that takes the place of God in your life is an idol! Be it your wife, your children, your business, your job, your hobby, your friends, your family, your wealth, yourYOU’RE YOUR favorite football game/team, your addiction to food, your addiction to shopping, or if you enjoy doing nothing! We too can become idol worshippers, may not even recognize them as idols.
Do I need to talk about disobedience? Regretfully and to my shame I can think of plenty of times I have disobeyed God, played the fool, acted like an utter idiot! Who lost? I did! And it grieved God! I do not know how I managed to do something stupid even after repeated warnings from God?! But gracious as He is and mercifully as He looks at His foolish child, He delivers me. I can think of numerous times I could have lost it all, including life, if it was not for my Savior and Lord! Every time I look back, I remember that verse ‘he who is forgiven much, loves much’. Folks, ‘obedience is better than sacrifice’ says the book of Samuel.
You will not miss Balaam’s arrogance and pride in disregarding God’s express command to him. If there is one thing that can stand between you, God and your Salvation, it’s pride. It led to the downfall of the first sinner, satan himself, his heart became proud. Pride can creep in so neatly that we will not even notice, we will still be in denial and try to act in all humility, but deep inside you know that it is getting a chokehold on you. It’s not necessary that you have to be wealthy to be proud, I had nothing and I was still proud, the funny part is, you don’t even know what you are so proud about! If you seriously think about it, there is absolutely nothing to be proud about. Money? It’ll fly away, or you’ll not take it when you go. Health? A small cancerous cell or a stroke or an accident can mar that lovely face, if none of those got us, then gravity will get us six feet under in a few years. House? How many rooms can you actually use? Cars? How many can you drive at one time? Clothes? How many can you wear at a time? Listen, there is nothing to boast about, each day is a blessing from the Lord. If you are alive and breathing, there is reason to rejoice and give thanks to God and enjoy the life you have. Your sacrifice is not acceptable if you are not humble.
Let’s admit we all have greed, to some extent, you may be better than your brother/ sister but at heart you know where you stand. It’s just there in our fallen nature, it comes naturally to us, in varying measures of course. Read 1 Timothy 6:6-10 if you want a God perspective of how we should conduct ourselves. The thing that bothers me most is that people can lose their faith because of greed! And, of course, going back to our topic, God will not be pleased with your sacrifice.
I would truly like to pick other examples from the Old testament of those who built altars and offered sacrifices – Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Saul, Samuel, David, Elijah and the rest. My favorite is the Elijah episode. He repairs the altar, arranges the wood and the animal, a short prayer and the fire of God comes down. What a contrast! But there is huge difference between Elijah and Balaam. Even though Elijah was a ‘man of like passions’, he stood before the Lord. He KNEW the God of Israel, he heard directly from the God of Israel, he did what the Lord commanded him, he lived for God! He was accepted in the sight of God and so was his sacrifice!
In closing let me quote Psalm 51:15-17 –
O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For You do not desire sacrifice, Or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise. (NKJV)
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise.