Of recent, I’ve been observing different themes and patterns while studying my Bible. One such pattern is how the devil seems to work overtime when we are on the verge of our breakthrough, and if we are not mindful of his wiles, we may find ourselves stuck in a rut for longer than we should be. In this post, I look closely at how after 40 years of wandering, the Israelites sinned right on the border of entering the promised land, despite God preventing Balak’s persistent attempts to curse them. What the devil couldn’t achieve by sorcery (juju/jazz/spiritualism), he achieved with sex, food, and by distracting the people from prioritizing God (idol worship). I also highlight other instances of the devil’s overtime when God’s children were on the verge of receiving their breakthrough. I therefore urge you, particularly in these last days, to be sober and vigilant, because our adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
After 40 years, the Israelites were finally on the verge of receiving their long-promised blessings; but lo and behold, they fell into sin and 24,000 people died from the plague. This included all the remaining people that lacked faith that God could take them into the promised land those 40 years ago, as God had said that they would all perish in the wilderness.
Some context. The 40-year wilderness punishment was complete. The Israelites had conquered so many nations along the way and now settled in the plains of Moab, on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho. They were once again, on the verge of entry into their promised land. (You need to study Numbers 22-26 to get the full story as I’ll only be summarizing here.) Then steps in Balaam, a prophet from Mesopotamia (a.k.a. Babylon), who Balak, King of Moab, sent for to come curse the Israelites. But in all Balaam’s attempts, he instead ended up blessing Israel and proclaiming the future destruction of the Moabites. In Balaam’s words, we find that God was pleased with Israel, had not observed any iniquity in them (perhaps because He had forgiven and blotted out their sins), and was now determined to bless Israel (Num 23:21-23).
Basically, while the Israelites camped out in the plains of Moab, living out their daily lives, the devil was busy scheming for their destruction in the surrounding mountains and they had no clue. (Think about how many battles the Lord is fighting for us everyday but we have no clue about). But lo and behold, the God who they served had already blessed His children (Numbers 22:12) and they could not be cursed without God Himself permitting it (Num 23:8). Like we learn in Prov 26:2, “curses cannot hurt us unless we deserve them; they may flutter over us like a bird but will find no place to land!” (Read my post on generational curses). God’s children were on the verge of their breakthrough after the allotted 40-year wilderness and it was now ever more important for them to stay close and faithful to their God. But while God had saved them from the schemes of Balak, the devil was not ready to give up that easily.
We subsequently learn in Numbers 31:8, 16; 2 Pet 2:15, 16; Jude 11; and Revelation 2:14 that after Balaam returned to his home country, Mesopotamia, about a month’s journey away (c. 400 miles) from the land of Moab, he was lured back, but to Midian (just south east of Moab, where he was eventually killed) by pecuniary benefits. Basically, remember that the reason why God had wanted to kill Balaam at the outset was because there was greed lurking in his heart, since he seemed so eager to go do the bidding of Balak after he eventually got God’s permission to go with the emissaries (Numbers 22). But then, since Balaam had only been able to bless Israel, Balak, enraged, reneged on his promise to honor Balaam greatly (Num 24:11), causing Balaam to return home empty-handed. But the greedy man was lured back by money. What he initially couldn’t achieve with the Moabites by sorcery, he achieved by counseling the Midianites to tempt the children of Israel to sin in the eating of food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. So sad. Literally on the verge of their breakthrough, the Israelites’ sins caused a plague to come upon them and 24,000 of them died right there on the border.
I find this story quite intriguing but also instructive for us, even till today. We really cannot afford a moment of slippage as that could have eternal and irreversible consequences. Think about Moses’ momentary anger with the people which caused him to disobey God and eventually miss entering the promised land. Thank God for His grace and mercies because we know that Moses is now in heaven, as Christ subsequently came to resurrect his body (Jude 1:9; Matt 17:1-4)!
There are so many other instances in the Bible of the devil’s temptations when God’s people were on the verge of breakthrough, some of which I highlight below: