Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (4): Balaam and Joshua

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (4): Balaam and Joshua

Appearances of Christ in the O.T. (4): Balaam and Joshua.

In the Orthodox tradition, and in cases of numerous other Biblical scholars as well, when God appeared in visible form as a man in the Hebrew Bible, that Man was the eternal Jesus Christ. And when the Angel of the Lord, the Angel of Yahweh, made an appearance, that heavenly Messenger was a divine representative of Yahweh, and was in fact Jesus making an appearance. If Biblical characters claim to have seen God, who they saw was Jesus. God cannot be seen face-to-face. And God is a Spirit. So when God wants to make an appearance, He sends His eternal Son Jesus. In our two appearances in this article, we see a different side of Jesus. We see Him wielding a sword. We have seen Jesus in the OT in the contexts of deliverance and of revelation. But now we see Jesus in the context of personal judgment. In His righteousness, God holds people accountable. And we see God’s accountability in the Person of Jesus, the Angel of Yahweh.

Jesus With Balaam. Balaam was a religious puzzle. He was one of the most perplexing, unpredictable, and in the end, corrupt characters in the Hebrew Bible. He lived and operated in Mesopotamia, and was famous in that whole region for being a prophet for hire. If you wanted someone to be cursed, Balaam was your man, for a price. He would even offer a blessing if the money was right. He was more a sorcerer than a prophet, strictly speaking. In Biblical history, he was infamous for being a prophet always angling for a profit. He seemed to know the right words to say in very religious speech, but these words were not coming from his greedy little heart. Eugene Peterson called Balaam “a hollow man with no substance.” Peterson went on to say that Balaam “said all the right things, but he did all the wrong things.” On the surface, Balaam feared Yahweh, and even spoke in His name occasionally. But he counted Yahweh as only one of many other gods to consider in his trade.

In Numbers 22, as the Israelites marched toward the Promised Land, they decided to camp out in the neighboring country of Moab. Balak, the king of Moab, was terrified of the Israelites. So he wanted a spiritual edge over them to avoid defeat at their hands. Balak reached out to the most famous seer he could think of, Balaam. Balak wanted to hire Balaam to come down to Moab, from 400 miles away, to curse the Israelites. Balaam was resistant to the idea at first, but after Balak started offering a big pay day, the temptation was too great. Balaam’s mixed heart was in full force. On the one hand he saw the wisdom of only saying what God wanted him to say. On the other hand, a simple little curse could increase his wealth tenfold.

So Balaam started his journey to Moab, increasingly convinced that maybe God wouldn’t mind if he laid a curse on the Israelites. In deciding to come to Moab, Balaam even delayed his answer to Balak, approaching Yahweh to see if he could talk Him into Balak’s plan. Balaam apparently knew just enough about Yahweh to make him dangerous. While on his journey to Moab, riding on his faithful donkey, there suddenly was something blocking the way. “God was very angry when Balaam went, and the Angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. When the donkey saw the Angel of Yahweh standing in the road with a drawn sword in His hand, she turned off the road into a field.” (22:22). After continued thwarted attempts to travel down the road, Balaam, who was blind to this divine Messenger Jesus, started beating his poor donkey.

Humorously, the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak to Balaam, and she complained to Balaam about the beatings. She stated her history of being faithful to Balaam, so there must be a good reason for her resistance. Finally Balaam got it, his eyes were opened to see the Angel. Balaam offered an insincere apology and went on his way, unaware that a donkey had made a fool of him. And for some reason, Balaam wasn’t the least surprised that he had engaged in a conversation with his donkey. The donkey saved Balaam’s life from the sword, but Balaam continued seeing dollar signs in his eyes so he was evidently ignorant of who his savior was. Despite his greedy intentions, God forced Balaam to speak a blessing over the Israelites instead of the intended curse. After repeated attempts, each time it was clear that God would turn his curses into blessings through Balaam’s lips. Finally Balak fired Balaam and sent him sway. Before long, though, Balaam found the time to curse some of Israel’s enemies. Surprisingly, despite Balaam’s intentions, he spoke the word of the Lord over the Israelites and their enemies. He even had a vision of the Messiah that has stood the test of time… “A star rises out of Jacob, a scepter from Israel.” (24:17).

Balaam’s inner corruption came to the surface, though, when he later encouraged the Israelites to disobey God by engaging in the sexual worship of Baal. He cheered them on as the Israelites continued to have sexual relations with the pagan Moabite women. So apart from being greedy for gain, he taught others how to sin through sex and idolatry. Balaam went down in history as a sinner of monstrous proportions, and was even mentioned negatively in a number of New Testament sources (2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14). Maybe Peter said it best when he remarked that Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet Balaam.”

Balaam seems to be a prime example of what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 7:21-23… “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven… Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, I never knew you!” 

Jesus With Joshua. So the Israelites have finally reached the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering. Moses has died and his disciple Joshua has taken command of the Chosen People. “Joshua was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. The people of Israel listened obediently to Joshua and did the same as when God had commanded Moses.” (Deut. 34:10-12). God had earlier commissioned Joshua to take over the leadership of the Israelites, and now the time has come to take the Land.

The people of Israel came to the banks of the Jordan River, and, because it was the spring season, the water was moving too swiftly and was too high to cross safely. (Joshua 3). Per Yahweh’s instructions, Joshua had the priests carry the Ark of the Covenant into the River and stand there. Immediately the water stopped flowing, and made a bank of water upstream. As the Ark was held by the priests on the water bed, the people all crossed the river on dry ground. There wasn’t a wet foot in the whole company. Joshua then told the leaders to build a stone memorial to signify this historic moment, so the people would not forget this miracle.

In Joshua 5, their first big test was the gateway city to the Promised Land, Jericho. Jericho was perhaps the oldest and best fortified city in the ancient world, with walls as high as 25 feet and as thick as 20 feet. Jericho was considered to be invincible. Joshua was commander of the Israelite army, and was waiting for his marching orders from Yahweh. While camping near the city, Joshua was confronted by a mysterious Man, who stood there with a sword drawn in His hand. (5:13-15). This Man identified Himself as the Commander of Yahweh’s army. Joshua immediately fell on his face before Him and worshiped Him. Joshua asked this Commander what He had to say to him, and the first thing this Man said was to take off his sandals, for they were standing on holy ground. By no means was this a typical angel. Joshua wouldn’t have worshiped an angel, and the angel wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Holy ground only occurs in the presence of God Himself. This Commander was indeed Jesus Christ, ready to give the unusual battle plans to Joshua.

As their conversation continued, “Yahweh said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand!” (6:2). And then the divine Commander Jesus, the Messenger of Yahweh, proceeded to lay out the head-scratching strategy for taking over Jericho. Joshua, filled with faith in this heavenly Commander, followed these instructions to the letter, and Jericho was defeated. Joshua the human commander had the faith needed to submit to the divine Commander. And the battle was won. Just as Moses was confronted by Jesus on holy ground with the burning bush, Joshua was likewise confronted by Jesus on holy ground outside of Jericho.