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:
- Israel’s lack of faith in Kadesh Bernea (a.k.a. Wilderness of Paran / Wilderness of Zin), the first time God was ready to take them into the promised land (Numbers 13-14). I expound on why this lack of faith was so displeasing in God’s sight in this post.
- The time of Jacob’s trouble, when despite God’s promises to him many years ago that he would return to his father’s land, the devil plagued and burdened Jacob’s heart with the weight of his sins and the fear of his brother killing him. Jacob was on the verge of his breakthrough but he had to fight for his victory, while searching his heart to acknowledge and confess his sins. (Genesis 32:22-32)
- The windstorm before Jesus delivered the demon (legion) possessed man. Jesus and His disciples were going to the country of Gadarenes. But in that country, a legion of demons had possessed this man for many years and the devil knew that Jesus was enroute and could potentially deliver him. So, on the verge of this man’s breakthrough, while Jesus was enroute by sea, “a great windstorm arose”, probably whipped up by the devil. (Luke 8:22-39; Mark 4:35-41; Mark 5:1-20). You see what I mean…continue reading…
- The world was on the verge of experiencing the first coming of our Lord and saviour but Herod was intent on finding and killing Jesus. (Matt 2:1-23)
- After His baptism, Jesus was about to finally commence His ministry but the devil assailed Him with temptations in the desert. Hallelujah – He overcame him by the word! (Matt 4:1-11)
- Similar to Herod/Jesus, Pharaoh attempted to kill Moses at birth. (Exodus 1; Exodus 2:1-8)
- God was ready to save Israel from Egypt but Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and wouldn’t let them go. Though he finally gave in momentarily, he subsequently changed his mind and fiercely pursued them to the Red Sea, filling the heart of the Israelites with terror. (Exodus 7-14)
- Moses had led the Israelites through the wilderness those 40 years and was on the verge of finally entering the promised land. But lacking faith when it mattered, expressing anger and seeming trust in his own ability to bring water from the rock, he disobeyed God’s instruction by striking the rock instead of speaking to it. This is perhaps because striking is how God brought water from the rock the first time; but the God whom we serve can do whatever He wants however He wants. Therefore, we cannot put Him in a box. Anyways, for his disobedience, God said: “because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (Numbers 20:1-13). So sad.
- Finally, Daniel had been praying and fasting for three weeks. When the angel of God finally appeared to him, he was told that from the first moment that he sought God in prayer, the instruction was given to answer him. But along the way, the angel was so mightily resisted by the prince of Persia (the devil) that Michael (Jesus Christ) had to intervene.
To conclude: All these things happened to God’s children as examples, and were written for our admonition, as we are those upon whom the ends of the ages have come. No temptation has overtaken you that is beyond the course of what others have had to face; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Cor 10:11, 13). With all this in mind, I hope that it’s clearer to you now that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, stay vigilant always. Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph 6:12-13)