Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 8. Numbers (2)
Num 23:8 How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the LORD has not denounced?
I am not a fan of Numbers but when we come to the story of Balaam and Balak I am reminded of sitting in a Planetarium as it goes dark and you look up and stars or planets appear in the blackness. This story that fills chapters 22 to 24 is indeed a story of darkness. There is the darkness of Balak who is king of Moab (22:4) who wants a curse put on Israel who have encamped on the Plains of Moab (22:1) before entering the Land. He really hasn’t anything to worry about because they are more concerned with going into the Land than with him or his land, but fear makes him look for a seer who might put a curse on them, and he chooses Balaam and promises him riches if he will do this. The darkness of Balaam is that it is apparent that behind his spiritual façade he would like to take the riches. It is a murky story because it appears that most of the time Balaam resorts to occult magic to conjure up a word for Balak. (“when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times.” 24:1) Nevertheless there are a number of highlights, bright lights shining in the midst of this darkness, each declaring a lesson for us.
The first amazing thing about this story is that the Lord keeps on turning up. In the early part we read, “God came to Balaam” (22:9,20) Then He sends an angel to rebuke Balaam (22:21-35) Then we have “God met with him” (23:4) and “The Lord met with Balaam” (23:16) and later we find, “the Spirit of God came upon him” (24:2) Lesson No.1 – the Lord is in this story, He is a communicator, even with those of dubious origins and questionable motives.
The second amazing thing about this story is that Balaam, with his mixed motives, keeps on making very good declarations:
- “I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God.” (22:18)
- Then, “I must speak only what God puts in my mouth,” (22:28)
- and, “How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the LORD has not denounced?” (23:8)
- and “Must I not speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?” (23:12)
- and “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (23:19)
- and “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the LORD says?” (23:26)
- and “I must say only what the LORD says’?” (24:13)
Amazing declarations of the truth! Lesson No.2 – only bring as ‘a word’ what you are sure the Lord has given you, and always check for the truth.
But there is a third thing, that needs to be included in the lessons here, is what is not written down here. Behind all of his actions and his words, Balaam seems a rather hesitant witness to the Lord, he appears almost reticent to bring these things, it’s almost like he blames the Lord for them. What is seriously bad news in all this is that Balaam is credited with eventually giving Balak advice to let his women mingle with the Israelite men and undermine their faith (Num 31:16) Lesson No.3 – people can speak (correct) prophetic words but still remain ‘off the rails’ as far as their heart to the Lord is concerned. Prophecy is not a sign of sanctification!
The fourth thing that stands out as ‘lesson fodder’ here involves the ways of the Lord (remember, that Moses asked about – Ex 33:13). To see this observe His instructions to Balaam. First of all it was in respect of Balak’s messengers, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.” (22:12) Now in that He is expressing His will. i.e. there’s no point in you going because he is only going to ask you to curse Israel but they are blessed and nothing you can say will change that. End of story – or at least it should be, but the Lord reads Balaam’s heart. When the messengers come again He says, “go with them, but do only what I tell you.” Now this is followed by the fiasco with the donkey and the angel eventually says, “I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.” (22:32) i.e. when I said go, I hoped you would catch my heart that I have already expressed and not go, but I said it knowing what your heart wanted to do, but I wasn’t happy with it! Lesson No. 4 – as Moses learnt, the Lord will often make a statement to test our hearts but the statement is not in fact His heart for the situation; He wants us to grow up to learn to discern His heart and will, and particularly when He lays a path before us because He sees it is the (wrong) determined yearning of our heart.
The fifth thing to be seen in this story is the wonderful blessings spoken by the Lord about Israel: “No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them. God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox.” (23:21,22) and “How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” (24:5) and “May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!” (24:9) and “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab,” (24:17) The first one declares the strategy and sovereign purposes of God being worked out in Israel, the second one accepts they are blessed by Him, the third one has echoes of Abram’s blessing, and the last one has echoes either of a distant Messiah, or maybe of the reign of David yet to come. Despite having gone through forty years of judgment in the desert, the present Israel are blessed of God and still very much part of His sovereign plans and purposes. Lesson No. 5 – the blessing of God rests on His people for whom He has plans and purposes for their blessing and for the blessing of the world. Hallelujah!