I was reading today in Numbers and came across the story of Balaam, who evidently was a prophet. It doesn’t specify his profession or qualifications, just that he was the son of Beor and that God spoke directly to him. The king of Moab was terrified of the Israelites and hired Balaam to curse them. But he was unable to do so.
I have been puzzled by this story; if God told him to go with the king’s officials who had come to fetch him, then why was He angry that he’d gone – and sent an angel to block his way? The wording in the Jewish bible gives some clues:
“I have come out here to bar your way, because you are rushing to oppose me.” – Num 22:32
This leads me to think it wasn’t that he’d gone with them – God had told him to do so. But it was that he’d gone with the wrong idea. Maybe he thought that since God told him to go, he was really supposed to curse Israel like the Moabite king was hiring him to do. Earlier, God had told him not to go with the men, because he was not to curse Israel. When God told him later to go, he might have thought God had changed his mind, so he went planning to give the curse.
But God doesn’t change his mind about blessings and cursing… When He blesses people, that doesn’t go away.
I love the donkey’s response to being beaten for stopping in front of the angel, “Have I ever done anything like this before?” Sometimes, we don’t notice God directing our paths because we get too frustrated things are going as they always have – or as we think they should – and we react emotionally instead of stopping to question what is underneath the surface.
So let’s look at this blessing, because it is so beautiful:
“But how can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom Adonai has not denounced? From the top of the rocks I have seen them, from the hills I behold them – yes, a people that will dwell alone and not think itself one of the nations. Who can count Jacob’s descendants, as numerous as dust? May I die as the righterous die! May my life end like theirs!” – Num 23:8-10
He pronounces them blessed, as a people visible from far off for all the world to see what being right with God looks like. Set apart by God as righteous – even as the only nation that lives the way God intends men to live; with kindness, love, community, reverence, valuing life, and seeking to know God.
The king tried again… and again, Balaam blessed instead of cursing them:
“God is not a human who lies or a mortal who changes his mind. When he says something, He will do it! When He makes a promise, He will fulfill it! Look, I am ordered to bless; when He blesses, I can’t reverse it. No one has seen guilt in Jacob, or perceived perversity in Israel; Adonai their God is with them and acclaimed as King among them. God, who brought them out of Egypt, gives them the strength of a wild ox, thus one can’t put a spell on Jacob, no magic will work against Israel. It can now be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘What is this that God has done?!’ Here is a people rising up like a lioness; like a lion he rears himself up – he will not lie down till he eats up the prey and drinks the blood of the slain.” – Num 23: 19-24
Things to remember:
- No curse can stand against those who God blesses
- God’s people are to live as an example – different from the rest of the world
- It is better to die righteous than to live like the world
- God is not a human who changes his mind an a whim.
- When God says something or makes a promise, He WILL do it!
- God is our King – ruler over us, sovereign, and worthy of praise as such.
- God gives us strength – like a ox – to do what He calls us to do.
- When God sets us in motion to do something, nothing will stop His will from being accomplished.
- We are strong in His strength