All of God’s promises find their ‘Yes’ in you, Lord Jesus. It is through you that we utter our ‘Amen’ to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
Read NUMBERS 23
Balaam’s First Message
23 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 2 Balak did as Balaam said, and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went off to a barren height.
4 God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.”
5 The Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
6 So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials. 7 Then Balaam spoke his message:
“Balak brought me from Aram,
the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;
come, denounce Israel.’
8 How can I curse
those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
those whom the Lord has not denounced?
9 From the rocky peaks I see them,
from the heights I view them.
I see a people who live apart
and do not consider themselves one of the nations.
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob
or number even a fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
and may my final end be like theirs!”
11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”
12 He answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”
Balaam’s Second Message
13 Then Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will not see them all but only the outskirts of their camp. And from there, curse them for me.” 14 So he took him to the field of Zophim on the top of Pisgah, and there he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
15 Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with him over there.”
16 The Lord met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”
17 So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, “What did the Lord say?”
18 Then he spoke his message:
“Arise, Balak, and listen;
hear me, son of Zippor.
19 God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
20 I have received a command to bless;
he has blessed, and I cannot change it.
21 “No misfortune is seen in Jacob,
no misery observed[a] in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them;
the shout of the King is among them.
22 God brought them out of Egypt;
they have the strength of a wild ox.
23 There is no divination against[b] Jacob,
no evil omens against[c] Israel.
It will now be said of Jacob
and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’
24 The people rise like a lioness;
they rouse themselves like a lion
that does not rest till it devours its prey
and drinks the blood of its victims.”
25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”
26 Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”
Balaam’s Third Message
27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.” 28 And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland.
29 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 30 Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Lord, speak to me, that I may speak / in living echoes of thy tone.’1
God’s covenant with Abraham centered on three key promises: land, nationhood, blessing.2 It was in pursuance of this covenant that God had delivered his people from slavery, declared them his covenant people, and was leading them to the Promised Land. As the Israelites camped on the plains of Moab, the threshold of the Promised Land, it seems fitting that they should hear divine pronouncements about the fulfillment of these promises (see vs 9,10,21–23). What is unexpected is that these oracles don’t address Israel but a pagan king, and that they are not uttered by God’s prophet but by a pagan baru (priest-diviner).
As a baru, Balaam was a devotee of many gods, willing to deal with any god if the price was right. The multiple altars (v 1) may reflect this polytheistic view. Despite his earlier admission, ‘I have sinned,’3 there is no evidence of a change of heart and Balaam continues to rely on divination.4 Bulls and rams were valuable sacrificial animals, but the offering of 42 animals – two animals at each of the seven altars, at three different sites (vs 1,14,29) – does not emit the aroma of a pleasing sacrifice, only the suspicious stench of bribery! Balaam’s magnificent words of blessing do not stem from his unwillingness to curse God’s people, only from his inability to do so: he is compelled (‘must’) to speak only as the Lord directs and ‘cannot’ do otherwise (vs 12,20,26).
The Lord had already used a ‘dumb animal’ to speak to Balaam; now he uses a greedy, manipulative soothsayer to make known his unchanging character and unshakeable purposes to a pagan king (v 18). Through the grapevine, the Israelites, too, would hear these powerful pronouncements and be strengthened for the final leg of their journey.
Amid the clamor and confusion of many voices speaking many messages, may the Spirit help us to recognize truth, regardless of who speaks it.
Mighty God, help me to claim those promises that come from your Word. Forgive me when my desires are not in conformity with your promises.
1 Frances Havergal, 1836–79 2 Gen 12:1–3 3 Num 22:34 4 Contrast Num 24:1
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