Wednesday after the Feast of Whitsunday
Scripture: Numbers 23:4-30 (NKJV)
4 And God met Balaam, and he said to Him, “I have prepared the seven altars, and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.” 5 Then the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” 6 So he returned to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, he and all the princes of Moab. 7 And he took up his oracle and said: “Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram, from the mountains of the east. ‘Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!’ 8 How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced? 9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him; There! A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations. 10 Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!”
11 Then Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and look, you have blessed them bountifully!” 12 So he answered and said, “Must I not take heed to speak what the LORD has put in my mouth?” 13 Then Balak said to him, “Please come with me to another place from which you may see them; you shall see only the outer part of them, and shall not see them all; curse them for me from there.” 14 So he brought him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 15 And he said to Balak, “Stand here by your burnt offering while I meet the Lord over there.”
16 Then the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, “Go back to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” 17 So he came to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab were with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the LORD spoken?” 18 Then he took up his oracle and said: “Rise up, Balak, and hear! Listen to me, son of Zippor! 19 God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? 20 Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it. 21 He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them. 22 God brings them out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox. 23 For there is no sorcery against Jacob, nor any divination against Israel. It now must be said of Jacob and of Israel, ‘Oh, what God has done!’ 24 Look, a people rises like a lioness, and lifts itself up like a lion; It shall not lie down until it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain.”
25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all!” 26 So Balaam answered and said to Balak, “Did I not tell you, saying, ‘All that the LORD speaks, that I must do’?” 27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will please God that you may curse them for me from there.” 28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, that overlooks the wasteland. 29 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” 30 And Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on every altar.
Whether or not Balaam believes does not change the reality that he is forced to acknowledge his inability to achieve that to which God is opposed. That which Balaam had been hired to do, he was unable to do. God kept him from pronouncing a curse on His people, who were unlike the nations of the world. Balaam’s request of “let me die the death of the righteous” seems to be a plea to be included among God’s chosen. He who had come to curse Israel desired to share in its blessing.
Balak’s lack of faith is presented in his attempt to reduce Israel’s power by selecting a point where their numbers would be obscured. Men often attempt to manipulate and deceive, but it is not possible to manipulate or deceive the Lord.
The text also reveals that God is not like a man, that He should lie. These words describe the immutable nature of the Lord and the integrity of His Word. In this regard Balaam is a foil for God—constantly shifting, prevaricating, equivocating, changing—a prime example of the distinction between God and man. Finally, Balaam speaks from his desperation. He has no means in his bag of tricks to withstand God’s blessing of Israel. Once again Balaam serves as that example of fallen humanity: How often people lament the desperate situation of their sinfulness and need for rescue, but refuse to acknowledge the Lord and His Word as the only solution to their predicament.