Scripture: And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.” God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” Numbers 22:9-12 ESV
Observation: The story of Balaam covers too much ground to address in one Daily Focus. Today, we will examine the first scene (verses 1-14), beginning with the backstory. The recovered prophetic texts of Balaam in Aramaic (from the sixth century at Deir-‘Allah in Jordan) show he was a highly touted man in the Ancient Near East, even centuries after his death (see Jacob Hoftijzer’s, The Prophet Balaam in a 6th-Century Aramaic Inscription). From Scripture’s perspective, he stood as the pagan counterpart to Moses and his prophetic ministry. Indeed, even though our text records his interaction with Yahweh in the tone of a god-fearing convert, as theologian Ronald Allen contends: “Balaam was an internationally known prophet, a diviner expert in examining the entrails of animals and observing natural phenomena to determine the will of the gods. He thought that the Lord God of Israel was like any other deity whom he imagined he might manipulate by mantic acts” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Numbers).
Our story begins with Israel settling in the plains of Moab (to the north of the Amorites). Israel’s presence was a great concern to Balak, the Moabite king, for he had heard of Israel’s previous victories over Sihon and Og. So Balak sends the elders of Midian to seek and summon Balaam to come to their aid, for this pagan prophet with a hotline to the pagan gods of these lands would provide the critical advantage to defeating these seemingly invincible Israelites through invoking curses—elevating warfare to the spiritual realm. Thus, the elders embark with fees for divination and deliver the message to Balaam, who tells them to lodge for the night while he seeks to hear from Yahweh. The Lord speaks to Balaam and questions his company (implying their purpose). Balaam repeats what the elders requested, and Yahweh mandates that he must not go with the elders and curse Israel, for he has blessed them (above verses). So the elders return to Balak and report that Balaam refused to come.
Takeaway: Fear gripped Balak, and rightfully so from his perspective. For when the Lord earlier commanded Israel to go to war with King Sihon, he also announced that from this day forward, he would “put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you” (Deuteronomy 2:25 ESV). But if Balak had consulted with Moses, the prophet of the one true God, he would have learned that the Lord had forbidden Israel to harass Moab or contend with them in battle because God had given the land to “the people of Lot for a possession” (Deuteronomy 2:9 ESV).
So how does this opening scene apply to us? As we read the news and see the photos and videos of our chaotic, sin-marred world, it’s tempting to seek advice/information that’s within our grasp to arrest our fears. We read all the latest news and listen to the experts. And while knowledge and insights into our world are a gift from God, they will not allay our fears and anxiety alone. We need to go to the Source of truth to find the peace that passes understanding. We need to use the filter of the Holy Spirit to reframe those elements of life beyond our control that grip us with fear. We must remind ourselves that the fear of God is (or will be) on those who seek to mess with us who are blessed.
Conversely, we must be careful not to judge others as the enemy and rush into conflict without taking the time to discern God’s perspective. The Lord told Israel to leave Edom and Moab alone because of prior patriarchal covenants. Eventually, as both these nations foolishly betrayed Israel, the Lord would curse them and bring them to an end. So, either way, don’t mess with the blessed. And we would do well to exercise patience and wait for God to defend and fight for us.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who became a curse to break the curse on us and set us free from the penalty and power of our greatest enemy: sin. Would you please help us wait for you to fight our battles, keeping in mind that we and others best not mess with the blessed? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling