Scripture: “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced? For from the top of the crags I see him, from the hills I behold him; behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations! Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!” Numbers 23:8-10 ESV
Observation: Translated “oracle” from the Hebrew word māšāl, more often, the word appears as “proverb” in our Bible. But an oracle fits better within the context of a pagan who utters the Lord’s blessings. Thus, in this first oracle, Balaam poetically states his hired purpose, to curse Israel (v.7b), then instead declares Yahweh’s blessing:
A. Balaam is unable to curse Israel (v.8).
- God has not cursed Israel.
- Balaam cannot curse Israel.
B. Balaam blesses Israel as unique among the nations (vv.9–10a).
- Israel is unique among the nations.
- Israel is immune from curses.
C. Balaam desires to share in Israel’s blessing (v.10b).
Balak responds to this involuntary blessing with shock: “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them” (v.11 ESV). Balaam succinctly answers: “Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth” (v.12 ESV). As the original audience read or heard these words, they would chuckle at Balak’s consternation and Balaam’s foregone conclusion.
Takeaway: Corresponding with the three parts of this oracle, here are three takeaways. First, Balaam had no power to curse Israel, and what trickery he might wield could not overcome the compelling will of God—any more than what Christ would permit Saul of Tarsus to breathe against his people. Indeed, Paul would later explain to the Corinthian church that ‘no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV). Thus, whether an unbeliever or follower of Jesus, while we may carelessly curse people or flippantly bless people, these words have no power outside God authentically speaking through us.
Secondly, we, the new Israel, are unique among the masses. We live by faith (by the unseen) and grace (unmerited favor that can’t be earned or taken away). Hence, we need not fret over governmental decisions and laws that leave God out of the picture and threaten our freedoms of religious worship and speech. While despots and radicals may forcefully squelch the Gospel and its followers, the Revelation of John tells us that the Father and Son have the final say. And we win!
Lastly, while this pagan soothsayer desired to share in the blessing, Balaam failed to pursue the Blesser. We learn from a later passage in Numbers (31:8, 16) that Balaam never obtained the gift of the afterlife, for his oracles never transformed his heart. Indeed, the text tells us that Balaam later “caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord” (31:16). Hence, following God’s command, Israel killed the kings of Midian and Balaam by the sword (31:8). For us, the warning stands. If we pursue a prosperity gospel that masks our selfish desires for blessings over a loving relationship with our Lord, we risk dying without the upright.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of your Son, who took on the curse of sin that we might be blessed by dying with the upright. Would you please help us to stand upright in our daily walk: blessing others as you bless us, exercising faith over fear as your unique children, and pursuing you over your blessings? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
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