Scripture: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it. He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The LORD their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them. God brings them out of Egypt and is for them like the horns of the wild ox. For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel; now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘What has God wrought!’ Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain.” Numbers 23:19-24 ESV
Observation: Thinking that a change of perspective where Balaam might see only a fraction of the massive number of Israelites, Balak takes his hired soothsayer to the field of Zophim at the top of Pisgah. There, Balak builds seven altars (the number “seven” representing “totality” in most pagan cults of the Ancient Near East) and again sacrifices a bull and ram on each altar. Balaam then takes the lead and directs Balak to stand beside his burnt offering while Balaam goes to meet the Lord and wait for his word. Indeed, the Lord “puts a word in his mouth” (v.16), telling him to return to Balak and speak a special blessing over Israel. He follows orders and “takes up his discourse” (v.18) that follows the below outline:
A. Israel’s unique blessing extends from its amazing God (v.19).
- He is unlike humankind in his person.
- He is unlike humanity in his word.
B. Israel’s unique blessing is irrevocable in its God (v.20).
- Balaam is compeled to bless.
- Balaam is powerless to curse.
C. Israel’s unique blessing comes from its God (vv.21–23).
- God permits no cursing of Israel (v.21a).
- God is present with Israel (v.21b).
- God is the protector of Israel (v.22).
- God is the power in Israel (v.23).
D. Israel’s unique blessing will play out in battle (v.24).
- As a lion, she rises for the kill.
- As a lion, she feasts on the slain.
Infuriated by Balaam’s extraordinary blessing, Balak curtly points out that Balaam did not curse Israel at all. Balaam then reminds Balak that he must do all that the Lord says. Desperate, Balak takes him to the top of Peor (which overlooks the desert). Balaam then instructs Balak to build seven altars and sacrifice a bull and ram on each altar, which Balak does—end of the scene (vv.25-30).
Takeaway: As mentioned throughout this series, the text to a modern audience appears to cast Balaam in a favorable light of seeking and obeying God’s will. However, with closer attention to detail, we see that Balaam is still giving instructions outside the Lord’s directives and taking sides with the deity that wields the most power to advance himself. But what does this blessing tell future generations of Israelites about their omnipotent God? First, his substance and the power of his spoken word are incomparable to his creation. Second, his blessing is immutable and will not fail. Third, his blessing is a gift that repels curses, reveals his presence, and protects and empowers his people. Lastly, the Lord’s blessing will lead Israel to victory over its enemies.
So how does this apply to us? We, too, come under this blessing as the children of the New Covenant of Grace. But our blessing is transformed by the Son of Man, who, with the Father, is unchanging. His incarnate blessing stands the test of time. So when we stand firm in Christ and his Gospel of peace, putting on the whole armor of God, his unmerited favor:
- repels Satan’s curses that whisper thoughts of self-condemnation and doubts,
- reveals the glory of our Lord at work around us,
- protects our spirits to ensure our place in the eternal Promised Land he has prepared for us, and
- strengthens us (through the work of the Holy Spirit) to overcome the power of sin (our real enemy) in this life.
Indeed, Christ is our unique blessing for the journey!
Prayer: Father God, you have blessed us beyond measure with the gift of your Son. Unmerited by anything we might do, we humbly receive your unique blessing with thanksgiving and ask that you help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit to fight the good fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil as we sojourn onward and upward. Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling