Monday, March 1, 2021

Numbers. Day 82, Balaam's Second Message

Balaam was not able to curse Israel at his first attempt but King Balak doesn't give up. He wants to try again, so he takes Balaam to a different vantage point where they build more altars and make more offerings to the Lord. 

"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.' 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." (Numbers 23:13-14) From here Balaam can see fewer Israelites than he saw the first time he attempted to curse them. King Balak seems to feel this will be helpful, perhaps because in Balaam's first message he said of Israel, "Who can count the dust of Jacob or number even a fourth of Israel?" Balak thinks Balaam's faith faltered when he saw the great number of Israelites in the valley. If the prophet can only see a portion of them, Balak feels this will help him speak out boldly against them.

As before, Balaam has the king wait beside the offerings while he goes a distance away to consult the Lord. "Balaam said to Balak, 'Stay here beside your offering while I meet with Him over there.'" (Numbers 23:15) The fact that he's willing to keep trying to curse Israel, in spite of everything the Lord has already said against doing so, tells us he cares far more about pleasing the king than pleasing the King. Worldly treasures and worldly favor mean much more to him than heavenly treasures and the favor of the Lord. 

The Lord shows up and places a message on Balaam's tongue. As with the first message, the prophet will be unable to say anything the Lord doesn't want him to say. "The Lord met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, 'Go back to Balak and give him this word.' So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, 'What did the Lord say?'" (Numbers 23:16-17) I can just hear the eagerness in his voice, can't you? He hopes this time the prophet will say what he wants him to say. 

His hopes are about to be dashed. Balaam's message begins with a rebuke---not for Israel but for Balak. "Then he spoke this message: 'Arise, Balak, and listen; hear me, son of Zippor. 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? I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot change it.'" (Numbers 23:18-20) Balaam asks the king, "Who do you think the Lord is? Do you think He is like a man who makes a promise today and then breaks it tomorrow? Do you think He is like a man who announces his intention to do one thing but then changes his mind and does another? God has announced His intention to bless Israel. He meant what He said. He will not change His mind. There is nothing I can do about it."

Balaam is unable to go against the Lord's will and curse Israel. Instead the prophet can only speak words of blessing. "No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The Lord their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them. God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox. There is no divination against Jacob, no evil omens against Israel. It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel, 'See what God has done!' The people rise like a lioness; they rouse themselves like a lion that does not rest til it devours its prey and drinks the blood of its victims.'" (Numbers 23:21-24) The Lord, the army general of Israel, gives a victory shout---a shout of victories already past and victories yet to come. If the Lord wanted Israel to attack Moab, Israel would not leave a soldier of Moab standing. Balak cannot fight against Israel and win because he cannot fight against God and win. The Lord is the strength of Israel and He is in her midst ready to defend her. 

Balak is disappointed in Balaam's inability to curse Israel but he's even more dismayed by the blessings falling from the prophet's lips. "Then Balak said to Balaam, 'Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!'" (Numbers 23:25) The king exclaims, "Shut up! If you cannot speak of Israel without blessing her, don't speak of her at all. You are making things worse for me than they already were. It's bad enough you won't curse these people, but for goodness sakes don't bless them!"

I can't help picturing Balaam shrugging his shoulders in an "I told you so" manner as he makes his reply to the king. "Balaam answered, 'Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?'" (Numbers 23:26)

The best thing King Balak can do is dismiss the prophet and send him home. The more the prophet speaks, the more Israel is blessed. Nothing about this situation is going well for the king. But he's unwilling to give up. His heart is set on doing evil. He hates Israel for no reason. He is afraid of Israel even though she's made no threatening overtures toward him whatsoever. He won't let go of his prejudice and hate. Instead of being a friend to Israel and receiving blessings himself (for the Lord promised Abraham that He would bless anyone who blesses Israel) he still wants Israel cursed (even though the Lord assured Abraham He would curse anyone who curses Israel). In tomorrow's passage the king will try again from another location. 

We close today with a look at what were not comforting words to the king's ears but what should be comforting words to our ears. While the king throws a temper tantrum over the prophet's inability to curse the Lord's people, the prophet calmly replies, "Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?" No one can do anything to the Lord's people that the Lord does not allow. People may bear us ill will. People may have evil intentions toward us. But they won't be able to say a word against us or lift a finger against us unless it fits within God's will for our lives. And even when He allows someone to say or do something that causes us hardship, we can be certain He somehow intends to turn it for our benefit. As Joseph the son of Jacob said about his brothers' wicked actions against him, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good." (Genesis 50:20a) We can rest upon these words of the Lord who judges our enemies, "No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from Me." (Isaiah 54:17) It may seem for a time that our enemies are prevailing, but God will have the last word. God will rebuke those who slander us and God will judge those who make themselves our enemies. Our fellow man may have wicked intentions toward us, but God has only good intentions toward us. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (Jeremiah 29:11) 

Not everyone is going to like us. Not everyone will want to see us succeed. Sometimes people will actively work against us to try to prevent us from prospering. But God allows nothing into our lives that is not intended to help us grow and prosper spiritually, which is why the Apostle Paul made this confident profession of faith: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28) All things. In all things God works for our good: in easy times, in happy times, in hard times, in sad times. In every second of every day God wants only the best for us. If He's allowed us to enter an unpleasant season it's because He intends to accomplish something with it. Let's yield our circumstances and ourselves to Him. The sooner we say, "Lord, what do You want me to learn from this?" the sooner our cloudy skies may clear. Sometimes we remain where we are for longer than we have to because instead of yielding to the Lord we keep resisting accepting where we are in this moment in time. But even if yielding to Him doesn't shorten our time in a difficult season, what a pity it would be to come out of this season no better off spiritually than we were before. Isn't it far better to sit at the feet of the Lord, wherever we currently find ourselves, and let Him speak to us and let Him deal with us in ways that will benefit us going forward? 

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