Through the Bible in One Year

Day 74

Numbers 23:18-26

Then he spoke his 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.

“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 till it devours its prey

and drinks the blood of its victims.”

Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”

Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the LORD says?”

The person doing the speaking here is a man named Balaam.  Who was not an Israelite but was a well-known priest diviner (a prophet; and in this case, a false prophet).  Balak, the king, thought that this man could put curses on others by influencing the will of the gods and spirits.  So Balek turned to Balaam’s knowledge of sorcery, incantations and mysterious manipulations.  And what we must really understand about Balaam are really two things: (1) Balaam may at one time have been a true follower of God who later departed from the faith and became a diviner.  And (2) like all false prophets, he had no genuine concern for God’s honor or the holiness of God’s people.  When he was unable to curse the people, Balaam led them into sin and immorality and it was for this that he would later be killed.

Today’s passage is Balaam’s second of four oracles.  In this passage we see Balaam and Balak move to another outpost overlooking the northwestern corner of the Dead Sea and the plains of Moab where the people of Israel had camped.  While there Balaam and Balak repeated the ritual sacrifices that had they had done during their first encounter.  However, nothing Balaam could do or muster could bring any harm to God’s people.  Because unlike the gods of Mesopotamia who were depicted often as whimsical and easily manipulated through sorcery and divination, the God of Israel and the one true God is not a “man, that he might lie” or “change his mind.”  Balaam could not change what God had instructed him to proclaim—blessing for Israel, God’s chosen people.

What we must comprehend from this passage is that Israel’s strength was totally in her God, and it was by his power that she was compared to a ravaging “wild ox.”  Ancient Near Eastern deities such as El or Baal were often depicted as horned bulls or as humans with the head or horns of a bull.

We, also, must comprehend that Israel did not need augurs, diviners or magicians; in fact, those who practices such things were condemned and therefore prohibited.  But what is augury and divination?

  • Augury included reading cloud patterns, bird movements and other activities in the skies.
  • Divination included extispicy, the ritual slaughter of animals and the reading of their entrails by hepatoscopy (liver dissection) and colonoscopy (viewing of the intestinal lining).

The above practices were not the source of Israel’s defense, nor could such powers be used against God’s people.  The Lord would use Balaam, a pagan diviner, to bless those he had been called to condemn.

As we come to the end of our time together today let me reiterate this: God is not unreliable, foolish or changeable.  And by his very nature, he is faithful to his promises and commitments.  This attribute of God, however, does not exclude the possibility of God changing his mind or plans under certain circumstances.  For example, God does on occasion change his plans in regard to judgment as a response to the intercessory prayer of his faithful people or as a result of the repentance of wicked people.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Numbers 24-25, Luke 2:1-35, Psalm 59:1-17 and Proverbs 11:14

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