Today we are going to finish reading Numbers Chapter 23 about the second and third oracle God gives through the mouth of Balaam.
Let’s Read Numbers Chapter 23:13-30
What we have just read is the 2nd Oracle from God in this story as presented through the mouth of Balaam. The 1st Oracle, the one we studied in the first verses of Numbers 23…essentially expressed Israel’s CURRENT situation. (That is, God blessed Israel above all other nations, to the point that it was not even to be considered as one of the nations in the common sense of it).
In that first Oracle, Balaam sees just how blessed and privileged Israel is and so hopes that he can, in some undefined way, partake in Israel’s blessing. Balaam ends that 1st Oracle by saying,
“……. May I die the death of the upright, and may my fate be like theirs.”
Allow me to remind you that this “blessing” of Israel is but another way of re-stating the Abrahamic Covenant. It would be entirely appropriate for us to understand that what Balaam MEANS by this (even though he would not have fully understood it), is that he would like to be included in the blessing of Israel that IS the Abrahamic Covenant.
Of course, the $64,000 question for us is: how can a non-Israelite (a gentile) be included under the blessings of Israel’s most restrictive covenant with God?
And this is only one of several times that gentiles in the Bible will express a desire to be placed under the covering and benefits of Israel’s covenants.
A later and perhaps most famous example was Ruth (a Gentile woman), who said in Ruth 1:16 of her desire to be joined to Israel’s covenants with God,
” Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
By the way, notice an interesting coincidence between the Ruth story and the Balaam/Balak episode we’re studying: King Balak was King of Moab, and Ruth was a Moabite (of course I say “coincidence” tongue-in-cheek).
Now in this 2nd Oracle of God (made through Balaam), a central point is made to the entire story of the Mesopotamian diviner and the King of Moab, and it is this.
Whereas all other religions (all false) use magic and sorcery to discover the will of the gods, the God of Israel makes His will known using His prophets. And God does this by direct Oracle, and not with the help of magical omens as was the universal practice of this era.
The Hebrews were given a great resource that the rest of the world did not have: direct revelation. The rest of the world, because they had given up obedience to the Creator and were, in essence, worshipping the Evil One, and trying by their means to discover the will of their many gods.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have not left men who seek after Him in that position. We have the Holy Spirit within us for a direct connection to the God of the Universe, and we have His Word of Truth in our hands as we study today.
Our job is NOT to determine what is truth and what is not in our Bibles for it is all true; our task is but to accept it ALL as truth and to obey. Our challenge is also to discover how to apply the truth to our lives and our relationship with the Creator.
We do not have to wonder how the world began, or where humanity came from because we’re told it. We do not have to wonder at our future, either, because we’re also told that.
This was written in a recent magazine article:
“Men who choose to believe that ‘in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth’ have a foundation for understanding the origin, purpose, and consummation of life. Men who choose to reject that statement go through life like a blind man in a dark room, looking for a black cat that isn’t there; never knowing where they came from, where they are going, or how to live between those two termini.”
God’s prophets are the ends of magical omens for those who trust Him. Israel was in the earliest stages of learning this reality, and the very one who God was using at this moment to make His declaration, a gentile named Balaam, would completely miss that point.
Now, let me say, that indeed a kind of divining tool was permitted for Israel for a time: the Urim and the Thummim, which the High Priest of Israel carried on his ephod.
The concept, however, was never for these stones to determine truth: rather it was to indicate God’s will in a matter where a godly choice was provided. I cannot tell you exactly how these two stones worked, and there is much disagreement among the great Hebrew Sages about this; nor can I (with certainty) say WHY God permitted such a thing.
However, my estimation is that we will often see Israel allowed (even instructed) by God to use a ritual or a tool that is very much like a ritual or tool utilized by the heathen. And I surmise the reason for this is that Israel would have been utterly confused if the Lord required them to instantly unlearn every customary cultural aspect of the known world (the cultural aspects that they had also generally lived by) for a brand new and unique one.
Indeed in the Law (the Torah) handed down on Mt. Sinai, a new and unique culture of the Kingdom of Heaven had been ordained but there was no way Israel would immediately adopt every aspect of it, and the Lord well knew it when He gave it.
We as modern Believers are in a similar position. We can only grow so fast, and the Church (consisting of so many varied cultures) can only absorb so much. Thus, God reveals to us progressively when the time is right.
It astounds me that the very thing Balaam pronounced 3300 years ago, and what Ruth stated a couple of hundred years or so later (this concept that if gentiles wanted to be included in God’s blessing of humanity, it would have to be done via the Abrahamic Covenant of Israel). Only NOW is growing but a tiny segment of the Church beginning to grasp it.
God says that our relationship with Him is based on Israel’s covenants and what sprung from them; and yet, within a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Church created doctrines denying this very thing.
Only now, today, with the return of Israel to her land has a movement begun within the body to undo this errant theology. But it had to wait for the Lord’s timing for our blindness to start to be lifted.
In verse 13, King Balak decides that another setting might induce Balaam to curse the Israelites. He chooses a place called Sedeh-zophim, which means “mountain of the Watchmen.”
And this is a lookout post, but its primary use is as an astronomical observation point and a place for watching the flight of birds: stars and birds both being standard signs and omens in that era. As this place is also a “high place,” altars were built, and gods were worshiped there because gods were usually worshiped on hilltops.
But this is not unlike the way Cathedrals have been built throughout the ages whereby they were often the tallest structures. Therefore a Cathedral also typically served as a community watchtower, a place from which worshippers were called to worship (eventually bells were set there), and due to its structural strength, it was often a place of sanctuary for a besieged town.
Balak points out that from the first hilltop location where he took Balaam, only a portion of the large encampment of the Israelites could be viewed; but from this 2nd place, an even smaller amount could be seen.
The thought is that perhaps Balaam was intimidated and cursing fewer people might be more to his liking. Included within all this is the hope that the God that Balaam has been dealing with might also find the conditions more favorable to grant the King of Moab his request that Israel be cursed.
The result of the 2nd attempt goes equally as bad for King Balak as did the 1st: Balaam once again follows God’s instruction to bless, not curse, His people, Israel.
Notice as well that the Lord directs Balaam’s speech at King Balak and the Lord says listen up Balak. And immediately yet another God-principle is declared: the Lord is NOT capricious. He doesn’t say things and then not follow through.
Along with that, in verse 19, God says that He is not ben ‘adam,’ meaning “son of man.” But this is just another way of saying that the Lord is not a mere human being or a mortal that is always changing their mind.
Now understand, this was VERY strange to the ears of both Balaam and Balak. What god doesn’t regularly change their minds? Capriciousness IS the nature of gods and goddesses. Even more, this was the era when most kings were seen as the incarnation of one god or another; so for the Lord to declare that He is no ben ‘adam throws a real curve ball into the situation.
Now that YHWH has plainly established some important aspects of His nature and character, through Balaam the Lord makes it clear (again) that what He blesses no man can reverse. Therefore Israel is safe, and Moab needs to steer clear.
Quickly another theological principle is established in verse 23: the Lord has neither created magic nor does He permit divination as an acceptable way of His people to deal with Him. Within Israel, it simply is not to exist.
And this is the expression of the Lord’s Law and His ideal, unfortunately, not of reality. Because in fact the Hebrews consistently turned to divination and idolatry, and for this abomination, terrible divine disciplines were laid upon them.
The 2nd Oracle from God ends with describing Israel as having the strength and ferocity of a lion (a common metaphor in that day), and poetically describes Israel destroying their enemies.
Well, the 2nd attempt to curse Israel didn’t go any better than the first time, did it? The blessing this time was even MORE powerful and pointed. And the obviously flustered Balak blurts out to Balaam, “if you’re not going to curse them for me, at least don’t bless them!” Balaam repeats that he has no choice in the matter.
King Balak (not used to having people not do his bidding) still doesn’t give up. Let’s give it another try he says to Balaam, and volunteers to take Balaam to another place to the peak of Peor. We’ll find in subsequent chapters that this is, of course, another pagan high place dedicated to Ba’al.
Just as the Lord told Balaam on numerous occasions that He did not want Balaam to go to Balak, Balak has now been told on many occasions that God is NOT going to change His mind and curse His people.
Again we see the pagan mind of that era at work; King Balak believes that he manipulates gods and that perhaps he just needs to appease this God a little more.
So off to the peak of Peor they go, and the seven altars that are there have seven sacrifices placed on them, and the whole useless effort begins all over again.
Changing locations won’t change God’s will. We must learn to face the source of our problems. Moving to escape problems only makes solving them more difficult. Problems rooted in us are not solved by a change of scenery. A change in location or job may only distract us from the need for us to change our heart.