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Only His Words: Numbers 23

We carry on with Balaam’s narrative in Numbers 23. To refresh your memory, Balaam was hired by Balak to curse Israel. The storyline is interwoven between all the chapters, so while each chapter gets a post, there is considerable cross-referencing between Numbers 22, 23, and 24.

Let us start, though, with Numbers 23:12, for this is the hinge on which this story turns. Balaam has gone off and sacrificed, entreating YHWH to provide him with a word to speak about Israel. Those words? They are words of blessing rather than cursing, and this leaves Balak more than just a little miffed.

Balaam, though, insists that he can only speak the words that YHWH, the One True God, puts in his mouth. Nothing else. We can consider a few lessons from this:

  • First: Balaam was hardly a God-honoring man. He is quite clearly a prophet-for-profit, rather than a true worshiper of anything. Looking back a the negotiations of Numbers 22, he’s in this for the money, not for the love.
  • Second: Balaam, even as a profit-seeker, was able to prophesy good and right things about Israel.
  • Third: Balaam, in the end, has this good moment and then sins, brings the people down, and signs his own death warrant (Numbers 31:8).

What about us, then?

#1: It is possible for a wicked person to speak a righteous truth. That is among the harder lessons here. People can be profit-seeking, self-serving sinners and still speak truthful things. Or right things. It is possible. It is also annoying.

#2: This is the corollary point to #1: it is possible for a sinner to speak a righteous truth. If you are waiting for a perfect preacher, teacher, author, etc., you are stuck with the text of the Bible and nothing else. All of your potential Bible teachers are imperfect.

#3: No amount of money, political pressure, or convenience should cause us to say things that are contrary to the word of God. We cannot take away His blessing from those who already have it.

#4: This is the corollary point to #3: that includes adding to, as much as it does taking away. Want an example? Pick politics. Take the Obamacare law, for example. There is nothing in the Bible about government providing or not providing health insurance for anyone. NOTHING. It is therefore not something that “The Word of God” says is evil or says we must do. You cannot put those words in the mouth of God. Make them your own, and explain them.

#5: The idea that it is agreeable before God (Numbers 23:27) to curse those God has blessed should be laughable to us. Now, who has God blessed? Through Jesus, all humanity is blessed with the opportunity to salvation. How dare we curse by not sharing the love and truth of the grace of God?

Today’s Nerd Note:

First, of course, note in your Bible translation the use of LORD for the name of God. See here for some of the issues on that issue. I prefer going ahead and using the transliteration of the Name here, or some how separating the English pronunciation, even if you hold YHWH as a name not to be spoken.

Second, there is a lot unsaid here, about the actual religious practices of the day. I think we need to consider the possibility that some behaviors are wicked enough that we do not give them voice, even to condemn them.

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