Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – Balaam’s Second Oracle: God Is Nothing Like Humans (Numbers 23:13-30)

Balak’s response to Balaam’s first oracle is somewhat humourous. After appealing to the immensity of Israel as a reason why he cannot curse them (vv. 9-10), Balak says to him, “Please come with me to another place, from which you may see them. You shall see only a fraction of them and shall not see them all. Then curse them for me from there” (v. 13). Fine, Balaam, let’s have you only look at a smaller fraction of them to make it easier for you! Out of sight, out of mind, I guess? Did Balak seriously think Balaam was that stupid? Obviously, he did, because he takes Balaam to a place where he only sees a smaller fraction to make another attempt. I don’t think Balaam thought this would work, but merely humoured the king’s stupidity. Balaam then seeks Yahweh’s Word and he gives the following section of the oracle:

“God is not a 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 fulfil 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.”

vv. 19-21

God is not like human beings. By preparing seven altars for Yahweh, in pagan fashion Balak had hoped he could coerce Yahweh into doing his will, but Yahweh doesn’t lie, and He doesn’t change His mind. Whatever God says, He does. Therefore, He will not remove His blessing from Israel; He will not revoke His spoken promise to their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yahweh is with them; there is nothing Balaam can do. Then at first, it seems like Balak finally gives up, throwing up his hands and saying, “Fine! Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all!” (v. 25). Yet Balaam reminds him, “Did I not tell you, ‘All that the LORD says, that I must do’?” (v. 26). Then Balak moves to make the same exact attempt in another location (vv. 27-30), setting the stage for Balaam’s third oracle.

Perhaps Balaam unwittingly serves as a type of Christ, for this account has a strong correlation to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Balak takes Balaam to a high place to see merely a fraction of the vast multitude of Israel to tempt him to curse Israel, just as the devil takes Jesus to a high place and tempts Him to worship him and give Him every kingdom as a result. Just as Balak’s vain efforts reveal his stupidity, the devil’s stupidity is revealed here, too. For as Jesus Himself has said, “The Father loves the Son, and He has given all things into His hand” (John 3:35; my translation). “All things” omits nothing, not even the earthly kingdoms. And as our Lord has also said just before His ascension, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Matthew 28:18). All things have been given into His hands, even you. He has even spoken specific blessings called the Beatitudes for you, which are also irreversible (Matthew 5:2-12). The immutable Lord, therefore, will not revoke His spoken promises and blessings to you either.

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