Focal Passage: Numbers 22:36-23:12
Israel had journeyed through the wilderness for 40 years.
They had faced many dangers and challenges. The Lord has
brought them through.
They had met and defeated various nations that had tried to
obstruct their march through the presence and power of the Lord.
Now, they were on the verge of entering the promised land.
The goal was within their reach.
Suddenly, a figure appeared on the horizon — a prophet or
But this figure was more than a prophet; he was a prophet of
the Lord, a non-Israelite follower of the Lord (Yahweh).
He was one who conversed intimately with the Lord daily. He
was possibly the only true obstacle to the success of their journey.
His name was Balaam, son of Beor. In a rare instance, a
non-Jew is presented as a formidable believer and servant of the Lord whose
very words could bring down blessings or curses from the Lord.
The people of Israel had encamped on the east side of the
Jordan “in the plains of Moab” (22:1). Rather than engage them in battle,
Balak, whose name means “on who lays waste,” recognized the extreme danger that
awaited his people.
He knew of all that Israel had accomplished from Egypt to
the present and understood their powerlessness before them.
In an intriguing maneuver Balak sent for Balaam: “Come now,
curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me…” (22:6).
In a series of encounters, Balaam and the Lord meet face to
face, leading eventually to four oracles that bless rather than curse Israel.
As Balak’s anger intensifies Balaam can only respond, “Did I
not tell you, ‘All that the Lord says that I must do?’” In the context of a
non-Israelite seer, the Lord’s sovereignty in revelation is presented and
This “pagan” prophet not only served Yahweh, but he is
possessed by the Spirit of God (24:2).
Once more in a rare moment of honesty, Balaam is presented
in the text as being possessed by the Spirit “enabling him to prophesy like the
prophets of Israel … God has indeed blessed Israel” (Michael L. Barre).
When the first missionaries came to Rwanda, Africa, in the
19th century they found that according to the Rwandan ancient history there was
one God who created all reality and lived in relationship with humanity. Then,
in rebellion the first human couple tried to deceive God and that relationship
was severed. Many years later, one came from heaven to mediate between humanity
and God, giving his life for mankind by dying upon a tree (that annually bears
red leaves reminding all of this blood sacrifice) providing salvation.
One can only imagine the joy those first missionaries felt
when they discovered that God had provided an unexpected witness.
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