The Blessing of Israel.
Numbers 23-24, John 3
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. – John 3:17 ESV
Balaam, a pagan seer or diviner, had been hired by Balak to curse Israel. He had been offered riches and honor in exchange for his services. But no matter how much Balaam might have wanted to earn his wages, God would not allow him to bring a curse on Israel. On three different occasions, Balaam and Balak built altars and offered sacrifices in order to ascertain God’s will regarding Israel’s future. But each time God reconfirmed His commitment to and covenant with Israel. The amazing thing is that, in spite of Israel’s track record of complaining, stubbornness, faithlessness and even rebellion, God remained faithful to them. God would not allow Balaam to curse them. But why? Because God had greater plans for Israel than simply the possession of the land. God’s divine strategy went well beyond the conquering of the land of Canaan and the establishment of a kingdom ruled by earthly kings. Three different times and much to the chagrin of Balak, Balaam pronounces blessings on Israel. And each time he opens his mouth, Balaam is given a word from God that reconfirms the original promise He made to Abraham concerning a land, a seed and a blessing. “Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel?” (Numbers 23:10 ESV). God had promised to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the sands on the shore or the stars in the heavens, and He had brought it about. Balaam predicts that Israel will be successful in battle, “As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain” (Numbers 23:24 ESV). God was going to give them victory over their enemies and reward them with the land He had promised them. Finally, Balaam warned Balak that to attempt to curse Israel was not a wise thing to do. “Blessed are those who bless you [Israel], and cursed are those who curse you” (Numbers 23:9 ESV). God had promised to bless the nations through Israel. God had set them apart for that purpose. No one was going to be able to stand against them. God had a purpose for them that could not be stopped by man.
What does this passage reveal about God?
There is something going on behind the scenes in the story of the people of Israel. We tend to read the Old Testament as ancient history, and attempt to find life lessons we can apply from these sometimes confusing accounts of God’s interactions with the Israelites. But while the stories of the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the conquering of the land, and the rise of the kingdom of Israel can make fascinating reading, there is far more to the story than we sometimes understand. Balak’s attempt to curse Israel was ill-fated from the beginning, because God was with them. Even Balaam saw the futility in what Balak was trying to do. “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:8 ESV). As long as God had a plan and a purpose for the people of Israel, no one would be able to curse them or eliminate them. Many have tried over the centuries. And while Israel has suffered greatly at the hands of her enemies, God has continued to keep His hand on them. Because God is not done with them yet. Even after Israel conquered the land of Canaan and began to grow, their own sinfulness and rebellion would eventually cause God to punish them by allowing them to be defeated and deported into exile in a foreign land. But God would remain faithful. He would eventually return them to the land. He would restore them to favor and reconfirm His covenant with them. In time, Jerusalem, the city of God, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians, would be rebuilt and reoccupied by the people of God. The Temple of God would be reconstructed and the sacrificial system reinstituted. And then would come the birth of Jesus, a descendant of David and the Messiah of Israel. Even Balaam unknowingly spoke of His coming. “I see him, but not now; I behold him but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 ESV). God’s purpose for the people of Israel was ultimately to provide a Savior from among them. God was preserving Israel because He had a plan to provide salvation for the world through Israel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV). From the moment He called Abram out of Ur, God had a long-term strategy to accomplish His divine will concerning all of mankind. He chose to do it through a particular man, using rather peculiar methods, and in a highly persistent manner.
What does this passage reveal about man?
All throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see individuals who are constantly attempting to thwart God’s plan. Balak would fail in his bid to curse Israel. The Pharisees would fail in their attempts to trick Jesus. Yes, they would eventually succeed in having Him crucified, but what they didn’t know was that His death was always part of the plan. They were simply pawns in God’s divine strategy to bring salvation to mankind. Most men are blind to what God is doing. Even Balaam had to have his eyes opened by God. He made this point clear in several of his prophetic oracles. “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes covered” (Numbers 24:3-4 ESV). God gave Balaam the capacity to see His divine will. He was able to recognize that the people of Israel were not just some rag-tag group of nomadic desert dwellers. They were God’s instrument destined to accomplish God’s will. But even today, so many fail to see what God is doing. They fail to recognize that Jesus was God’s chosen instrument to accomplish His divine will regarding the salvation of man. John tells us, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21 ESV). Jesus came into the world to provide salvation for the world, but He was rejected by most – even His own people. The people loved the darkness rather than the light. They preferred the ways of this world over the will of God. And as long as we remain blind to God’s greater plan, we will tend to view this world from a limited perspective, believing that the real point of life is all wrapped up in the hear and now.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
There is always a temptation to live with my eyes focused on the temporal rather than the eternal. I can get so wrapped up in this life, that I can lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to provide me with eternal life. As the old hymn so clearly states, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin‘ through.” As I study and read the Scriptures, I must constantly remind myself that God has a greater purpose in mind. He blessed Israel because He wanted to be a blessing through Israel. And God is not done with Israel. He has more that He is going to accomplish through the people of Israel before all is said and done. Because He has a bigger plan and a higher purpose than any of us will ever fully realize – until He is done. Then we will know. Then we will see clearly. It will all make sense to us. But in the meantime, we must constantly remind ourselves that God’s plan is bigger than we realize. We must focus on the bigger picture, not just the little chapter in the story we call our life. God’s plan included Israel, but it was about far more than just Israel. God’s plan includes me, but it is about far more than just me. God is blessing me so that I might be a blessing to others. God has saved me so that I might spread the news of His gift of salvation to others. I am a part of God’s grand plan of redemption for mankind. May I never forget that He is the center of the story, not me.
Father, never let me forget that Your plan is greater and grander than I could ever imagine. Keep my eyes focused on the bigger picture of Your redemptive plan for mankind. When Israel made it all about them, they lost focus. They became arrogant and self-centered, and mistakenly viewed You as existing for their glory, rather than the other way around. Don’t let me make that same mistake. Your plan is bigger than me. Your story includes me, but is not all about me. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men