Man Rages and God Laughs

13 And Balak said 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.” 14 And he took him to the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar. 15 Balaam said to Balak, “Stand here beside your burnt offering, while I meet the Lord over there.” 16 And the Lord met Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and thus shall you speak.” 17 And he came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the Lord spoken?” 18 And Balaam took up his discourse and said,

“Rise, Balak, and hear;
    give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
19 God is not 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 fulfill it?
20 Behold, I received a command to bless:
    he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
21 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.
22 God brings them out of Egypt
    and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
23 For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
    no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
    ‘What has God wrought!’
24 Behold, a people! 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.”

25 And Balak said to Balaam, “Do not curse them at all, and do not bless them at all.” 26 But Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘All that the Lord says, that I must do’?” Numbers 23:13-26 ESV

Balak was doggedly determined in his efforts to have the Israelites cursed. And he seems to have believed that Balaam’s reluctance to do so was based on fear of their overwhelming numbers. After all, from his earlier vantage point, Balaam had stressed the size of the Israelite camp.

“I see them from the cliff tops;
    I watch them from the hills.
I see a people who live by themselves,
    set apart from other nations.
Who can count Jacob’s descendants, as numerous as dust?
    Who can count even a fourth of Israel’s people?” – Numbers 23:9-10 NLT

So, Balak suggested a change of venue where Balaam’s view of the Israelite encampment might be somewhat restricted. Perhaps if the seer saw fewer Israelites he would be less wary of issuing a curse on them.

“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.” – Numbers 23:13 NLT

Balak’s desperation was at an all-time high, and he was willing to do anything to ensure that his hired diviner carried out his assignment. He even built seven more altars and sacrificed an additional seven bulls in the hopes that this location might create the right environment for Balaam to conjure up a devastating curse on the enemy camp. But, once again, Balaam informed the king that he would have to consult Jehovah, the God of the Israelites.

“Stand here by your burnt offerings while I go over there to meet the Lord.” – Numbers 23: 15 NLT

By this point, Balaam knew that he would be a fool to do anything that angered Israel’s God. It wasn’t the size of Israel’s camp that scared Balaam; it was the power of their God. Yet, there seems to be a part of Balaam that hoped he could convince Jehovah to change His mind. Why else would he agree to offer additional sacrifices and call on Jehovah yet again? He must have harbored hopes that this time would be different.

“Balaam is constantly shifting, prevaricating, equivocating, changing—he is himself the prime example of the distinction between God and man.” – Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers.” In Genesis—Numbers. Vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

But, unlike Balaam, God would prove to be unchanging in His covenant commitment to Israel. He was not fickle or easily swayed to change His mind. So, when Balaam heard from God a second time, the message he received was aimed directly at Balak and it contained a stern lesson concerning God’s faithfulness and His commitment to bless His chosen people. There was nothing Balaam or Balak could do to alter His plans for the nation of Israel.

First, God had Balaam teach Balaam the doctrine of divine immutability.

“Rise up, Balak, and listen!
    Hear me, son of Zippor.
God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through? – Numbers 23:18-19 NLT

Jehovah was not anything like the false gods that Balak worshiped. He wasn’t a human on steroids, a mere man with supernatural powers and a flawed character. Israel’s God was otherworldly and without equal. He could not be bought off, coerced, or expected to do anything that would violate His divine will.

And Balaam delivered the less-than-encouraging news that there was nothing he could do to thwart God’s plans for Israel.

“God has blessed, and I cannot reverse it!
No misfortune is in his plan for Jacob;
    no trouble is in store for Israel.
For the Lord their God is with them;
    he has been proclaimed their king.” – Numbers 23:20-21 NLT

This not-so-subtle point was aimed directly at Balak. God was letting this inconsequential king know he was no match for the one true King. Balak was outclassed and out of his league. His paltry army and insignificant kingdom were up against the God of the universe and the odds were totally against him. And Balaam was forced to admit that his parlor tricks would be of no use against the all-powerful God of Israel.

“God brought them out of Egypt;
    for them he is as strong as a wild ox.
No curse can touch Jacob;
    no magic has any power against Israel.” – Numbers 23:22-23 NLT

Whether Balaam realized it or not, he was echoing the failures of the Egyptian magicians who had tried to replicate the supernatural miracles of Moses.

So Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded them. When Aaron raised his hand and struck the ground with his staff, gnats infested the entire land, covering the Egyptians and their animals. All the dust in the land of Egypt turned into gnats. Pharaoh’s magicians tried to do the same thing with their secret arts, but this time they failed. – Exodus 8:17-18 NLT

Magicians and magistrates are powerless against Jehovah. Human kings and kingdoms have no hope of victory against the King of kings. And the psalmist pointed out the futility of attempting to wage war against the Almighty.

Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
    and cast away their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
    the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
    and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
    on Zion, my holy hill.” – Psalm 2:1-6 ESV

The King on Zion had one last bit of bad news for the king of Moab. And this final part of the message must have left Balak on the verge of depression.

“For now it will be said of Jacob,
    ‘What wonders God has done for Israel!’
These people rise up like a lioness,
    like a majestic lion rousing itself.
They refuse to rest
    until they have feasted on prey,
    drinking the blood of the slaughtered!” – Numbers 23:23-24 NLT

Desperate to find a silver lining on this dark cloud of depressing news, Balak pleaded with Balaam, “if you won’t curse them, at least don’t bless them!” (Numbers 23:25 NLT). He was grasping for any semblance of hope among all the doom and gloom of Balaam’s latest message. But, once again, the hapless sage was forced to confess his powerlessness to do anything that would conflict with God’s will.

“Didn’t I tell you that I can do only what the Lord tells me?” – Numbers 23:26 NLT

But it will become evident that Balak was just as unchanging and immutable as Jehovah. Unwilling to take no for an answer, the stubborn potentate would try one last time to convince Balaam to curse the Israelites. It was his only hope. But his stubbornness would prove to be no match for God’s covenant faithfulness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.