Lessons from unlikely sources

"God is not human, that he should lie; not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil? I have received a command [from God] to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it."

"No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The Lord their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them. God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox [the mightiest of animals; still seen as such in Africa]. There is no divination against Jacob, no evil omens against Israel [the devil couldn't touch them; nor can he touch us (1Jn 5:18)]. It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel, 'See what God has done!' The people rise like a lioness; they rouse themselves like a lion that does not rest till it devours its prey [both daughters and sons will be fully and victoriously involved in the battle]."

How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling-places, Israel! Their king will be greater than Agag … their kingdom will be exalted … A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel … [all their foes] will be conquered … and destroyed … a ruler will come out of Jacob." (Agag was king of the Amalekites, a people cursed by God for having no fear of him and for their cruel treatment of his people (Dt 25:17-19).) 

Many will have recognized these words as those spoken by Balaam. As I came to his story in Numbers 22 to 24, I wanted to study afresh these amazingly accurate and profound prophecies and his clear statements of truth. How could such words have been uttered by someone put to the sword under Joshua as one who practised divination; someone whose ways (2Pe 2:15), teaching (Rev 2:14), and error (Jude 11) are roundly condemned in the NT?

What are the lessons for us in Balaam's story? Firstly: don't put a question mark where God has put a full stop. He had been asked by the king of Moab to travel to the point the Israelites had reached in order to put a curse on them. He told the king's messengers he would have to ask God about it! Of course God told him not to go. However, Balaam wouldn't accept God's answer and kept going back to God in the hope of a different one. (He had his eye on the massive fee he would be missing out on.) 

Secondly: don't judge and reject the message by finding fault with the messenger. Or, as the old blues song has it, "you can't judge a book by looking at the cover". Isn't this precisely what the people of Jesus' home town did? When they heard his teaching they dismissed his message and took offense at him because they considered him no more than a carpenter's son. We can learn from anyone, no matter how young or old; no matter how many faults we might be able to list. Truth is truth.

Thirdly: don't forget what you were like but live in the victory of what you have become. Five times within the few words quoted above the people of God are referred to as Jacob and Israel coupled together. I don't see this as insignificant. "The Angel asked him: "What is your name? And [in shock of realization, whispering] he said, 'Jacob' [supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler]. Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel [triumphant with God](Gn 32:27-28).