Day 24

Balaam’s Oracles

from the reading plan

Numbers 23:1-30, Numbers 24:1-25, Genesis 12:2-3, Romans 8:31

A few years ago, my daughter had a hard time making friends and especially keeping them.

She wanted to be friends with everyone, but this proved nearly impossible. If she got too chummy with one group, a bevy of other girls grew resentful and even spiteful. So she would pivot her attention to the girls who were angry with her, hoping to patch things up. But her diplomacy was ultimately not well-received. This is what happens, she now sees, when you choose your words hoping to mollify critics or when you direct your steps towards the goal of winning the approval of everyone. She wanted acceptance, but she was unable to satisfy the girls demanding her exclusive loyalty. In the end, she disappointed everyone, especially herself. Choosing sides is no fun.

In our reading today, Balaam demonstrated the kind of allegiance to God’s Word that all of us are called to pledge. He was under pressure to pronounce a curse over the Israelites, but he was clear from the jump: “How can I curse someone God has not cursed? How can I denounce someone the LORD has not denounced?” (Numbers 23:8).

If Balaam had only placated the insistent Balak and done what the king asked, then Balaam would have become a wealthy and popular man. Instead, he rested on what God said and refused to budge: “I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it” (v.20).

Treating people as it benefits or impairs our personal interests is a losing proposition. Instead, we can proclaim, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)—not as a way to damn our adversaries but to declare openly that we trust God and His word in all circumstances. This way of operating shatters the way we tend to function in our culture. We prefer huddling up in hives of like-mindedness, and we recruit others to join us in trashing those who don’t agree with our worldview, our politics, or even our favorite college football team.

Yet, perhaps we should recall God’s promise to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). But how do we decide whom to bless and whom to curse? Jesus seems to relieve us of the responsibility of choosing based on our own preferences or biases. He makes it really simple: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

If I could build a time machine, I’d go back and tell my daughter to double down on kindness, gentleness, and peace with the girls who wanted to shun and shame her. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely simple: we have God’s Word at our fingertips—and, even more, we have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling richly in us, guiding our behavior and seasoning the words we speak to others.

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