Read Numbers 22, Isaiah 45, and Acts 18 today. This devotional is about Numbers 22.
Israel was tantalizingly close to the Promised Land. The forty years of wandering was almost over and verse 1 says, “the Israelites… camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.” You know already that Jericho was the first city they defeated when they entered the land. So the events of this chapter and the ones that follow happen just before they received the land God had promised them.
God had blessed his people, enabling them to defeat the Amorites (v. 2) and to become a large nation (v. 3: “so many people”). Now the Moabites have come face to face with God’s people. Out of fear, they looked for a way to defeat Israel, but given that God was with them, what kind of “defeat” could they engineer? A military defeat was out of the question.
So they decided to try to win a spiritual war and found Balaam (v. 5). They asked him to curse Israel (v. 6) and Balaam asked them to wait overnight while he sought revelation from God. In verse 8 he said, “I will report back to you with the answer the LORD gives me.” The word “LORD” is YHWH, the covenant name of God for Israel; but why was Balaam using this name for God?
One reason is possibly that he himself was a worshipper of YHWH. Another answer is that he knew about many “gods” and that YHWH was Israel’s God so he waited for revelation from that God. It is hard to know from these chapters, but I think the answer is the latter.* Balaam didn’t worship YHWH but he knew who YHWH was so he sought revelation from Israel’s God YHWH.
God did speak with Balaam and ordered him not to curse His people (v. 12). Balak sent a second delegation and asked Balaam to reconsider (v. 15). This time God gave permission for Balaam to go with them on the condition that he only speak the Lord’s word (v. 20). What happened next was strange; God had allowed Balaam to go (v. 20) but in verse 22 we learn, “God was very angry when he went.” Although Moses did not explain further, God’s anger at Balaam may have been anger at his eagerness to find a way to get paid for his prophecies against God’s people. In verse 22b Balaam encountered “the angel of the Lord” which refers to Jesus before he became a man. After the very unusual interaction with his donkey (vv. 23-34) Christ spoke to Balaam himself, directly and charged him again to “speak only what I tell you” (v. 35).
There’s more to this story that we’ll read tomorrow but here in this chapter we see God’s divine protection of his people. He would not allow his people to be cursed by an unscrupulous prophet.
Have you ever considered that maybe God’s enemies want to bring a curse into your life that only God knows about and that only he can prevent?
*See also Joshua 13:22 where Balaam was put to death for practicing divination.