Today’s reading begins with the destruction of Arad and concludes with the second of Balaam’s four oracles.
In the chapters of Numbers covered in today’s reading we see Israel defeat a series of enemies in their journey through the wilderness to their eventual final destination of the Promised Land. The king of Arad was the first enemy destroyed. He had fought against Israel and had captured a number of Israelites. Israel made a vow to God that if He would give them victory that they would devote the people and their cities to destruction and God gave them the victory over the Canaanites of Arad.
On their way to the Promised Land, the people of Israel required passage through the land of inhabitants of the land. In this instance, Israel made petition to the King of Sihon for passage through his land. The King denied the request and went out to battle against Israel. God once again gave Israel the victory over this people and the people settled in the cities of the land ruled by King Sihon.
While living in the land once ruled by the defeated King Sihon, the Israelites sent out spies into the land of Jazer as commanded by Moses. The Israelites forced out the Amorites living in the land of Jazer and turned their sights to Bashan and its king, Og. The Israelites completely destroyed the people ruled by Og and possessed the land.
After a string of victories over the inhabitants of the land, the Israelites appeared to have developed a bit of a reputation and fear of them motivated one of the inhabitants of the land to seek out God to curse the people through a holy man of the area by the name of Balaam. It was the people of Moab who sought out Balaam’s assistance. The Moabites were the ancient cousins of the people of Israel, Moab being the one of the children of the incestuous actions initiated by Lot’s oldest daughter with her father.
In summoning Balaam, the people of Moab were unaware that God had seen their actions and that God intended to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel. After being summoned by the Moabites, Balaam made his way to meet their king, Balak. On his journey, the angel of the LORD blocked the path that Balaam was journeying on. Balaam could not see the angel, but his donkey could. The donkey saw that the angel of the LORD had drawn his sword and was preparing to kill Balaam. His donkey continued to turn aside and avoid the angel until the angel had blocked every possible route and the donkey stopped moving. Frustrated by the actions of his donkey he yelled at the donkey and through a miracle, God opened the mouth of the donkey to speak to Balaam. The donkey told him that he wasn’t trying to be obstinate or disobedient, but rather was trying to save Balaam from sure death. It was at this time that the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel of the LORD with his sword drawn prepared to slay Balaam if he continued on his journey.
The angel of the LORD spoke to Balaam and told him that he could go to King Balak, but regardless of the situtation, he was to speak only the words that the LORD would give to Balaam and ignore the pleadings of the king. For his first oracle, Balaam blessed the people of Israel stating that it was his wish to “let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!”. Balak was angered by this blessing thinking that essentially Balaam would act as his hired ‘gun’ to curse the Israelites. Thinking that if only Balaam had a different look at the Israelites that his blessing would turn into a curse, Balak took Balaam to another place that overlooked the camp of Israel from a different vantage point. Balaam again spoke the words of God which was a blessing upon the people of Israel. In this second blessing came one of my favorite verses:
“God is not man, that He should lie, or the 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?” Numbers 23:19
Balak would soon find out that a different vantage point wasn’t going to fix the problem that he faced in dealing with the people of Israel.