Numbers 23:19-20

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 23 July 2016


God's Irrevocable Blessing


"19 God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes his mind! Does He speak and then not do it, or promise and not fulfill it? 20 Look, I received a command to bless. He has blessed—I cannot change it!" (Num 23:19-20 TLV)

NOTE: The spelling of "Balaam" in Christian versions is due to the transliteration of the name found in the LXX, Grk. Balaam. His name is pronounced BEEL'AM.


The text for today comes from Parashah 40, Balak, which began in the previous chapter and concludes in chapter 25 [verse 9]. In this Parashah Balak the king of Moab sent messengers 400 miles to the north to hire a pagan sorcerer by the name of Balaam to curse Israel. The problem for King Balak was that he did not have the military power to defeat Israel so he sought a supernatural solution.

Apparently Balaam had a reputation for cursing and his skill could be bought. The object of a curse was to hem in with obstacles, to render powerless or to bring calamity. The first curse mentioned in the Bible is the one God imposed on the Serpent for tempting Chavvah. Ever since then Satan has been trying to retaliate by cursing God's people. Sorcerers typically used an incantation for a curse, and this is what Balak expected Balaam to do. However, after his arrival Balaam delivered seven discourses, five of which directly concerned Israel. Our text is in the second discourse. In those brief sermons God put the message in Balaam's mouth so that only prophetic truth came out.

In our text Balaam announces that the God of Israel is not like human beings. He doesn't lie and He doesn't change His mind. Moreover, Balaam says that God had blessed Israel and no man can reverse it. The verb "bless" [Heb. barak] lit. means to kneel or to bless, and for God to bless means that He knelt down or humbled Himself to bestow special favor to the people He chose. God's blessing on Israel is irrevocable. Many in the world want to curse Israel, but they won't get any help from God.

We might wonder how Israel could be considered blessed at this point when the adults who came out of Egypt were forbidden to inherit the Land because of unbelief. The original promise to Abraham was that God would make him a blessing to the world; God would give him numerous descendants, God would bring the Messianic Seed through him; and God would give his descendants possession of the Land of Canaan. At Sinai God blessed the nation by affirming that the promises made to Abraham were still in force and then instructed them in how to have a good life. God showed His care by providing manna and sandals guaranteed to last forty years. Most important the unbelief of the adults did not revoke the promised blessing for the children. They would enter the Land.

Over and over in the Tanakh God promised that He would never forsake his covenant of blessing with Israel. In fact, He declared that there is a better chance of the universe blowing up than that He would renege on his promises to Israel. Yet, for centuries Christianity worshipped a promise-breaking God, claiming that God had permanently rejected Israel in spite of biblical evidence to the contrary. Frankly, as a lay person I would be a little concerned about that theology in my church. I mean, if God would break His promise to Israel, how can I be certain that He will keep His promise of the resurrection and eternal life to me? But, in reality God has kept his promises to Israel, and therefore we can know He will keep His promises that include Gentiles. The God I serve, the God of Israel, is a promise-keeping God.

Unfortunately the Parashah ends with tragedy. Following the advice of Balaam Israel was seduced into the error of syncretism that resulted in a curse of judgment and 24,000 dead. Syncretism is an important word for you to understand. It means the union of opposite principles and practices. The lie of syncretism is "you can commit the worst sins and still enjoy the favor of God." Sadly the negative influence of Balaam did not end in the time of Moses. Three of Yeshua's emissaries warned first century congregations about the spiritual danger of Balaam's teaching [2Pet 2:15; Jude 1:11; Rev 2:14]. Ya'akov, the Lord's half brother, alluded to the problem when he wrote that blessing and cursing should not come from the same mouth [Jas 3:10]. Or, put another way sanctification and sin should not cohabit in the same person. Yeshua came to destroy the works of the devil [1Jn 3:8], not to set up housekeeping with him.

God has not changed. He has blessed Israel with every spiritual blessing in the Messiah to be a light to the nations and that blessing has been passed on to all the children of Abraham. As we remain faithful to our Lord and Messiah we can speak that blessing into the lives of others.

Barukh Hashem.

Copyright © 2016 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.