What Balaam Saw

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The Ass of the Prophet Balaam by Rembrandt
Many Christians remember the story of Balaam for that most unusual of miracles: a talking donkey. If you’ve ever been to Sunday School, there’s a 90 percent chance you know the story.
For those who may not remember, here’s a very short summary*:
While Israel was journeying through the wilderness, they happened to camp within view of the Moabites. They were an ancient tribe who lived in highlands around the Dead Sea (in modern day Jordan). And their presence caused a bit of stir, especially for the king, Balak.
There was a good reason.
He had heard about their astounding deliverance from Egypt, the long march through the wilderness, and their recent defeat of the Amorites, another neighbouring tribe. Moab could be next, he thought.
So he attempted to do something about these troublesome wanderers.
He sent for Balaam, a non-Jewish prophet, to curse the Israelites. Balaam refuses, God having warned him not to go. Upon further entreaties from Balak, Balaam agrees but insists he would only say what God tells him. On the way, God is displeased with his action and sends an angel to stop him. Twice, Balaam’s donkey sees the angel and avoids him. The third time, as the donkey struggles to avoid the angel, Balaam is upset and strikes it. So the donkey protests in frustration. 
Upon meeting Balak, Balaam repeats his resolve to say only what God directs him to say.
And God did tell him what to say.
How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
    How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?
Who can count the dust of Jacob
    or number the fourth part[a] of Israel?
Let me die the death of the upright,
    and let my end be like his!”
Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up
    and as a lion it lifts itself;
it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
    and drunk the blood of the slain.”
God brings him out of Egypt
    and is for him like the horns of the wild ox;
he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries,
    and shall break their bones in pieces
    and pierce them through with his arrows.
 He crouched, he lay down like a lion
    and like a lioness; who will rouse him up?
Blessed are those who bless you,
    and cursed are those who curse you.
Balaam saw God’s grand scheme for his people. He saw the spectacle of a little band of people evolving into a global power. The church began with a promise – the promise of redemption through the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). It then finds further expression in another promise made to another man generations later (Genesis 12:1-3). From this man and this promise, God would establish a mighty nation that would rival and outlast the great empires of the world.
God’s plan for his church is no casual scheme. He plans to make her great, extensive and mighty over the face of the earth. This was his covenant to Abraham. He assured him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars and the grains of sand. This was to be no small tribe.
By the Exodus, the church had become a mighty nation. So great were they that Egypt was reluctant to let them leave. And all the surrounding nations were terrified of them – including Moab.
Looking forward many centuries later, Jesus would tell the disciples to convert the nations and make them his followers. The church was leaving the confines of a particular race and extending to all human races. This has been going on over the past 2,000 years – and it’s not yet over. No. Not until we see John’s vision of a multitude of people from every tribe and nation, from every people and language, realized.
That is the goal.


*The full story is found in Numbers 22-24.

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