Wandering in desert

The Mysterious (and Perplexing) Ways of the Lord

The blessing of the Jews by the pagan sorcerer Balaam, in Numbers 22-24, is a perplexing series of events. Balaam is also known from a text outside the Bible. An inscription was discovered near the junction of the Jordan and Jabbok rivers in the language of the Ammonites, descendants of Lot. The inscription is dated a few centuries after the time of Moses and Balaam. Balaam is described as a prophet of the gods who had visions and the inscription recorded some of his words.

God’s use of Balaam illustrates how He works in ways that confound our expectations and demonstrate His power.

The generation of Jews that left Egypt, who saw the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, had failed. They refused to go into the Promised Land and they wandered in the desert until they died. Miriam with her strengths and failings had died. Aaron, the first high priest, who was instrumental in the idolatry of the Golden Calf had died. Only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb were left.  Even Moses, the man of God, had struck the rock in anger and would die without entering the Promised Land (Exodus 32; Numbers 12, 20).

Wandering in desert

But even when the expected leaders failed, God still worked. He used a pagan diviner to remind Israel and Moab of His promises to Abraham, and He even used a talking donkey to remind this diviner who controlled history (Genesis 12:1-3; Numbers 22:26-35).

Balak, the Moab king, feared the approaching Jews and sent messengers to hire Balaam to curse them.

Balaam told him that he could only speak the words that God gave him. He infuriated Balak by blessing the Jews. In all of the attempts to curse them, he blessed them. God had determined to bless the descendants of Abraham and the machinations of the Moabite king would not thwart Him.

Balaam was shrewd. He knew he could not curse the Jews but he knew how to bring a cursing on them. He was the instigator behind the seduction of the Jewish men by the Moabite women. Balaam could not curse them but God would discipline them for their adultery and idolatry. Balaam died with his co-conspirator before the Jews entered the Promised Land (Numbers 25; 31:8, 16).

Balaam was no true servant of God. God was just one of the gods that he invoked as part of his life as a paid diviner (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14).

God used Balaam and his donkey to bless the children of Abraham. God works in ways that confound our expectations.

The post first appeared on Bob Krupp’s blog


About Bob Krupp

Bob KruppAssociate Professor of Church History and the Library Director at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.