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  • Writer's pictureVicar Matt Doebler

Matins Devotion: May 31, 2023

Balaam was a mercenary prophet. As evidenced in this narrative and even by some modern archaeological discoveries, Balaam had a reputation in the region as a powerful seer. He was known as a connecting point between the heavens and the earth. If you really wanted to get in touch with the gods—and if you had the money—then Balaam was your guy.

That’s why Balak, the king of Moab hires him. He’s heard about this upstart Israelite people—this nation without a country. He knows that they have a claim on the land. He’s heard what they’ve done to the Amorite army. And now the people of Israel are right at his doorstep. Balak is terrified. And so, as a last resort, he brings in the big-hitter. He hires Balaam and summons him to a mountain called “the heights of Baal.” Balak wants Balaam to literally work his magic. He wants him to look down upon these unwelcome invaders and pronounce a curse upon them—to utter words that will make these people targets of the gods’ fury and which will devote them to destruction.

But Balaam won’t be uttering any curses over Israel. Not now. Not ever. What Balak doesn’t realize is that the one, true and living God—Yahweh—has already intervened on Israel’s behalf. Balak may have given his gold and silver to Balaam in exchange for his services—but Yahweh is the God who made man’s mouth. And so Yahweh conscripts Balaam into his service. He puts his own words in Balaam’s mouth and commands that they be spoken over his people Israel. When Balaam finally returns to Balak and speaks—he speaks Yahweh’s own words of blessing over the people of Israel. When Balak hears these words, he responds with indignation: “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.” But Balaam replies, “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?”

Yet, the truly incredible part about all this is that Israel absolutely did deserve to be cursed. Not only were they guilty of great sins in the past, but, if we read on in Numbers, we’ll see that they are about to commit a terrible sin against Yahweh by intermingling with the daughters of Moab and engaging in the disgusting and vile practices of Baal worship. Time and time again, Israel was unfaithful to Yahweh. But, despite all of this, Yahweh remained faithful to Israel. He remembered his promises. Promises made to Israel’s father, Abraham. Promises make from him a great nation. Promises to multiply his offspring. Promises to give them a land. Promises of blessings, and not curses.

And so God is faithful and merciful. He does not allow Balaam to curse Israel. Yet God is also holy and just. God doesn’t ignore sin. In time, God’s justice and God’s curse and God’s wrath would fall on Israel—it would fall on Jesus Christ—the offspring of Abraham—the seed of David—Israel reduced to one. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul tells us that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

By his suffering and death, Christ took the curse that should have fallen upon Israel. And in his resurrection and ascension, Christ opened the way to heaven by defeating the curse and extending the promises of blessing to all men. Because of Christ, you and I are now set free from the curse of sin and death and by faith in his name we have been made partakers of the eternal blessings that God has never stopped speaking over his people.

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