SOAP Journal – 29 March 2017 (Numbers 23:19)

God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Numbers 23:19

Balaam, the for profit prophet, reaches Balak, the king of Moab, and they get right down to business. Balaam tells the king to set up seven altars and seven sacrifices and after he has offered those seven sacrifices, Balaam goes off at a distance and meets with God and receives words to speak concerning the Israelites. The first time does not go well, in Balak’s opinion. The Israelites are blessed by God. So Balak decides that maybe God will curse them or let Balaam curse them from a different location. Maybe if Balaam and God see the Israelites from another angle, then a curse will be forthcoming. Verse 19 is the beginning of God’s response to that.

God’s response boils down to this idea: God does not change His mind. He has no reason to.

God is not a man, that He should lie. He did not just see the Israelites at a propitious angle and think that He wanted to bless them, but might change His mind if we take Him over to some other vantage point. Likewise, God is not going to be convinced by any reasoning I might present. He has already heard my reasoning and already knows how solid or flimsy it is. The word that is translated lie could also mean deceive, disappoint, or fail. God is not going to fail in what He says He is going to do. If He says it, then it is going to happen.

God is not a man … that He should repent. God has no reason to repent of anything. To repent would imply that one had done something wrong and God is incapable of doing anything wrong. But the word can also mean to be sorry or to rue. I rue certain decisions I have made to this day, but I recognize that they were bad decisions. God, knowing the end from the beginning, is not going to make a bad decision. He has nothing to rue. Every decision He makes is the best one and works toward His desired outcome.

The questions asked were for Balak, in their original context. Has God made a promise that He does not intend to follow through on? There have been several times in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers that God has said something to Moses like “Let me destroy these people and I will start over with you.” and those times seem to contradict what God is saying through Balaam. Taken in their context, though, it becomes clear that God was trying to prompt Moses’ compassion and provoke Moses to intercession. In any one of those instances, God would have been fully justified in wiping out the lot of the Israelites. They had transgressed His Law and had whined against Him and against His chosen representative. In no way would God have been outside what is right and just if He had destroyed every last whining Israelite.  But Moses prays and God is then able to make the action He wanted to perform — being merciful and sparing the rebellious Israelites — an answer to Moses’ prayer. It is a win-win for God. God does what He intended to do (spare the Israelites) and grows Moses’ faith and prayer life in the process.

Back to Balak and Balaam.

The whole of their exchange with God is an object lesson in God not changing His mind. Balak tries three different vantage points hoping that one of them will change God’s mind. None of them does. And none of them could. God told Balak at the second location that He (God) was not going to change His mind, but Balak persisted.

Am I trying to drag God around to some place where the circumstances look favorable to what I want? If so, have I stopped to consider that God has already seen things from that angle? None of what I have to say is news to Him. There is no view that shows my desires to advantage. If God has answered me, then His answer stands. I will not; can not change His mind. There is no reason for Him to change it.

Father, thank You for not allowing me to change Your mind about anything. The longer I walk with You, the more I see that I am wrong when I disagree with You and that Your will is the best case scenario for me and the situations I face in life.

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SOAP Journal – 28 March 2017 (Numbers 22:28-30)

And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?”
And he said, “No.”

Numbers 22:28-30

Sometimes, God does the unexpected. The Israelites, having a peaceful camp out after putting a beat down on the Amorites, are doing nothing much except enjoying some peace and quiet. Knowing the Israelites, there was probably one group or another getting ready to complain about something. Maybe the rocks were too soft for them to sleep.

Balak, the king of Moab, sees the multitude of Israelites camping out and he hits the panic button. He sends representatives to Balaam — a for profit prophet — asking the prophet to come curse the people camping out, because Balak’s army is too small and too weak. Since the Amorites had put a beat down on Balak’s father or grandfather and the Israelites had beat down the Amorites, it stands to reason that Balak might be freaking out at about that moment. The people who came out of nowhere and just kicked the tar out of the Amorites are camped on the plains of Moab near Jericho.

So the representatives come to Balaam and Balaam asks God is he can go. The first time, God says “No.” in no uncertain terms. The second time, God says that since the men came to get him, he might as well go with them. There is a condition, though. Balaam is to say only what God tells him to say. It is after this that the Angle of the LORD stands in the road and causes the donkey to veer off and generally do her level best to keep Balaam alive. She sees the Angel and Balaam — the prophet — does not. After her third successful attempt to keep Balaam from being killed, Balaam starts to really lay into the donkey and God, never One to do things the way we expect Him to, opened the mouth of the donkey.

The talking donkey is not the part of this narrative that causes me to shake my head in wonder and sympathetic shame. The part that makes me ashamed is the prophet who is so wrapped up in his anger and what he wants to do that it does not immediately catch his attention that his donkey is talking. Balaam is so focused on what he is up to — potentially dreaming up ways to curse the Israelites, since the Angel of the LORD reminds Balaam to say only what God tells him to say — that he misses the miracle right in front of him. He is so focused on how to get wealth and other things that ultimately pass away that he misses the power of God in action.

How many times has God done something just a little out of the norm  — like Balaam’s donkey, who had a habit of being obedient and compliant, suddenly turning disobedient and defiant — to slow me down or prevent me from doing something catastrophically bad? That automobile breakdown or that traffic delay, have I stopped to consider that those might have been God trying to slow me down and get my attention? As I look back over my life, I can see times where God hit the brakes on things and tried to get my attention to prevent me from some act of disobedience. Sometimes, it worked. Other times, I kept right on going.

When something out of the ordinary happens, let me pause and pray and check in with God to make sure that what is happening is not an attempt on His part to get me to listen to Him and adjust my intended course of action. Sometimes, things just happen. Sometimes, God is standing in the way of the thing I am trying to do so that He might prevent me from doing something that would displease Him.

Father, thank You for those times when You have tried to prevent me from doing things that displease You or cause You pain. For those times when I have listened, I am grateful. For those times when I have ignored Your warnings, I am sorry. You have often done more than I have any reason to expect or even ask and I have, too often, not been responsive. Please open my eyes and ears and soften my heart to be receptive to You and to see the delays that You cause for what they are.