Feasting with God #53
“Israel, the Lioness in the Wilderness”
Text: Numbers 23:18-24
18And Balaam took up his discourse and said,
“Rise, Balak, and hear:
give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
19God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
20Behold, I received a command to bless:
he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
21He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
and the shout of a king is among them.
22God brings them out of Egypt
and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
23For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
‘What has God wrought!’
24Behold, 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 has been very strict with his people as they wandered through the wilderness. Even a toe out of line, and his discipline was upon them. At the same time, they felt his grace as well, for even though they grumbled, he continued to provide them with miraculous food and victory over enemies. But it may have been difficult for them to see the big picture—why was God doing things this way? why did he demand this or that sort of behavior? why did he provide this or that specific blessing? Well, now Moses gives us a glimpse into the perspectives of outsiders.
Balak, king of Moab, saw how Israel was coming and conquering all the surrounding nations, and sought a way to remove the threat. He sent Balaam to lay a curse on them. But Balaam, being warned by an angel (and by his donkey; Num. 22:22-41), had to tell Balak that the Israelites could not be cursed by him, because God had predestined them for a higher purpose.
Leading Israel through the wilderness, through such a difficult terrain and such mighty effort, God was directing them toward a goal: yes, they would take the land of Canaan, but if that were all, then the dispute would be between men and nations. Balak could then certainly have come to God and said, “Why should they have this land. Why not I? I could obey you, and not grumble against you.” And God would be left in his court to weigh the options between different men for who should have the right to a scrap of land.
And this is going on in the world right now. How tumultuous isn’t the land of Palestine—the Israelis think it is theirs, because God promised it to their forefathers; the Muslims think it is theirs, because their Qur’an claims that it was given to them, to replace the Jews; and the Christians believe it is theirs, or that they should restore it to the Jews, because of some strange, worldly readings of New Testament passages. But God isn’t worried about some parcel of land. God “has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.” His people, under his care and guidance, are an unstoppable force, accomplishing his purposes. “God brings them out of Egypt / and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.” He charges forward toward his goal, so that this magnificent people is like “a lioness” rising up: “it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey / and drunk the blood of the slain.” The nation of Israel would, under God’s might, accomplish his purposes for them.
And his purpose culminated in this: the blessing God pronounced on Israel was all rooted in the original promise given to Abraham their forefather: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). Through Abraham’s descendants would come a blessing for “all the families of the earth.” But those who pronounced a curse against God’s people (such as what Balak wanted to do) would be excluded from this blessing. And this blessing came about in Abraham’s offspring: “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). The people of Israel themselves, “not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:13-16). Thus the true, full Promised Land, is the one provided by Jesus Christ, who died to win it for us, and ascended, declaring the purpose: “I go and prepare a place for you, [and] I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).
Come, Lord Jesus, and bring us to the heavenly place you have prepared for us. Through your death, it is ours. Forgive us our sins, therefore, and clothe us in your righteousness, so that we may take possession of our heavenly Promised Land. In your name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.