Balak was scared. He may have been the king of Moab, but he saw Israel on the move. And he was scared. So he went to a sorcerer, a seer of sorts, and asked him to speak a curse over the people of God.
Between the sorcerer’s summons and his appearance before Balak, the sorcerer had a rather humorous encounter with his donkey … but that’s a story for another day.
Today, we join the sorcerer, Balaam, and Balak atop a mountain overlooking the desert. From here, there’s a clear view of the camping tribes of Israel. Three times already, from three different locations, Balaam spoke blessings over the people of Israel – not the curses for which Balak angrily pleaded.
Then, Balaam speaks again. This time, his mysterious, image-filled lyric looks not to the scene set before him, but to a glorious future for a people established in their land.
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed;
Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
and destroy the survivors of cities!”
(Numbers 24:17-19 ESV)
In this oracle, Balaam sees the deliverance of Israel, but it isn’t in the here and now on the scene playing out before him. His vision pierces into the future to the rise of David and the conquests that characterize the kingship of the warrior-poet king.
His vision, though, goes further – much further – than that. It foretells the rise of a future King who would also come from the house of Jacob.
In short, he saw Jesus. Not just the Jesus of earth, born in a manger as a star rose in the east, but also the triumphant, returning King at the end of the ages.
Balaam didn’t really want to say any of it. He was promised riches for speaking curses, but he was compelled to speak the words of God rather than the words desired by man.
The truth is that God, through the Holy Spirit, still prompts us to say what people don’t want to hear.
When your company wants to take an action that’s technically legal but morally ambiguous, God might be prompting you to risk your job to speak out.
When a friend comes to you to validate her rationalization for questionable life choices, God may be prompting you to risk your friendship to speak truth to her soul.
When the person in line in front of you is giving the cashier a hard time, God may be prompting you to step in and restore peace at the risk of becoming a target.
Our words aren’t exactly like Balaam’s. We don’t speak in poetry. We aren’t speaking centuries before the rise of the star above Bethlehem.
Yet, our words, too, point to the risen Messiah when they speak love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, faithfulness, grace, mercy, peace, justice, gentleness and joy.
Whose words are on your lips today?