The Board of Education Divinely Applied

Numbers 21-24

They got impatient and started to complain that God wasn't keeping up with their needs.

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died” —Numbers 21:6.

The punishment seems a mite excessive until we remember that this was only one of the countless number of times Israel rebelled against God. Like little kids, sometimes reasoning doesn’t work and you have to “apply the board of education to the seat of learning” as my mother used to say.

This event was the backdrop for the beautiful illustration of what Christ would do one day many years later. As Moses raised the bronze serpent and Israel was instructed to look at it if they wanted to be saved, so those who look to Christ can also be saved.

God had his ways of dealing with Israel, but that didn't mean he was willing to allow other people to deal with them in any way they chose. Take Balak, for example. He called on a prophet, Balaam, to put a curse on Israel. The conversation between the two men is worth the read as you go through Numbers.

Balak couldn’t curse Israel and bring her down just because he wanted to. Even Balaam could do no more, or no less, than what God instructed him to do (22). Balaam tried really hard, but God even used a donkey to get his attention and reorder the prophet’s priorities. At the risk of his life Balaam returned to Balak with a message from God for Israel of blessing rather than cursing (23).

Balak said to Balaam, ‘What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!’ He answered, ‘Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?’” (23:11, 12). Balak tried again, but to no avail. This time the Lord sent back this message:

God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (23:19). Balaam finally recognized that he could only do what God allowed him to do.

Balak insisted once more, taking Balaam to another spot, as if a change in location would make a difference. The ancients believed that gods were in charge of certain places. There were gods of the hills, and gods of the valleys. I suppose Balak was hoping he’d find a spot when God wasn’t God and then be able to get Balaam to curse Israel.

Tough luck, Balak. God is God everywhere.

In total frustration Balak dismissed Balaam. But before the prophet left he spoke again: “Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the Lord—and I must say only what the Lord says" (24:13). He issued a further warning to Balak not to mess with God or with the people God had chosen to bless.

What tremendous encouragement to us. We are not untouchable or invincible when God needs to rebuke us from our sin, or change our course when we go astray. But we are untouchable and invincible when anyone or anything seeks to harm us when God has not chosen that means to work on our character.

God is God everywhere, big or small the opposition, whenever it comes and wherever it comes from. God doesn’t lie, he keeps his promises to us.


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