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Out of the Shadows

Numbers 22:4b-7a
So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, … to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. … For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand.

Take the time to read Numbers Chapters 22-24 as one uninterrupted narrative, friend. From the moment Moses introduces us to this outlying, foreign prophet named Balaam, we’re thrust like a whirlwind into a vision of Almighty God’s working in the world beyond the camps of Israel. Truly, the story of Balaam is a theological treatise all its own. The back-and-forth exchanges between Balaam and God, and between Balaam and Balak, resembles the dynamism we find throughout the Book of Job. In these two seemingly peripheral chapters of Israel’s pilgrimage—literally, this takes place in a city on their periphery—we encounter one of the most perplexing linguistic and ethical dilemmas in the whole Bible, along with one of the funniest, most unforgettable Theophanous encounters, as well as one of the most undeniable illustrations that God’s redemptive work in human history has always been a universal one, not just a nationalistic one.

Let’s take our time through these accounts, friend. Perhaps, like me, you’ve gotten the story wrong your whole life. Up till now, whenever the name Balaam crossed my mind, I pictured a guy going the wrong direction, against God’s will, till his donkey reprimanded him. But that isn’t the half of this story, nor the heart of it. From the moment we meet Balaam, we find an unlikely prophet, not a prodigal (at least not yet), and I believe that Moses’ sudden introduction of this faithful foreigner into the narrative serves as a juxtaposition against the faithlessness of his own people.

Take this to heart, friend: when all hope seems lost, when priests like Aaron have gone home to glory, and when the light of God’s revelation seems dimmed by constant antagonists, protagonists can rise from the shadows.