The power to call out a judgment on someone is subject to God alone, not the prophet’s feelings. Likewise, the power to bless someone is within the purview of God alone, not the prophet’s favor. If you or someone you know claim to have a prophetic word, then make sure that message is truly from God and not merely from human passion or opinion. Speaking for the Almighty carries a heavy responsibility and requires a very high bar.
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 23:11-12, 25-26
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!” Balaam answered, “Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” …Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!” Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”
From our twenty-first century perspective, the interaction between the ancient prophet Balaam and King Balak is quite amusing. Balaam speaks for God, yet he is willing to moderate the message for money—he can be bought. And Balak seems to be willing to pay until his gets the prophecy he likes. Three times, in essence he tells Balaam, “no, that message from God is not the one I want. Let’s try another one!”
Of course, these men lived in a primitive time. They weren’t unintelligent, mind you, they just didn’t have access to the information you and I have. King Balak lived in a violent world, a survival of the fittest time, and the very real possibility of his nation (Moab) being wiped out by an invading nation (the Israelites) was a clear and present danger. So he was doing what he knew to do: get some insider information from the Divine and hope to goodness that information would save his skin—and his nation. As far as Balaam goes, he didn’t have the full revelation of God that we now do, so his information was often shaped by his circumstances rather than Scripture. That is not to excuse this prophet from pulling his prophetic punches for pay, it simply explains Balaam.
Now this story continues beyond Numbers 23, and ultimately Balaam gives in to the pressure to curse Israel. But he doesn’t do it directly through a verbal curse, but rather, he teaches the Moabites how to lure the people of God into sexual immorality. And in the process of God judging Moab through the sword of the Israelite army, this sometime-prophet of God is put to death. But at least in this chapter, he stays true to what God tells him by speaking only the Word of the Lord. And in the process, he leaves us with some helpful lessons for those who would speak for God today.
Here is one lesson: The power to call out a judgment on someone is subject to God alone, and it is not subject to the prophet’s feelings. Likewise, the power to bless someone is within the purview of God alone, and is not subject to the prophet’s favor or mood. In Numbers 23:8-9, Balaam responds to Balak’s efforts to influence a negative message:
How can I curse those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced?
If you or someone you know claims to speak for God, then make sure that the message is truly from God and not simply from human passion or opinion. That is both a heavy responsibility and a very high bar.
Here is another lesson: God is not subject to human emotions. He will not be angry as quickly as we are—he is infinitely patient. Nor will he overlook sin like we do simply because we happen to like the sinner or are unwilling to speak a hard word. God see things at one and the same time with utter moral clarity and an unassailably just character yet with the eyes of a Father/Creator who longs to redeem his wayward creation through Fatherly discipline rather than remove them in Divine judgment. Yet the fact remains, God’s faithful love can never be separated from his fierce holiness, and his fierce holiness can never be separated from his faithful love. Here is how Balaam said it in Numbers 23:19-20,
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.
One final lesson: If you fancy yourself a prophet, your prophetic responsibility is to speak when God says to speak, and shut up when God is silent. Don’t fill the air with prognostications simply because you have a “calling” or because you have an opinion. Notice this exchange between the frustrated king and the resolute prophet in Numbers 23: 25-26,
Then Balak said to Balaam, “Then neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”
Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?”
Do prophets speak today? Of course, and we must be open to the prophetic word. But Scripture sets the prophetic bar very high, so let both the speaker and the listener beware. So whomever is going to speak for God, make sure it is God speaking, or keep quiet.