Curses and Blessings, Balaam & Barak

This morning in my daily reading plan I’m going through Numbers (from Chapter 22) and came to the strange tale of Balaam, the sorcerer prophet for pay asked by the enemy Moabite king Balak to curse the children of Israel as they were led to pass by his land, because he was fearful of them. 

It’s such a rich story I intend to speak on it at some point later as it’s Ivy’s year of blessing because no matter what he did Balak (a type of satan) could not succeed in having a curse land on those God was blessing (22:12)


It struck me firstly how the enemy works to try to get us to focus on the negatives, where it’s easier to do so, by taking Balaam first of all to a high place so he looks down on people (22:41). We all know it easier to pull others down when I elevate myself. That may be the major reason I do so at times and because I’m good with words I can use them harmfully.

Well the first attempt at cursing doesn’t work. Balaam opens his mouth to pronounce a curse but finds God put a blessing in his mouth and that comes out instead. Balak is not happy! So he takes him somewhere else to change his perspective again to the top of another mountain for a different angle, because what we choose to see determines what we choose to say. 


From here Balaam is told he will ‘see only a fraction of them and not see them all.’ (23:13). Now we know that God’s people are not perfect. As we follow their progress that becomes apparent very often. But they are blessed. They are all loved by God. 

It’s about focus again. I know if I was to focus on some people I’ve encountered as I try to follow Christ as part of the church I meet know there are often spiritual nuts among the fruit. I could focus on ‘those people’ and start to back away, except the person I have most trouble with is the guy I shave with in the morning, though God calls me the apple of his eye. 

Taken as a whole and seen how the Lord sees it, the church is simply his beloved. God is not fickle in his opinion, as Balaam’s second pronouncement makes clear, ‘he is not a man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should repent.’ God had chosen to bless all his chosen people, so should we. 

Balak is furious – why am I paying this guy? If you can’t curse them at least don’t bless them! Balaam says in effect ‘I’m not in charge of this blessing stuff! It’s not like some magic enchantment where I control God with my words. I can only speak what God lets me say.’ (23:28)


Finally Balak takes him to a place where all Balaam can see of the huge encampment is their rubbish dump, the latrines. From here now all he can see from here is the detritus. That’s what the enemy wants people to focus on when they think about the church because that will affect how they see God and keep them well away from his love and a life changing encounter! There’s a similar plot revealed in The Screwtape Letters where the demon is told to have his ‘patient’ only see what’s wrong with everyone on church and how little he has in common with such people so that he does not glimpse its glorious reality ‘terrible as an army with banners marching through time and eternity.’

How often is this the view in the media portrayal of the church? Concentrate on the crap. Think of the vast majority of Christians in any movie or soap and how long until you find out they’re a hypocrite, bigot, thief, abuser or all of the above and more? When did you last hear any of the good and the great stuff Christians do get reported?

Bad news sells of course. But when Balaam opens his mouth this time, the Spirit of God falls on him and he can’t stop spouting good news! 

Every tent in God’s camp is beautiful to him, and he will bless them! (24:2-9). 

Not only that but the greatest blessing of all, Jesus himself is foretold – because one day a messianic ruler king will come from Israel, from Jacob, who will defeat his enemies – who now receive a curse in the meantime! (24:17-25)

So no matter what he did, Balaam could only do what God said with regard to blessings and curses, even though he was effectively a prophet for hire. The words have power but not as magic incantations. The blessing words of God withhold or release the will of God and I love the story because it shows that the blessed God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is a blesser!


But what about that strange incident at the outset (not the talking donkey, anyone who’s ever preached knows if God can use you he can use a donkey) about how God told Balaam to go with those who invited him to come and curse the people, but then astonishingly it seems he gets angry when the guy actually does? What’s that about? 

That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them…”

(Numbers 22:20)

Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry…

(Numbers 22:21)

How come? I thought we just read that God doesn’t change his mind? 

Well I looked into it and found that our English translations (we only have one word for with) of the original Hebrew may throw us off here but it makes perfect sense once we dig deeper into that. 

The Hebrew word for with in the first sentence is “ET”. 

The Hebrew word used for with in the second sentence is “IM”. 

They don’t mean the same thing. They are not the saw word. When two strangers happen to walk alongside one another along the street, they might look like they are friends from afar, but they are just walking “ET” each other. From an upstairs window, they may appear to be friends walking together but that’s not the reality. 

But picture now a happily married couple walking in the park holding hands, they are walking IM each other. Their hearts as joined too.  

God said to Balaam he would be allowed to walk “ET” the men, meaning alongside them but without sharing their mission or joining their enterprise. He could only do and say what God said he could do and say.

The trouble is that when he wakes us and gets going, Balaam walks “IM” them. He becomes one with them, sharing their goals, purpose and values. That’s why in the end he even looked like and ass to his donkey.

The further he walks ET them, the closer he finds he’s walking IM them.

Let’s watch our words, for they have great spiritual power to build up or tear down. 

Let’s speak a blessing today over God’s world and God’s people in Ivy’s year of blessing knowing that we are called to inherit a blessing and are blessed no matter who or what tries to curse us!