3.45 Numbers -- the First Oracle
Balaam then offered pagan sacrifices to Israel's God (!), and God met with Balaam (Num 23:4). In the next two chapters, Balaam uttered four oracles of God concerning Israel and the nation. These statements are critical to understanding God's plan for history:
a. Num 23:7-10 "I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel?" (Num 23:9-10)
b. Num 23:18-24 "No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The Lord their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them" (Num 23:21).
c. Num 24:3-9 "God brought them out of Egypt; they have the strength of a wild ox. They devour hostile nations and break their bones in pieces; with their arrows they pierce them. Like a lion they crouch and lie down, like a lioness -- who dares to rouse them? May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!" (Num 24:8-9)
d. Num 24:15-24 "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong" (Num 24:17-8).
The juxtaposition of these declarations with the recent disastrous history of the Israelites is incredible -- can they be referring to the same nation? Israel, who was just turned away from entering the Promised Land, who was smitten with plague and serpents -- this is the people in whom no misfortune is seen, no misery observed? These prophecies, coming from the Spirit of God through a non-Israelite, provide a window onto Israel's destiny that goes beyond current historical realities. Let us look at these pronouncements in detail.
a. "I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!" (Num 23:9-10)
This is an astounding statement of national identity, and of separation. Israel is not just another nation or tribe, one among many, as modern tolerance advocates would declare. Instead, there is the note of exclusivity and distinction which is so consistently a part of Biblical faith and identity. This theme is coupled with a renewal of the promise to Abraham to have numberless descendants. Even more remarkable is that this word is spoken over a people who were nearly obliterated by God in His anger 9 chapters earlier! This caution is a necessary counterweight to the pro-Israel lobby, then and now. The exclusivity of Israel did not consist in any inherent racial virtues of that nation. What set the people of Israel apart from the nations, what gave to it its unique glory, was God Himself among them.