Continuing my reading in Numbers and, this morning, spent some time reconsidering the goofy drama played out between Balak, king of Moab, and Balaam, prophet for hire (Numbers 22 -25). Balak sees the Israeli horde nearing his land. Fearing he’d have a tough time physically standing against them, he decides to take a “spiritual warfare” approach. He sends for Balaam . . . apparently a man of some reputation for dabbling in the spirit world . . . and one who can be retained for the right price. One who, so Balak believes, can curse the people of God thus giving Balak an upper hand against them. But this Balaam, is apparently a man of “integrity.” He only speaks from the spirit world what the spirit world will allow him to speak.
Why God engages with Balaam, I’m not quite certain. But He does. At first forbidding Balaam to go, but then allowing it. You get the sense that God allows Balaam to serve his covetous nature. Though Balaam is a “man of integrity,” he’s a greedy man of integrity who really wants the honor and riches promised him by the king of Moab.
Bottom line . . . Balaam goes to Moab knowing that God has determined to bless Israel and that Balaam is not to curse the people. But Balaam’s also going hoping, somehow, to make some money off this gig . . . either because God changes His mind (not gonna happen) . . . or Balaam comes up with another way to help Balak trip up Israel (which he does — see Numbers 25:1-9 and Revelation 2:14).
Three times Balak insists that Balaam curse the Israelites . . . three times Balaam ends up speaking the word of the LORD and blesses them. And it’s something I read in the first blessing that caught my attention.
How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced? For from the top of the crags I see him, from the hills I behold him; behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations! (Numbers 23:8-9 ESV)
Balaam could only speak what God told him to speak . . . and when it came to describing the people of God this is how they were characterized: ” . . . a people dwelling alone . . . not counting itself among the nations.”
And it has a familiar ring. It should, given that God’s people under the Old Covenant foreshadow certain realities that should mark God’s people under the New Covenant, aka the Church. We too should be a people marked by dwelling in holy separation, a people not considering itself to be like those who follow after other gods. Though we are “in the world,” we are not to be “of the world.”
Not that we live in self-righteous isolation, but that we live in clear Christ-righteousness identification.
That those redeemed from the slavery to sin which so marks the world, who have been purified by the blood of God’s one and only Son, and have been called out as God’s own possession, would seek first the kingdom of God in such a way that they are known for dwelling alone. Marching to the beat of a different drummer, attuned to the rhythm of heaven. Marked by a different way of thinking, a different set of priorities, a different set of goals. A people which regard themselves as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Peter2:9).
O that God’s people might live in holy distinction from the world about them. Not that we might be exclusive, but that we would be effective. Effective in demonstrating the power of new life in Christ . . . effective in being the salt and light we are called to be . . . effective in proclaiming the good news a lost world so needs to hear.
Dwelling alone . . . for the sake of the world . . . by His grace . . . and for His glory.
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord . . .” (2Corinthians 6:16-17a ESV)