Balaam - Numbers 23. 13-26 - Part 5
R. Catchpole, London
But still there is more:
c. The divine power, v. 22
‘God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn’. In Numbers chapter 22 verse 5, Balak described them as a people ‘come out from Egypt’; here Balaam says who it was that brought them out, ‘God [Heb. El – God singular – the mighty God] brought them out’. While initially looking back to their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and what God had done for them in the past, the sense of the Hebrew text actually goes beyond that. Their deliverance from Egypt was but the first step; the process was ongoing, and they moved forward with the strength of a unicorn. 1 Darby in his New Translation says, ‘buffalo’ while others translate as ‘auroch’ or ‘wild ox’. In Job chapter 39 verses 9 to 11, the Lord says to Job, ‘Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? Or wilt thou leave thy labour to him?’ The Lord contrasts the ‘unicorn’ with the ‘domesticated oxen’ with which the farmer ploughed his land and threshed his grain and the question the Lord addressed to Job raised the impossibility of men harnessing the strength of the unicorn to employ it in some useful purpose. 2 Thus, the unicorn is figurative of invincible, irresistible strength. We remember Balak wanted to curse the people so they would be weakened and he could then defeat them in battle, but the very man he employed to curse them proclaims their invincible might. In a future day, the remnant of Israel, empowered by their Messiah, will ‘tread down the wicked’ who will be as ‘ashes’ (the result of the fire of God’s judgement) under the soles of their feet, Mal. 4. 3. It was a sad day when, having arrived at the borders of the promised land, they fearfully spoke of their enemies as giants and themselves as grasshoppers, saying ‘we be not able to go up against the people for they are stronger than we’, Num. 13. 31. They didn’t lack the power. What they lacked was faith in the One who brought them out of Egypt. Writing to Timothy in his last recorded letter, Paul says, ‘God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God’, 2 Tim. 1. 7, 8. Do we lack power or is it a lack of faith?
d. The divine protection vv. 23, 24
Balaam confesses, ‘Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel’. The heathen nations resorted to spells, incantations, enchantments, divination, and various magical arts in seeking supremacy over their enemies. Here, Balaam asserts that all are totally impotent against the people of God, adding, ‘according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!’ The Septuagint (LXX) translates the phrase ‘in season it shall be told to Jacob and Israel what God shall perform’. Understood thus the statement embraces great things that God was yet do for His people, things to be revealed in their divinely appointed time and that would be manifest in His acts, counsel and word. But, accepting the reading of the King James Version, the statement looks on to future events that will be recounted to subsequent generations of the nation who, as they hear, will exclaim, ‘What hath God wrought!’ Writing of those days, the prophet Isaiah says, ‘in that day shall ye say, Praise the Lord, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted. Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee’, Isa. 12. 4-6. Balaam continued, ‘Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain’. Again, looking on to future days, Micah chapter 5 verse 8 RV says, ‘the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and there is none to deliver’.
What a day it will be when they celebrate all that God has done for them and the fulfilment of His promise to bless them, their sins no longer remembered, their enemies defeated, the Lord dwelling in their midst, and their adoring exclamation, ‘What hath God wrought!’ But, in this present day of grace, as believers in Christ, ‘Blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ’, surely we must say, ‘What hath God wrought?’
1 Some feel the pronoun ‘he’ refers to God, and that the power that was displayed in bringing the people out from Egypt in the past was with them still to bring them into the land and to crush their enemies. However, it seems that the pronoun is more likely a reference to the people themselves ‘brought out from Egypt’ and empowered by God.
2 D. J. Newell, What the Bible teaches, Job, John Ritchie, pg. 570.