Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Courage

When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said,

   “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered:  How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel!  Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the LORD has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters.  Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters; his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.  God brings him out of Egypt and is for him like the horns of the wild ox; he shall eat up the nations, his adversaries, and shall break their bones in pieces and pierce them through with his arrows.  He crouched, he lay down like a lion and like a lioness; who will rouse him up?  Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you.”   

And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. And Balak said to Balaam, “I called you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have blessed them these three times. Therefore now flee to your own place. I said, ‘I will certainly honor you,’ but the LORD has held you back from honor.” And Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the LORD, to do either good or bad of my own will. What the LORD speaks, that will I speak’?  (Numbers 24:1-13 ESV)

Though Balaam would like to curse Israel and receive his pay, he cannot.  Once again, this time as the Spirit of God comes down on him, he is compelled to bless Israel.  He recounts Israel’s redemption from Egypt by God and the certainty of Israel’s military victories over her enemies.  He reiterates Yahweh’s promise to Abraham that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse her will be cursed.

Balak would do well to bless Israel at this time, but instead he reacts in anger, telling Balaam that only his promise to honor him is keeping him alive.  Balaam’s unwillingness to give his own prophecy testifies to the surety that it comes from Yahweh.  He had every motivation to give Balak what he wanted.

We may be tempted in the same way to adjust our message to others to win their approval.  We may do this to get financial benefit or just social and relational benefit.  We are not exempt from this temptation.  May we choose rightly when the time comes.

Many a good man had failed because he had his wishbone where his backbone should have been.  At one point during his youth, baseball great Jackie Robinson began to run with a neighborhood gang.  In later years, he recalled that while he had wished for a better life as a boy and teen, he had no understanding that a gang was not the way to achieve it.  An older friend finally came to Jackie and made him realize how much he was hurting his hard-working mother, as well as how much he was limiting himself.  Robinson said, “He told me that it didn’t take guts to follow the crowd, that courage and intelligence lay in being willing to be different.”  We might argue that it lay in being willing to be righteous.  Jackie listened, left the gang, and traded his wishbone for a backbone.  He began to work on developing his own physical potential and within a few short years, became a sensational athlete.  Starring in football, basketball, baseball, and track at UCLA, he was the first person to win athletic awards in all four sports at the university.  He went on to play pro football with the Los Angeles Bulldogs before being drafted for World War II duty.  After the war, he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Not only did Jackie Robinson become the first black baseball player in the major leagues, but he was voted rookie of the year. But it was hard, inestimably hard.  Courage isn’t required to do what is easy.

COURAGE is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.  (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

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