This verse was proclaimed over Israel in his second oracle by the diviner Balaam after Balak, king of Moab, hired him to pronounce a curse on the Israelites.
After their forty-year wandering in the wilderness was complete, Moses lead the Israelites toward Canaan, the promised land, following a northward route to the plains of Moab. Israel encamped in Moab on the east side of the Jordan River and across from the Canaanite city of Jericho.
Moab was occupied by what was probably a confederation of tribal people and Balak was called Moab’s king. Upon seeing the great number of Israelites encamped in Moabite territory, Balak was deeply disturbed that the land could not support both Israel and the Moabites. If Balak started a war with Israel to drive them from the land, he feared that Israel’s superior numbers could overpower the Moabite army.
So Balak sent messengers to the Mesopotamian town of Pethor, about 400 miles away, to hire the renowned diviner, Balaam, to come to Moab and pronounce a curse on Israel. If they were cursed, Balak reasoned he would be able to defeat Israel in battle and run them out of Moabite territory.
Balak’s messengers arrived in Pethor and asked Balaam to accompany them back to Moab. Balaam asked them to spend the night so he could inquire of God to see what answer He gave to the matter. God spoke to Balaam that night and told him not to curse Israel because they were His chosen people: “You are not to go with them. You are not to curse this people, for they are blessed” (vs. 22:12). Balak sent Balaam’s messengers back and he didn’t accompany them because of what God instructed him.
When the messengers returned to Balak and explained what had happened, Balak sent even more messengers who were more important than the first group to Balaam. And Balak promised to reward Balaam financially if he came to Moab and cursed Israel. So Balaam said that he would again inquire of God. God reluctantly permitted Balaam to go with the messengers to Moab but reminded Balaam to speak only what He told him (by giving voice to Balak’s donkey; see vs. 22:21-41 for this amusing story).
When Balaam arrived in Moab, Balak repeatedly (four times) attempted to incite Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel. Balaam was tempted by the financial reward Balak offered, but he was constrained by God from pronouncing any curse on Israel. In Balaam’s second oracle (of four) that he proclaimed over Israel, God clearly establishes that He is not whimsical and manipulated through sorcery and divination.
In other words, Balaam could not change what God had instructed him to proclaim even though he kept dancing around the possibility that God might change His mind–ostensibly so Balaam could profit from his divination services by cursing Israel. Balaam ultimately met a tragic death at the hands of the Israelites in a war with the Midianites (vs. 31:8).
This verse (and the story of Balaam) teaches us a very important lesson about the character and nature of God. The Apostle Paul tells us that God’s calling and gifts are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Samuel expressed this same sentiment to King Saul when Saul made a pretense of obeying God: “The Eternal One of Israel does not lie or change His mind, for He is not man who changes his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).
Because God is faithful, He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2;13) and it is, therefore, impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18).
With this theology about God’s resolute and unwavering character in hand, we need to apply it to our lives in a very personal way. When God reveals His will to us, it doesn’t include a clause to revise or modify it for our own convenience or due to our inconvenience!
We must be careful that we don’t handle God’s will irresponsibly or capriciously like Balaam. When we know what God wants us to do, we don’t keep going back and asking Him if it could be this way or that way or at this time or at that time.
God doesn’t negotiate His will!
God’s calling, His plans and purposes, His will for your life are irrevocable!
But not because God is arbitrary but because His will is an anchor for our lives. God’s will gives our lives hope and purpose and meaning. God’s will disposes us to be in the right place at the right time that is most advantageous for both God and for us!