Balaam’s Curse begins with a celebration on the border of the Promised Land. If ever a people chased the end of a rainbow and found gold, it was this people, this time, this place. They were a people on a quixotic venture. They themselves were the fulfillment of an impossible dream born when God told one childless man he would become a nation outnumbering the stars. The remaining promises seemed just as unlikely— that nomadic wanderers would come to possess the Promised Land, that the stigma of slavery could be transmuted to the glory of a blessed people destined to bless all other nations. But like Abraham, they believed God.
The promises were first given some four hundred years earlier to Abraham after he answered God’s call to go to an alien land. Apparently, he didn’t know why God was sending him to the Land of Canaan until he wandered into Shechem, in the heart of a land filled with violence and vile worship. He must have been a bit bewildered. Why on earth did God transplant him here? Then God spoke. “I am the LORD [Yahweh] who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” (Genesis 15:7, NIV) God repeated the promise to Abraham’s son Isaac and again to his grandson Jacob.
The promise must have been both reassuring and disturbing to Jacob when he led the family down to Egypt to survive a time of famine. Even though his youngest son Joseph had risen to prominence as the premier of Egypt at Pharaoh’s right hand, the old patriarch knew that Egypt was not the Promised Land. Some time after Joseph’s death, the political climate of Egypt changed and the burgeoning clans of Abraham’s offspring were enslaved. With backs bent and bleeding during centuries of Egyptian bondage, they reminded each other of the promise. Belief in that promise bound them to each other with links stronger than any shackles that ever chained them together in work crews. It gave them a sense of who they were: descendants of Abraham, descendants of Isaac, and descendants of Jacob.
Jacob’s name had been changed to Israel, “The Overcomer,” and the twelve tribes descended from Jacob’s twelve sons bore that name proudly. The Children of Israel. They had a name and they had a promise. For two hundred years they waited and handed down that promise of land from parent to child. It was a dream that gave them hope. It was their pot of gold as they followed Moses and the rainbow of freedom out of Egypt. When Balaam’s Curse opens, the promise was four hundred years old, but the land was only a river away. The waiting was over. All they had to do was cross, right? Of course you know if it were that simple, there would be no story. Balaam’s Curse and A River to Cross plunge you into the struggles with the dark side that hold the Children of Israel back, keep them waiting a little longer. But when, in God’s perfect timing, they do cross the Jordan, it is spectacular!
In case you have never noticed, “waiting on the LORD” is a recurring theme in the Bible. Take a look.
In the morning, LORD. . . I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3
Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart . . . Psalm 27:14
I waited patiently for the Lord . . . Psalm 40:1
I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5
I wait for the LORD more than watchmen wait for the morning . . . Psalm 130:6
But those who wait on the LORD will renew their strength. . . Isaiah 40:31
The promise of land was worth waiting for. So was the promise that Abraham would become a great nation destined to bless the whole earth. The promises were glorious, but next to impossible for a landless wanderer with an infertile wife to believe. At one point, the wait for descendants became too much. Abraham and Sarah panicked and decided to force the fulfillment of God’s promise with a child by Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar. That mistake created a story of heartbreak and conflict that still plagues our planet. Eventually, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, Isaac the child of the promise was born. One child, but it was a beginning. The possession of land was an even longer wait. For a hundred years Abraham lived in Canaan, without owning even the smallest plot of land. Then when Sarah died, he purchased the cave of Machpelah near the city of Hebron in southern Canaan as a family burial chamber. When Abraham himself died around thirty years later at age 175, his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried him in that cave beside Sarah. Not very promising, but “Abraham believed God . . . and he was called God’s friend.” (James 2:23, NIV)
What a beautiful benediction on a life. Abraham was respected, blessed with wealth, and probably quite happy, but his reality was not what one would expect in light of the promises he had been given—possession of one very small plot of ground and a very small family. Abraham’s faith was stretched, but he never quit believing. The “Faith Chapter” in Hebrews tells his story this way:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:8-10
Abraham never saw more than a glimmer of those glorious promises, but he believed and he learned to wait for the LORD. He made plenty of mistakes, but he was integral to God’s plan for saving our planet. Reread verse 10 which describes his dream, his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“He was looking forward to . . .” What?
That city was not only Abraham’s dream destination. It was his vision, his calling as well:
- A calling to believe God and obey
- A calling to let the world know that there is a God worth waiting for. A God who wants to walk and talk with everyone as he did with Abraham. A God who wants to call each of us his friends.
- A calling to become part of the plan to restore our world to its original state with no pain or death, no tears or trouble, a place where all nations of the earth will find a home in “the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.”
In the book of Revelation, John describes his vision of Abraham’s city descending from heaven. He heard a voice—that same unshakable, urgent, loving voice that spoke to Abraham—saying:
Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:3)
John’s reality was that he was the last living disciple of Jesus and he was a prisoner on the rocky island of Patmos. The rest of the disciples died violent deaths at the hands of those who did not like the story they were telling. The number of believers was growing, but so were the numbers of those being persecuted and killed by the Romans. John’s reality was dismal, but he believed God. When God said “Write!” he obeyed. Like Abraham, the vision was his reality.
Would you like to be known as the friend of God? Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:14 (NIV) Among his commands:
“Seek first the kingdom of God.” (Matt 6:33, NIV)
Pray like this, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10, NIV)
God needs you just as he needed Abraham and just as he needed John. Can you hear his voice right now calling you to become part of his plan? Can you hear him telling you how much he loves YOU and needs YOU? What specifically is he asking you to do—today? Is he nudging you to do something, to go somewhere, or is he asking you to wait?
Follow the example of Abraham, the friend of God: Listen. Believe. Obey.