The Biblical book of Numbers contains an improbable collection of stories that Christians would label as fairy tales or mythology were they found anywhere but the Bible. For example, there is the bronze serpent of chapter 21. The people were plagued by what is described as "fiery serpents," but when they merely looked at a pole-mounted bronze serpent, the deadly venom had no effect upon those bitten. Or take the talking donkey of chapter 22. In the old Authorized Version, the antiquated word "ass" is used, which makes the story a bit more believable. After all, I've known more than a few talking asses in my lifetime. These stories are in Holy Scripture, so I take them at face value, as improbable as they seem. They are there, and I cannot merely pretend they are not.
Following on these stories however, are the prophecies of Balaam, a diviner who claimed to worship the LORD even while practicing the soothsayer's arts. Not too different than many today who practice a religious syncretism in which Biblical theology is intertwined with what are essentially contradictory pagan beliefs. Interestingly enough, even though Balaam was a false prophet, God actually spoke truth to and through him, again not unlike that which often happens today. Balaam was hired to curse Israel, but every time he tried, blessing came out of his mouth. When verbal cursing failed, he figured out a way to accomplish the same end by leading Israel to engage in pagan worship and sexual immorality.
Balaam's blessing was powerful. In 23:21, he said, "He (Yahweh) has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has he seen wickedness in Israel. The LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them." This is an amazing statement! Israel had repeatedly grumbled against God, repeatedly refused to trust or follow his leading, yet God states categorically that he hadn't seen sin in his people. Talk about grace! He chose to dwell in the midst of a stubborn people, to rule as their King, and yet he who sees all did not see their sin. It was as he had promised, covered by the atoning sacrifices being offered by the high priest.
Even today, God chooses to dwell among a sinful people in whom he sees no sin because the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). This is grace most amazing! And yet, it is not a pass on sin. Balaam accomplished through deceit and treachery what he could not accomplish through his divination, and it is possible for us to bring a curse upon ourselves by spiritual and sexual compromise, both of which are rampant in our culture today. I am thankful for the grace that covers all our sin, but also know how important it is to be pure in doctrine and practice if I am to avoid bringing a deathly curse upon myself. May God in his mercy continue to give strength and wisdom so I may finish strong in the course set before me. Of course, it will be easier to do if I stay away from talking asses.