“Into the Promised Land”: Balaam and Balak
My youngest son Caleb has never read The 5 Love Languages. I know this, in part, because he is seven. That book is not quite up his alley. But I also know he isn’t well-versed on Chapman’s thinking because Caleb’s love language to me is definitely not in that book. Caleb’s preferred method to show me that he loves me is to give me grief, pretty much about everything. For example, often when we pray together at night I will ask what he wants to thank God for. His response,“Mom, Joshua and Hannah, and Della and Chester.”
Joshua and Hannah are our two other kids. Della and Chester are our dogs.
“Anyone else?” I will ask.
“Nanna and Gramps. Meemaw and Papaw,” he will respond with a sly look on his face.
One time he tried to orchestrate a coup to vote me out of the family. True story. Thankfully, that one was narrowly defeated.
One of Caleb’s favorite ways to express this love for me is to be contrarian.
“I love you, buddy!”
“No you don’t.”
“You are a blessing!”
“No I’m not.”
You get the picture.
In this week’s session we are going to encounter a pagan king named Balak. When Balak saw Israel approaching his land of Moab, he became greatly afraid, having heard of Israel’s exploits coming out of Egypt. So Balak sought to hire Balaam, a diviner, to curse God’s people. But he couldn’t. And the reason why Balak the contrarian failed to secure a curse over the people is quite meaningful to us today.
A Quick Note
But first a quick note. As you read through this story in Numbers 22-23, you might notice a curious detail. In Num. 22:20-21, God told Balaam to go with the men who had summoned him. And that is what he did. But then in Num. 22:22, we read that God was incensed that Balaam was going. What gives? This is a rather confusing part of the story, and it is not at its core, but just in case an insightful kid picks up on it, or you are the teacher who likes to bring these extra elements to bear, I wanted to give you a proposed explanation. The Hebrew of this passage connotes that God became angry at Balaam during his journey, not necessarily because of it. So it is likely that Balaam did something during that displeased God during that journey. A common guess is that Balaam came to believe that he could curse the Israelites.  And that is why God was angry and intervened.
The CSB Study Bible offers a similar, yet somewhat more general explanation:
22:22 The angel of the LORD challenged the commitment of the prophet-diviner to fulfill the task that God had for him. That God would become angry and engage one of his servants on a journey directed by him is consistent with the challenges presented to Jacob when he was traveling back to Canaan (Gn 32:22-32). This also reminds us of Moses when he was headed to Egypt to challenge the pharaoh (Ex 4:24-26). In both cases these men were reminded that a holy God was in control of the situation, and they were to be faithful in completing their assigned tasks. 
Respecting the Right One
One other aside deserves a moment of our attention. Balak was right to be terrified (Num. 22:3). But don’t miss that he was terrified for the wrong reason. He was afraid of the Israelites rather than the God of the Israelites. That was his big mistake. Had he grasped the power and character of God, he likely would have not sought out Balaam to curse God’s people. He took God’s people seriously, but God Himself lightly, which is antithetical to the Scriptures. That’s the lesson of Gideon, isn’t it? And David facing Goliath. And the cross. It is only by the power of God that we succeed.
When Curses Don’t Work
Now, on to what I really wanted to cover: Why Balak failed to secure a curse of God’s people and why it matters to us. God gives us the reason in Num. 22:12. “You are not to curse this people, for they are blessed.” Balak was attempting to be contrarian to God, and that simply doesn’t work. God had promised to bless His people way back in Gen. 12:1-3.
1 The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (emphasis added)
This, and only this, was the reason Balak failed. Israel did not deserve God’s protection like this—remember how rebellious we have seen this people to be. Rather God was making good on His promises, His faithfulness, driven by His grace, mercy, and love. God had said it, so He would do it. It’s that simple, yet that important.
In Christ We are Abundantly Blessed
So what does this mean for us? It means that we seek to understand who we are and what God is doing in us and through us not on who we are or what we have done, but rather on who God is and what He has promised. What has God declared to be true of us? That is our identity. And in Christ we know that we have been super abundantly blessed by Him. We are image-bearers of God, of limitless value. We are adopted children, heirs of the King. We are loved. We are forgiven. We are righteous. And we are more than conquerers. This is what is true. And no contrarian, even ourselves, can curse those whom God has blessed.
God’s grace and faithfulness are stronger than those who would hurt us… There is no greater power than the one we have in Jesus. If your life is hidden in Christ, you have no reason to fear any curse from anyone because God has all power.” 
Preschool Tip: This is a little bit more of a complex story, so if you worry that your littlest ones will struggle to follow it, simplify and keep the main point for them in mind: that God always keeps His promise to bless His people. Let them see that they can trust God and that all God does is for His glory and our good.
Kids Tip: If you are able, try to preserve some time to talk about how God’s faithfulness to bless us in Christ means that is the source of our identity and hope. This is such an important message for our kids, who even at what we could consider a young age, can struggle with these issues, especially in light of our culture’s dramatic shift concerning one’s identity. We need to be sure to anchor the truth of the gospel in our kids’ minds and hearts: that who they are—who they truly are—is rooted in Christ alone. Not what the world tells them. Not what ethnicity they are. Not what socio-economic class they are. Not which gender they are. Those things are not unimportant, but they all kneel at the cross.
 Cole, Dennis (2010). Numbers. B&H Publishing Group. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.com.
 Holman Bible Staff (2017). CSB Study Bible (p. 241). B&H Publishing Group. Retrieved from https://app.wordsearchbible.com.
“Numbers,” in Africa Study Bible (Oasis International, 2016), 193.