Words Belong to the Lord – Lessons from a False Prophet

Balak (Numbers 22:4 – 25:9)

Look, I have come to you now! Balaam said to Balak. “Can I just say anything? I must speak only the message which God puts into my mouth.
(Numbers 22:38).

Balaam is summoned by the king of the Moabites, Balak, to curse the children of Israel. The fear of Israel has so overtaken him that he takes the extraordinary step of hiring a prophet (Num. 22:6-7) to curse the people in order to preserve his kingdom. Yet, even for a house full of gold and silver, Balaam can only speak the words that the Lord God puts in his mouth (Num. 24:13). While Balaam only speaks over Israel words of blessing that the Lord gives to him, as we will consider in next week’s portion, Pinchas, he does show Balak Israel’s weakness.

The portion of Balak contains some of the most beautiful and poetic text found in the Bible, as an example, “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, and your dwelling places, O Israel!” (Num. 24:5). The two chapters containing the three attempts of Balaam to curse Israel are words of prophecy, of encouragement, and they reflect the love that the covenant Lord has for his people. When we speak, what do our words reflect?

While conceptually we understand the power of language at a young age; as we age and mature we begin to understand the lasting power that language has on the human heart and mind. Most of us have experienced the effects of careless speech, or pointed hurtful speech; recognizing the echoes of those words years and decades after they were spoken, and just how much of a “curse” they can be.

From the false prophet Balaam (known in rabbinic literature as Balaam HaRasha – Balaam the wicked one) we learn a valuable lesson – to consider our language. David writes, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14). His son Solomon writes, “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Pro. 15:4). Further, the apostle Paul exhorts, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29; cf. Matt. 12:34; Eph. 5:4; Col. 4:6; Jas. 3:9-10).

Clearly there is a difference between godly speech and the use of language, and speech and language utilized by the heart and mind of the flesh that inflicts damage. This is why we must, by a continued yielding to the Holy Spirit, repent of past destructive speech and break the patterns of behavior that might lead us to its usage in the present.

How do we break these patterns? 1 ) By rebuking the ungodly internal chatter in the mind (2 Cor. 10:5); 2) By prayerful consideration of our words before speaking them (Jas. 1:19); 3) By considering how others may receive these words (Pro. 17:9); 4) By speaking words that conform to the revelation of Scripture, as Paul wrote, “but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion;” and 5) By sharing words, and their resulting actions, that reveal the new internal life (Col. 3:17).

“Words belong to the Lord. What this means is that whenever you take words as belonging to you, your words lose their shelter from difficulty. You have never spoken a word that belongs to you, because words belong to the Lord. We think that words are not that important because we think of words as little utilitarian tools for making our life easier and more efficient, when they are actually a powerful gift given by a communicating God for his divine purpose.” Dr. Paul David Tripp

When we remember that words belong to the Lord, we can only speak the words of blessing and care he gives us to say – an important lesson from a false prophet.

Be well, shalom;
Dr. J.D. Elwell