I know I’ve talked a lot about promises in the last few posts but as I mentioned before, I’ve been wrestling with some things that God has spoken to me and it seems He isn’t going to allow me to move on until I give up the fight.
It is my prayer that by the end of this post you and I will have no more doubts concerning anything He has revealed concerning His plans for us, understanding that faith is what brings promises forth, not good deeds.
I have long believed that in order to see God move on my behalf, I must carry myself a certain way, find myself working in His Kingdom and lead a life that pleases Him. While we, as Christians, should be found doing these things, receiving the blessings of God should not be our motive for doing so. What today’s text will show us is that when we enter into covenant relationship with our Father, He is bound to that covenant and to His word.
Abraham was 99 years old when God told him that He would make a great nation out of him, beginning with the son He would give him in his old age, Isaac, and then He would give that nation a land of their own. By the time we get to Numbers 22, the first two promises had already been fulfilled but the latter had yet to come to pass.
At this point the Israelites had been in the wilderness 38 years. They were numerous and had a reputation for annihilating anyone that dared to rise against them. Because Balak, king of Moab, knew there was no way he could defeat them, he asked a diviner by the name of Balaam to go before God and request that He place a curse on them. He figured that if he could remove the hand of God over them, he could remove the threat they posed against him. What he didn’t know, though, was that the Israelites had more than favor working for them. They had promise.
In his failed attempts to fulfill Balak’s request, Balaam instead found himself blessing the children of God. The words God gave him to utter back to Balak were those of strength and increase. By the third attempt, Balaam didn’t even need sorcery to recognize the obvious – God was intent on blessing his people:
“How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob;
how lovely are your homes, O Israel!
They spread before me like palm groves,
like gardens by the riverside.
They are like tall trees planted by the Lord,
like cedars beside the waters.
Water will flow from their buckets;
their offspring have all they need.
Their king will be greater than Agag;
their kingdom will be exalted.
God brought them out of Egypt;
for them he is as strong as a wild ox.
He devours all the nations that oppose him,
breaking their bones in pieces,
shooting them with arrows.
Like a lion, Israel crouches and lies down;
like a lioness, who dares to arouse her?
Blessed is everyone who blesses you, O Israel,
and cursed is everyone who curses you.”
Again, the Israelites were yet in the wilderness when these words were spoken, which means that Balaam was speaking into their future, not merely observing what he saw in the present.
The point is, the reason God wouldn’t allow Balaam to curse the Israelites is because of the promise He had made to Abraham. Not because they were perfect, not because they never fell short, not because they never did anything that displeased Him. It was simply because He had a covenant with their forefather; and because they were descendants of Abraham, that covenant was extended to them. This supports the truth that God’s blessings are unmerited and are not based on our performance.
John Piper puts it so well in this passage:
“There is a good deal of confusion over [the] matter of whether the Abrahamic covenant is conditional or not. But the confusion is not necessary and arises from a false assumption, namely, that if a covenant is conditional it cannot be certain of fulfillment. Or to put it another way, if a person must meet certain conditions in order to benefit from God’s promises, then the fulfillment of those promises cannot be irrevocable and sure. But that is not true. It is a false assumption based squarely on the conviction that man is autonomous and self-determining. But if, as Ezekiel 36:27 says, God puts his Spirit in man and causes him to walk in his statutes (and thus fulfill the conditions of the covenant), then a promise can be both conditional and certain of fulfillment. If God commits himself to work so that [we fulfill] the conditions of the covenant promises, then there is no inconsistency in saying that the promises are sure, steadfast, irrevocable, and conditional.” (click here to read this piece in its entirety)
What this writer is saying is that yes, God’s promises are based on the condition that we will uphold our end of the deal by leading lives that are reflective of our Him however He lends us His spirit that enables us to do this, thereby guaranteeing our success. We are not without His help in keeping our vows to Him.
The story told in Numbers 22-24 puts God on center stage, revealing His heart and His unlimited capacity to love us in spite of ourselves. When given the opportunity to break His covenant with Abraham and to give Israel what they truly deserved for all of the times they played the harlot by worshiping false gods, He didn’t. When they insulted Him in chapter 21 by expressing how much they had come to loathe manna, while they were punished for this, the covenant remained intact. The very fact that up to this point they’d been in the wilderness for nearly four decades is proof that they had disobeyed many times and while they certainly delayed their promised, it wasn’t withdrawn.
What this reveals to us is that performance-based religion is Biblically unsound. The God we serve loves us for who we are, not what we do. Yes, we must absolutely live our lives in a way that honors Him but we should do that out of love, not because we feel that is the only way to earn the treasures He has in store for us. Abraham’s faith in the promises of God was accounted to him as righteousness and his faith moved him to obey God because he wholeheartedly believed that those promises would be fulfilled.
Realize that it isn’t necessary to try to please God with works in order to reap the benefit of rewards and instead choose to please God with works from a place within you that is so moved by His love that it wants nothing more than to lead a life that makes Him smile.
The fulfillment of promises are a result of our covenant relationship with Him, not our works.