I have been reading and reflecting on the story of Balak and Balaam in the scripture lately. Although the situation is very distinct from that of our own time, I believe some underlying principles can inform my response to our current circumstances. This is the first of a number of reflections I will share, while working through the story found in Numbers 22-24.
Disclaimer: I am not advocating for open borders, closed borders, or any other political policy. My belief is that Christians may genuinely disagree on policies regarding how a nation should control its borders. However, I believe that political ideology and affiliations should not be the formative factor in a person’s heart, when responding to the peoples gathering on our borders.
I believe that how we view the dignity, humanity, and future of all people should be forged by our view of the image of God in them. I propose that this is the bedrock, taught and modeled by Jesus, upon which all dialogue, by His followers regarding how to respond to immigrants seeking relief in our country, should built upon.
Numbers 22:1 The Israelites traveled on and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan River across from Jericho. 2 Balak son of Zippor saw all that the Israelites had done to the Amorites. 3 And the Moabites were greatly afraid of the people, because they were so numerous. The Moabites were sick with fear because of the Israelites.
4. So the Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “Now this mass of people will lick up everything around us, as the bull devours the grass of the field. Now Balak son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at this time. 5 And he sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is by the Euphrates River in the land of Amaw, to summon him, saying, “Look, a nation has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are settling next to me. 6 So now, please come and curse this nation for me, for they are too powerful for me. Perhaps I will prevail so that we may conquer them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”
Here is a story of a mass migration of political refugees fleeing the oppression brought about by a regime change in their country. After struggling through numerous political regions so far, they are approaching the border of their destination–one of the most powerful kingdoms in the region. God has been on the journey with these people. Although the journey has been an arduous one, God has plans for them.
- Where do you find yourself identifying with this story?
Many of us, who have read this scripture previously, engage empathetically with the Israelites, since we have followed their journey from Egypt.
We know that they are political refugees, fleeing a brutal oppression introduced by a regime change in their former home, Egypt.
We recall God’s compassion on them, prompting His powerful deliverance from the hardships they experienced in Egypt in Egypt.
- What specifics do you remember about the oppression they suffered under, while in Egypt?
- Which of the difficult circumstances strikes you as the most difficult to endure or forbear?
- What details do you remember of God’s intervention to bring them out from under the oppression?
- Which ones do you think would have been most scary to live through?
- Which ones would have seemed most impactful to you?
- If you were part of the Israelite people, what memories would you carry with you of the departure from Israel?
- Which ones bring you hope?
- Which ones cause pain?
The journey has been long and hard. One entire generation has died throughout the arduous journey through the desert.
- What do you imagine it must be like to bury a loved one during a sojourn, and yet feel the threat of danger and the need for a new, safer life pressure you to keep moving on?
Throughout the journey, they grumbled, grappled with each other over positions of leadership, were terrified, yet repented and worshipped God.
- Have you been part of a group, where you experienced any of these same phenomenon occurring during hard times?
We are softened in our judgment of them, because we know the larger perspective. We see God’s hand and presence in their lives from the times of their ancestors. We know that this is part of God’s fulfilling His promise—made centuries before— to bless them and to cause them to be a blessing to others.
- Might the people, mostly nameless to us, camping at our border, arriving at our ports, have a God story? Those who have risked their lives, and the lives of their children, to pursue the hope of a life free from hardship and violence?
- Are you willing to listen to their story? Even if that story challenged your ideology?
- Why were the Moabites and Midianites so terrified of the people camped on their border?
They had a zero-sum view, a scarcity mentality. Whatever resources they controlled, they perceived were threatened by the people amassed on their border.
God had promised to bless those who bless the people that were on the Moab border.
- What if Moab had viewed the people on the border as a source of blessing? Might they have responded differently?
- What about God? Might God have included Moab in his blessings in the land, if they had recognized God’s blessing and responded differently to the Israelites?
- Jesus has pronounced a blessing on many people that live around us today. Who are they? How might this story form how you respond to them?