What Hath God Wrought? – I Numbers 23:19-23

(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)

Perhaps you didn’t know the first words sent by telegraph over the newly constructed Washington to Baltimore line, wasWhat hath God wrought?” from Numbers 23:23 (King James Version) . It was tapped out from the U.S. Capital building in Washington by Samuel F. B. Morse to his associate Alfred Vail waiting at a Baltimore train station. I thought it a fitting title for this Gem since it was said by the prophet Balaam concerning Israel, part of our featured Scripture.

I chose this Scripture because it struck me what Balaam prophesied in Numbers 23:19 through 23:

     God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, 
     that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do?  
     Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good.  Behold, 
     I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and 
     I cannot reverse it.  He 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.  God brings them out of Egypt; He has strength like 
     a wild ox.  For there is no sorcery against Jacob, nor 
     any divination against Israel.  It now must be said of 
     Jacob and of Israel, “What hath God wrought?” (Last four 
     words from the King James Version).

I know Balaam turned out to be a false prophet. He is rightly condemned in II Peter 2:15, Jude 1:11, and Revelation 2:14. But even false prophets can at times utter true and godly prophesies! Consider the prophesy of Caiaphas in John 11:49 through 53. And it is an amazing prophesy when Balaam said, He [God] has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel.It is amazing because according to the record in the book of Numbers, Israel was anything but righteous and sinless!

Numbers is an interesting book of the Bible. Now reading the first ten chapters can be a bit tedious because of all the instructions God gave to Israel as they got ready to leave Mount Sinai, and head for the Promised Land. These chapters record the first census taken of Israelite men who are old enough for military service. The last eleven chapters of Numbers (from 26 to 36) are also not my favorite. A second census is recorded in chapter 26; and these two numberings are where the fourth book of the Old Testament gets its name. The remainder of Numbers, through chapter 36, deals with specific instructions from the LORD as the Israelites are about to enter Canaan.

But from chapter 11 through chapter 25 I think is rather exciting reading! It is the record of Israel’s wanderings for 38 years in the desert wilderness of Sinai. God had delayed their entry into the Promised Land by forty years because of their unbelief and rebellion! More on this in a moment.

Let’s look at the record of those wandering Israelites:

They had just left Mount Sinai where the LORD demonstrated His mighty power and majesty, where He had given them the Ten Commandments and other laws to guide His people in their daily lives. And they had promised, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8). They were at that holy mountain from Exodus 19, through the last 21 chapters of that book, through the 27 chapters of Leviticus, and through the first ten chapters of Numbers.

  • Numbers 11:1-3 – After experiencing all the power and glory of the ten plagues against the Egyptians; the divine presence and guidance in the cloud by day and the fire by night; the miracle of the Red Sea parting for them, but drowning the pursuing Egyptian army; the heavenly provision of daily manna; the blazing fire, thunder, and earthquake of God at Mount Sinai – the first thing the Jews did was complain! It doesn’t say what they complained about, but it was serious enough that the LORD sent fire which, “…burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.” (Numbers 11:1). The people pleaded with Moses who then interceded on their behalf, and “…the fire was quenched. So he [Moses] called the name of the place Taberah…,” which means “burning”. (Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary).
  • Numbers 11:4-9 – “…the mixed multitude…” that came out of Egypt with the Hebrews (see Exodus 12:38)…
         ...yielded to intense craving; so...Israel also 
         wept again... “Who will give us meat to eat? We 
         remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, 
         the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, 
         and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried 
         up; there is nothing at all except this manna be-
         fore our eyes!”

God sent them meat, quail meat – so much meat, it was enough to feed about two to three million people for a whole month! (See Numbers 11:18-32). But because of their complaining, we are told in Numbers 11:33 and 34:

     ...while the meat was still between their teeth...the 
     LORD struck the people with a very great plague; so he 
     [Moses] called the name of that place Kibroth Hattaavah 
     [“graves of craving” – Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary], be-
     cause there they buried the people who had yielded to
  • Numbers 12:1-15 – Then it was the leaders’ turn to complain!…Mariam and Aaron spoke against Moses because…he had married an Ethiopian woman.” (verse 1). But the real complaint turned out to be that Moses’ older brother and sister were jealous of how God was using him! Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” (verse 2). The result of this sin was that Mariam was afflicted with leprosy, and she was shut out of the camp for seven days before God would heal her! (See verses 14 and 15).
  • Numbers chapters 13 and 14 – Israel arrived at Kadesh Barnea, “…in the Wilderness of Paran.” (Numbers 12:16). This is where the Israelites succumbed to their greatest sin as they traveled from Egypt to Canaan. Twelve spies, one from each of Israel’s twelve tribes, were sent out to explore the Promised Land. They trekked the country for 40 days, and returned to show some of the abundant produce of the land. But then ten of the twelve spies gave a negative report:
         Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are 
         strong; the cities are fortified and very large; 
         moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The 
         Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hit-
         tites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the 
         mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and 
         along the banks of the Jordan....We are not able to 
         go up.... (Numbers 13:28, 29, 31).

  ✡   And most all of the people of Israel believed them!  
      They even talked of choosing a leader other than 
      Moses and returning to Egypt! (See Numbers 14:3, 4).
      They even wanted to stone Caleb and Joshua, the two 
      spies who exhorted the people to believe God, obey 
      Him, and go take possession of the Promised Land! 
      (See Numbers 14:6-10).

  ✡   This was when God threatened to kill the rebellious 
      Iraelites and produce a greater nation through Moses!  
      But the great man’s intercession stopped the slaugh-
      ter! (See Numbers 14:11-20).

  ✡   The Lord told the nation to turn back, and sentenced 
      them to wander 38 more years in the Sinai wilderness, 
      a total of 40 years (see Deuteronomy 2:14) – one year 
      for every day they trekked the land (see Numbers 14:34).

  ✡   Still the people of Israel rebelled! And they...
      early in the morning went up...the mountain, saying, 
      ‘Here we are...we will go up to the place which the 
      Lord has promised, for we have sinned.’But the 
      Amalakites and Canaanites soundly defeated them! 
      (See Numbers 39-45).

We are only halfway through the sin and rebellion of Israel recorded in the book of Numbers! But I think you can see the seeming paradox between what Balaam prophesied concerning Israel, and what was their actual experience! We will continue with Israel’s historical record in the next Gem, and reconcile this paradox in What Hath God Wrought? — III!