When Balak the king of Moab sees the victory of the Israelites against the Amorites, he calls for one of his oracles, Balaam (Numbers 22-24). “Curse this people for me, ” he says, “since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed and he whom you curse is cursed.” Balak offers Balaam an alluring reward: “Whatever you say to me I will do.” The king has offered the authority of the crown. There is no greater bribe. Surely Balaam will acquiesce and curse Moab’s enemy.

But there’s a problem:

“From Aram Balak has brought me, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains. ‘Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!’ How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?”

Furious at Balaam’s blessing of Israel, Balak invites him a second time to call down a spiritual curse. But it won’t work. It can’t work. Not because Balaam is too faithful, not because Israel is too righteous (more on that in a second). It’s because there simply is no curse to call down:

“He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them…For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel.”

There is no enchantment, no divination, no curse for Balaam to bring down. It’s not just that the weapon has no ammo. It’s that there’s no weapon there at all. There is no spiritual power of the air that can thwart the granting of the promised land to Abraham’s seed.

C.S. Lewis said there were two mistakes that Christians could make in their thinking about demons and spiritual powers. One was to disbelieve in them, to ignore them. The other mistake was to take an obsessive ¬†interest in them. Both are harmful. But if I’m guessing, I’d say that for most readers of this blog, gravitational pull is toward the first more than the second. There’s a tendency for Western Christians, and especially us Reformed types, to talk and think and pray and preach as if there are no spiritual forces at work in the world–as if the sum total of what we mean by spiritual warfare is our Bible reading and prayer time pitted against our temptations.

That’s not the worldview of the Bible. Scripture plainly teaches there are invisible, spiritual forces at work right now. There are realities that transcend the physical and powers that we cannot hear or see. This episode in Numbers is not given to us 21st century readers by the Holy Spirit in order that we can laugh at how primitive pagan kings were. The Bible treats this narrative with soberness; a spiritual curse is a real thing, and Balak is not a fool for asking for one for his enemy.

But what Balak doesn’t understand is that there is no spiritual curse to call down on God’s covenant people. There is no demonic force or metaphysical malice that can arm wrestle God and win a round. “For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel.” God’s people were united around God’s presence (Ex. 40:34-38), and in God’s presence all other spiritual strongholds are subdued.

This doesn’t mean that no harm can befall God’s people. God can discipline his sons and daughters, and suffering doesn’t take Him off guard (Joseph: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good”). But it does mean that even when the Ark of the Covenant is captured, the idols of the nations must bow before it (1 Sam. 5:3). Dagon kneels before the King of the cosmos, who will bring His people, adopted into His beloved Son, into their inheritance.¬†There is no divination against Israel.

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Posted by Samuel James

Samuel D. James is associate acquisitions editor for Crossway Books.