Nehemiah 13:1–3

“They did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them — yet our God turned the curse into a blessing” (Neh. 13:2).

Typically, we hear the word comedy and think of something that is humorous. Yet in the ancient world of Greek drama, comedy referred to a reversal of fortune, one in which someone who had been suffering suddenly came out on top. In a comedic drama, things would change for the better for the protagonists. When we define comedy this way, it is clear that we serve a “comedic” God. He loves to do the unexpected and reverse the fortunes of His children when things seem to be at their worst. Joseph went from prisoner of the pharaoh to his right-hand man (Gen. 41:1–55). The Jews in Persia became victors on the eve of their extinction (Est. 9:1). Again and again, the Lord has shown His willingness to intervene and turn a curse into a blessing.

Today’s passage recalls that occasion in the wilderness when God made a blessing for Israel out of a would-be curse. In Nehemiah 13:1–3, the priests are reading from the law of Moses when they come upon the story of Balaam in Numbers 22–24. As the text in Numbers indicates, this was a critical time in Israel’s history. The people were camped “in the plains of Moab,” just on the verge of entering the Promised Land (22:1). Moab was not a friendly country and feared what the Israelites might do to their land (vv. 2–3), which was ironic because even though the Israelites were numerous, they were not yet a secure kingdom in Canaan and thus were at a disadvantage, humanly speaking. Balak, the king of Moab, wanted to protect his own kingdom, so he hired Balaam, a noted practitioner of divination, to curse the Israelites (vv. 4–21). But this plan backfired, for God intervened through an angel, forcing Balaam not to curse but rather to give a blessing that anticipated the later glory of God’s people (22:22–24:25).

Israel was undeserving of the curse that Balak wanted to put on the nation, and the Lord transformed the curse into a great blessing. Today, He often does the same when we are suffering. But the glory of His grace is seen in salvation — His will to take the curse that He has justly pronounced on our guilt and make for us a blessing. We deserve the greatest curse for breaking His covenant, but God has taken the curse off His people and placed it on another, giving us the great blessing of salvation in exchange (Gal. 3:10–14).

Coram Deo

God often waits to intervene and rescue us when things seem to be their darkest, so we should never despair that our circumstances are too far gone for Him to respond. Still, there are times when the Lord does not seem to intervene, and so we must trust that He has good purposes for us even when we suffer. In eternity we shall see how He has worked in and through our curses to bring us blessing (Rom. 8:28).

For Further Study