The Promise Of Promises

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 3 July 2009

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good” (Numbers 23:19).

We are on a series of studies on the exceeding great and precious promises of God found throughout the Scriptures. The Lord helping us, we hope to find and examine one promise in each of the 66 books in the Bible, which best represents the theme of the book in which it is found.

We have come to the book of Numbers, and we find in it quite a number of distinct and important promises. This makes it hard for us to decide which to highlight.

We think of the Aaronic blessing in chapter 6 (vv. 24-27), which is really a promise of God to bless his faithful people.

We think of the prophecy given by Baalam, the son of Beor, that a Star shall arise out of Jacob and a Star shall arise out of Israel (Num 24:17). This really is another promise that the Messiah would come.

But after some consideration, I think it will be more profitable for us to consider what we may call the promise of promises. We call it the promise of promises not because it is the most significant promise in the Bible, but that it is a promise about God’s promises.

I am referring to Numbers 23:19.

These words were also spoken by the pagan prophet Baalam. Baalam was hired by Balak, the king of Moab to curse Israel (23:16).

Israel had just defeated Sihog, king of the Amorites and Og, king of Bashan (21:21-35), and was at this time pitched in the Plains of Moab (22:1). Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab heard all these things, and was afraid that they might attack Moab too, and so he hired Baalam to curse Israel hoping that it might spell the defeat of Israel. You may recall how Baalam at first refused to do as Balak requested, but eventually, perhaps due to greed, he consented to go. But the Lord would not allow curses to come out of his mouth, but only blessings.

Balak chided him, and brought him up to Mt Pisgah hoping that if Baalam could see the Israelite better, he could curse them better (23:11-14). Perhaps he was also hoping that God would change his mind. It was in the context of this second attempt to curse Israel that Balaam spoke the promise of promises.

This is a very profound declaration about the character and being of God. It says three things: (1) God does not lie; (2) God does not change His mind; and (3) God will carry out His promises.

Let’s consider first…


1. God Does Not Lie

God is not a man, that he should lie…

Balak had wanted Balaam to pronounce a curse upon Isael. But Balaam according to his own admission could only speak what the Lord would have him say: “I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more” he tells Balak (Num 22:18).

Balak should have taken the hint at that point that Balaam could not curse Israel. Why? Because God had blessed Israel. God had said to Balaam, “thou shalt not curse the people: for they were blessed” (Num 22:12).

But for some reason, Balak was not convinced that he could not get Balaam to curse Israel. Perhaps he thought that Balaam was lying about his inability to do what he wanted him to do. This explains, perhaps, why Balak tempted him with more wealth and honour (Num 22:17).

You see, lying is a fundamental problem of the natural man. The natural man will lie. He will lie to get what he wants, to protect his own honour, or to make himself look better than he really is.

The first recorded lie in the Bible was made by the devil, who is since then called the father of lies (Jn 8:44). Fallen man is inevitably held captive by him in this regard, and finds lying almost irresistible.

The first recorded deliberate lie by man was that of unbelieving Cain in reply to God’s question: “where is Abel thy brother” (Gen 4:9). And he said: “I know not, am I my brother’s keeper?”

But not only are unbelievers capable of lying, believers too are not exempted. As a matter of fact, the next explicit lie recorded in the history of mankind is that by the father of all faithfuls: Abraham, no less. You remember how he lied to the Egyptians about his wife (Gen 12:12).

Since then, many lies have been recorded, e.g. of Isaac, of Jacob, of Joseph’s brothers, of pharaoh, of Aaron… the list goes on.

Indeed, David says of his enemies in Psalm 5:9—

For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.

These words are applicable to all men who descend from Adam, who inherited his sin nature. This is why Paul could quote this verse and apply it to all men, women, and children universally (Rom 3:13).

Anyone who would honestly assess his or her own heart will, I believe, agree with Paul without hesitation. Man simply can, does, and will lie. The question is what kind of lies and how deceitful a man may be, not whether he will lie. We could as well say: “to lie is human” as we could say: “to err is human.” This, of course, does not in any way diminish the sinfulness of lying.

BUT while man can, does and will lie, if there is anything that God cannot do, it is to lie. Lying is contrary to the character of God. God is not a man, that he should lie. There are some occasions in Scriptures where God appears to approve of lying, but we will never find God lying. God will not speak a lie to his people. Has He promised something? We can be sure that what he said is true. He does not make a promise for expediency’s sake. A father may promise a child something in order to stop her from nagging. When the father does so without any intention of keeping the promise, he is telling a lie. When a man tells a woman that he loves her in order that he might have her, though he has no plans to marry her, he is telling a lie.

God will never make such lies. He does not lie about his love to his people. He does not make empty promises to his people.

And not only does God not lie,…

2. God does not Change
His Mind

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it?

The fact that God cannot and does not lie ought to be sufficient assurance to us that God will keep his promises, yet some may still question: “God does not lie, but what if he changes his mind?”

We know this to be true of man. Many have made most convincing promises that they would do something on behalf of someone else, but later change their mind. And some times, humanly speaking, they may have very good reasons to change their minds.

Take the case of an employer who is interviewing candidates for a secretarial post. During the interview with a pretty young lady, he was very pleased with her and even assured her that she would be given the job. But later on, when he calls the candidate’s referees, he discovers to his horror that his shortlisted candidate is actually a very lazy person who cannot get along with anyone in the office. So the employer decides not to employ her. Well, technically, he did not tell her a lie. He did intend to employ her, but he later changes his mind.

Could this happen with God? Consider what might be in the minds of Balaam as he was asked by Balak to curse Israel. Consider what the Israelites might be thinking. More than half a millennium ago, God had promised Abraham that the Israelites would be exiled in a foreign land, but He would bring them out 400 years later to inherit the Promised Land.

Now, 400 years later, God had led the people out of Egypt through signs and wonders. But something terrible was happening. The people who came out of Egypt were faithless and unwilling to follow the Lord. They refused to believe that they could conquer the Promised Land. They wanted to go back to Egypt. What would God do?

Would God still keep His promise? This must have been in the minds of some of the people. It might even have been in the mind of Balaam if he had known about God’s promise made to Abraham.

But if there was any doubt, God removed it in a word with his promise of promises.

God is not a “son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it?” says Balaam under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Not only does God not lie and cannot lie, God does not change His mind. He had given an unconditional promise that He would bring the nation out of Egypt and bring them into the Promised Land. He would carry out His promise!

The title of the Book of Numbers bears testimony to the longsuffering of God as He worked to keep His promise to Abraham. For Numbers is so called because of the two numberings of the people recorded in the book: once at Mount Sinai, one year after the exodus (chap 1), and the second time in the Plains of Moab, 38 years later (chap 26).

Tragically, the people counted in the second census were almost totally different from those in the first census. Those in the first census died out because of their unbelief and refusal to enter the Promised Land when they arrived there the first time. As a result, the whole generation was sentenced to wander for 40 years in the desert until all those who were 20 and above at that time died out.

The book of Numbers is, in fact, a record of the faithlessness and rebellion of the people. In chapter 11, they complained about the hardship they were experiencing. God was displeased and sent down fire from heaven which consumed those in the outskirts of the camp. The same chapter also records for us the Israelite’s craving for meat and how the Lord smote them with a very great plague.

Indeed, not only were the common folks guilty of improper behaviour, even their leaders were guilty as we see in chapter 12,  where Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses; and in chapter 16, where 250 of their princes stood against Moses.

In fact, even Moses was not spared for it is also in this book, in chapter 20, that he was sharply rebuked for smiting the rock when God commanded him to speak to it. As a result he was forbidden to enter the promised land.

These records of the weakness, inconsistency and failures of men, including the very best of men, stand in direct contrast to the faithfulness of God. God would have been justified if he had abandoned the people altogether. But no, God is not a “son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it?” He punished the generation who sinned grievously; but he would still keep His promise. He would bless and not curse the nation. He would bring the nation victorious into the Promised Land despite the fact that they did not deserve it. God would not change His mind. He would carry out His promise.

Indeed, the third thing that Balaam says is…

3. God is Able to Carry out
All That He Promised

or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?

So, we know that God is perfectly sincere to keep His word, and will not at all change his mind. But have we not met men who make the most fervent promises, but later fail to carry out their promises because they did not have the ability or the power to do so?

Consider the case of the politician who,  during election campaigning, makes many glorious promises, but when he is elected, he discovers that not only are there numerous other more urgent matters he has to attend to, the country also does not really have the resources needed to fulfil his promises. Technically he did not lie nor revoke his promises. It is just that he is powerless to fulfil them.

Could this not happen in the case of God? Absolutely not! The word of God through Balaam makes this very clear: hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? God is omnipotent. Nothing is impossible with Him.

What a tremendous assurance of the certainty of God’s promises.


God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it?  or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? (Num 23:19).

God cannot lie; He does not change His mind; and He is able to keep his promise. Has God made a promise to you? He will keep it. He will keep it despite your failures and unworthiness. Has he not promised that all things will work together for good to them that love him, to them who are called according to his purpose? He will keep it.

Doubt not for a moment that God is doing all things well for you if He called you to be His child. Your failures and sin do not nullify His promise. Has God promised that if you seek first His kingdom, He will add all things needful for you in this life. You must believe it. Seek first His kingdom and see how God will open the windows of heaven to bless you so that you do not have enough room to receive it. Amen.

—JJ Lim