Numbers 23:19 – Scripture Twisting 101

Today’s passage that we’re going to be talking about has to do with numbers 23:19 and let me just quickly read this verse. It says God is not a man that he should lie nor a son of man that he should change his mind. So why is this verse always used by our Muslim friends and how is it used? This is presented by both Muslims and Jewish apologists as a verse that refutes the deity of Christ because notice what you have here: God is not a man nor a son of man. We believe that Jesus was called over and over again “man” and “son of man”. So Jesus is man, he’s a son of man but God is not a man nor son of man. According to your own Bible, your Bible says that God is not what Jesus is clearly said to be by Christians. Therefore, Christianity is wrong. There are multiple problems with this interpretation but what’s the background here?

It’s interesting that they would quote this passage out of context because the context is Balak the king of Moab was afraid of Israel because he saw that Israel had put to flight the Amorites. So he was asking a false prophet by the name of Balaam to curse Israel so that Israel would not attack and dispossessed the Moabites even though that was not on their agenda. God didn’t give the land of Moab to the Israelites but he was afraid. That’s the context in which you find Balaam, who is a false prophet saying God is not a man but notice he didn’t say God is not a man nor son of man. He said God is not a man that he should lie nor a son of man that he should change his mind. The context is God’s covenant faithfulness that because God has sworn to bless the Israelites for the sake of the fathers, he will not go back on his word and then end up cursing them, especially at the invocation of a false prophet. That’s why if you read numbers 23:23 “For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel…” Because God had sworn to bless these people, no amount of invocation against them will work. Because God, when he gives his word, does not go back on his word. He’s not capricious. He’s not double minded as fallen human beings happen to be. That’s the contextual meaning.

And so what’s interesting is God promises to bless Israel and Balak wants them cursed. And Balaam’s responses basically God’s already said he’s gonna bless him; he’s not gonna lie. He’s not a man that he should lie. Why that’s interesting is this is referring to God’s moral attributes that God’s not going to lie about what he has said, that he will do. So if you’re really taking this seriously, it’s saying that human beings lie, men lie. Even if we take this as making a claim about the nature of God that supposedly refutes Christianity, we would have to ask our Muslim friends “Did Jesus lie?” Of course Muslims will say “No, Jesus didn’t lie.” According to Islam, Satan touches every child born into the world but could not touch Jesus. So Jesus is somehow exempt from this sinfulness and so if all men lie and Jesus didn’t lie, Muslims should be asking what is it about Jesus’ nature that makes him exempt from these normal human characteristics? 

And even the Quran in 19:19 says declaring that Jesus will be pure, righteous, holy. So the purpose of the verse is to distinguish God from normal human moral attributes and the sinful things that human beings do. God is not like you people. Jesus wasn’t like ordinary human beings either so that should be in the back of people’s minds.  So that’s what this verse is actually saying but even if people want to say “No, this is saying that God is not physically a man”, this is fourteen to fifteen centuries BC. Is there any Christian in the world who would say that God was a man?

God is spirit but nowhere does the verse say that God cannot become human if he chooses to. And if he does choose to become a human being, he would be different like David has been saying, he’d be completely perfect and flawless unlike any other human being. And just to confirm the fact that this passage is not saying that God cannot become a man, don’t forget the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6-7 that says “For unto us a child is born, a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulders, he shall be called wonderful, counselor, mighty God “El gibbor”. That very title is used of Jehovah or Yahweh in the very next chapter in Isaiah 10:21, showing that this child who is born is Jehovah in the flesh. Because only Jehovah, only Yahweh is the mighty God. Here you have a prophet in the Old Testament that’s prophesying the incarnation of the God of Israel. 

There is no contradiction here whatsoever and what we believe in because it says “and the word became flesh.” God in his nature is not a man, everybody knows that. 

They’re saying “Look at the Old Testament. It refutes Christian doctrine.” Even if you completely ignore all New Testament revelation, you still have within the Old Testament that God, even if you’re taking this as not simply dealing with God’s moral attributes but just talking about God as he is in himself, that God as he exists eternally in himself is not a man. Every Christian would it would agree with that statement. And yet according to the very Old Testament that people are pointing to, God can, if he chooses, enter into creation and be born as a human being. That’s in the Old Testament. So Christians are just saying it actually happened that passage has been fulfilled. So even if we just go with the with the Old Testament context, this can’t mean what Muslims are claiming. And so if you’re looking to this as your refutation of Christian theology, your interpretation would also refute Old Testament prophets like Isaiah. So you can’t say that you have the correct interpretation, if you’re contradicting the very Old Testament prophets.

You would even have Moses contradicting himself because that’s Numbers 23:19 but Exodus comes before Numbers 23:19. In Exodus 15:3 he says Yahweh is a man of war, likening Yahweh to a warrior in the battlefield. So is God not a man or is God a man, particularly a warrior, a man of war? Obviously what Moses is getting at is that God is not like fallen creatures but in some sense we do resemble God because we do bear His image.