Does Numbers 23:19 Mean That God Can Not Be
Incarnated as a Man?
Number 23:19 says, "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" This seems to be in stark contrast to the idea of an incarnation wherein God became a man (John 1:1, 14). If it could be said that God was not a man, or the son of man, how do we understand the idea of Jesus being the incarnate God, and His use of the title "Son of Man?"
Whenever one verse of Scripture seems to contradict other Scriptures it is always wise to look at that particular verse in its context. The three most important rules of hermeneutics are as follows: 1. Context 2. Context 3. Context!!! The context of this passage is Balak's hiring of Balaam to curse the children of Israel. Although Balaam attempted to curse the Israelites God forbid him, and commanded him to bless them instead. After doing so, Balak was upset at his actions. As a result Balaam went back to God to try to get God to allow him to curse the Israelites. God still refused. Numbers 23:19 is part of Balaam's speech to Balak concerning the Lord's answer. He said that God is not a man that He should lie, or the Son of Man that He should change His mind. God had spoken what He had spoken, and that was the end of the story. Balaam was told to bless the Israelites, and He did. Now that He had blessed them, and subsequently God had blessed them, there was no reversing the blessing.
We could argue this verse in two ways. The first argument would say that it is true that God was not a man, or the son of man at this point in time. He only became a man later in the incarnation. I do not believe that this is the point of this verse, and thus the explanation, although it is true, is exegetically lacking.
I believe a better explanation can be found by examining Balaam's point in making such a statement. Was he making a prohibition against God ever being incarnated in the person of Christ? I do not believe so. Balaam's point is that God is not like men. Men are known for lying, unfaithfulness, and not keeping their word. God on the other hand, never lies and has no need of changing His mind. When He decides to bless a people, they are blessed. God will not change His mind and curse them immediately after blessing them. The gifts and callings of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29). Only a man, who can be swayed by others, power, and money could be so fickle, but not God. He is holy and trustworthy.
We can now say that God is a man, and the son of man; however, He is not like all other men in that He has no sin, but is holy like God. What Balaam was referring to is men's sinfulness, and their resultant fickleness. God is not like fallen men. This does not preclude God from ever becoming a man, but only forbids that God should ever become like fallen men, being untrustworthy, lying, or failing to keep His word.
To deny that God can become a man is to deny that Jesus is of the essence of the Father, or that Jesus is divine, and even the idea of an incarnation at all. If Jesus is not the essence of the Father, then we are left with the doctrine of Arianism which sees Jesus as a lesser deity than the Father, or Ditheism (belief in two Gods), both of which are heresy and do not affirm the monotheism of the Scripture. According to YHWH, there is no other God besides Him (Deuteronomy 4:35; Isaiah 45:5, 21). He did not mean that there is no other God equal to Him, but that no other divine being exists! With this teaching we are forced to conclude that Jesus is either YHWH incarnated in the flesh, or Jesus is a mere man. Such a position is biblically untenable, and such an exegesis of Numbers 23:19 leads to a logically absurd position for one who still wishes to hold a theistic view of Jesus Christ, no matter how minimal it may be. If a divine being cannot become a man, then the idea of an incarnation is impossible.
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