What Does it Mean That 'God Is Not a Man That He Should Lie' in Num. 23:19?
- Aaron D'Anthony Brown Contributing Author
- Updated Dec 15, 2020
“God is not a man, that he might lie, or a son of man, that he might change his mind. Does he speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)
Any healthy and long-lasting relationship finds its foundation in the idea of trust. That word is defined as the “reliance on the integrity” of a person or thing.
Children trust their parents to feed and shelter them. People trust their cars to take them places. Employers trust their employees to work. And we Christians trust God to “never leave nor forsake” us as we go about living lives according to His will (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Author Mark Twain said this quote about trust, “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”
And philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had a quote of his own. “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”
Trust is lost when lying is introduced into any relationship. The definition of a lie is “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive”.
God’s word is intended to edify his followers, from book to book, chapter to chapter, we read a number of stories with consistent messages about the benefits of following Jesus Christ.
Imagine if instead, each story was inconsistent in its ideology, and instead of edifying us, we were made worse. If truth were replaced with lives, then there would be no more faith to believe in.
Yet, the Bible makes it clear that trust is a key component in our relationship with God. Job required trust in God as he suffered, Paul maintained trust while imprisoned, and Jesus clung to trust while on the cross. While we know through the Bible that God deserves our trust, what exactly does the phrase “God is not a man that he should lie” mean? To garner that understanding, first, we have to examine how the Bible describes God.
Who Does the Bible Say God Is?
According to the Bible, God is said to be so many things: love, peace, a fortress, a strong tower, a rock, a place of refuge. Pick any chapter of the Bible where someone experiences intense joy or pain, and you will easily find an example.
God even experiences emotions like we do and is no stranger to such feelings as anger (Exodus 31:11). He also goes by different names, often reflecting His relationship to His people. Those names include Yahweh and Father.
God is also described as the Word, and even as His son Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
In that description and other places in the Bible, God’s word is equated with truth. Not lies.
God has taken on so many names over time because of his long-lasting relationship with His people. God is trustworthy. Therefore, His relationship with His people has stood the test of time.
What Does it Mean that 'God Is Not a Man That He Should Lie'?
Knowing that God doesn’t lie means that we can place a level of trust in Him that we will never be able to place in others. This truth was essential for Israelites who struggled to maintain their faith on a consistent basis, much like believers of any time period.
In Numbers 23, we witness Balaam, a lesser-known character, at least by name, who has been tasked with delivering curses on God’s Chosen people. This comes at the request of King Balak before going to war.
However, in this specific chapter, Balaam does what he was not originally assigned. He delivers good prophecies on the Israelites and communes with God also. Instead of hearing curses coming from Balaam’s mouth, the diviner gives Balak a message from God defending His people.
When the phrase “God is not a man that he should lie” is used, there is a strong contrast being drawn between the ways of man and the ways of the Lord.
God had already given His people a confirmation to take them to the Promised Land. Not only that, He had already freed His people from bondage in Egypt. King Balak was simply an antagonist in the story over the course of the Israelites’ journey.
Balaam’s words are significant because they reveal that God is willing to intervene on behalf of His people with royalty such as King Balak, or those beneath royalty like Balaam. God supports His people.
Later in the chapter, Balak says to not bless or curse God’s chosen, but Balaam must act according to God’s will (Numbers 23:26).
If God allowed the king to thwart His plans for His people, then God’s promise would have been broken, making His word void. However, whatever God’s word sets in motion cannot come back void (Isaiah 55:11).
What Does This Verse Tell Us about Fallen Mankind?
God never gave up on humanity. Jeremiah 31 presents a clear picture of God choosing to restore His people. This declaration comes after the Israelites spent time in the wilderness. Their walk with God was inconsistent, their faith was often displayed in idols and not in the Lord.
Yet, God chose to continue loving them.
This separation from God was not unique to the Israelites. Adam and Eve were the first to experience separation from God and introduced what A. R. Bernard says is the “original sin,” which created the conditions by which humanity lives today. The fallenness of mankind began in the garden but did not conclude in the Promised Land with the Israelites.
Today humanity still experiences separation from God through various acts of sin. Despite our irreverent behavior, the Bible makes clear that God holds to His word. Therefore, all of the Bible’s descriptions of God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace, are all true. Though the Bible’s text is “God-breathed” and not “God-written,” we know that God is trustworthy.
He didn’t lie to the Israelites about bringing them to the Promised Land despite all of the instances they sinned against Him. Not everyone who initially heard the promise live to see it fulfilled, but God kept his word all the same.
We can conclude that God extends the same favor toward his followers today, ready to embrace us as we seek Him.
God does not lie. He didn’t then, and He will not now.
God kept His word with the people throughout the generations, throughout the hardships they faced, hardships that were consequences of their actions, but also natural tribulations that occurred. God kept His word.
King Balak was merely an example, a step in the road for His people as they walked toward the Promised Land.
With this knowledge, believers today can equip themselves with the same sort of trust that God will see them through whatever circumstance they face.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
As we struggle with sin and face the consequences of our actions, or as we deal with the natural difficulties life brings, we can rest assured that God offers help.
The Bible is replete with stories of people seeking God to overcome problems. A component consistent with all of these stories is trust in God. Trust that He hears our prayers. Trust that God cares. Trust that God will act. When we acknowledge that God is a God of his word, then we don’t need to fear anymore. God is near. God is here.
Do we believe Him?
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/artisteer
Aaron D'Anthony Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo. Check out his short story “Serenity.”
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.