How many times have you made a choice based on desire or gain- where rather than following the clear warning of God on a matter, you pushed it until you got your way? Sometimes it seems like you are getting what you want and then it does not work out as you expected. Other times we justify what we want and will work any angle to get it.
As we read the introduction to Balaam, we notice a couple of things. First, Balaam is not an Israelite (Numbers. 22:5). Second, God is fulfilling His promise to strike fear in the hearts of the inhabitants of Canaan (Numbers 22:3). Third, Balaam inquired of the Lord (Numbers 22:8). Fourth, God spoke to Balaam (Numbers 22:9). Fifth, Balaam listened to God but did not obey (Numbers 22:22). Sixth, Balaam could not do anything contrary to the Lord’s will (Numbers 23:8).
First, Balaam is not an Israelite. Many times it is easy to assume that God only speaks to certain types of people. This is not always the case. God usually speaks through a particular means that he has defined. In the Age of Balaam, God used visions and prophets as His mouthpiece. In the Old Testament, this can develop an elitism that Israel was the only people God spoke through. But, here we have an instance of a non-Israelite receiving direct communication from God in a very specific manner. We have to understand that this is not the norm. Peter tells us that we have something surer, the prophetic word. God declares His will to all peoples through His word.
Second, God is fulfilling His promise to strike fear in the hearts of the inhabitants of Canaan. Exodus 23:27 “I will send my terror before you, and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” God promised to go before Israel and He did. So, Balak, the king of Moab, was scared, so he called on the Balaam. Balaam had a reputation for divination and power. In essence, Balak knew that he could not defeat the Israelites in battle. He also understood that there are spiritual realities and God works in his mighty way. Balak brought together the Moab and Midian in hope of giving themselves more strength. God always does what He says He will do.
Third, Balaam inquired of the Lord (Numbers 22:8). Balaam inquired and asked God what He wanted him to do. The irony here is so funny. Balaam is asking God if He can go and curse the people that God brought out of the land of Egypt. Balaam did not have all the data. He did not realize that Israel was the people of the same God as he (Balaam) followed. This should be a warning to us, many times we lack all the data and pray in our own ignorance. Whereas, if we did the research, we could pray better. We can thank God that He has given His Spirit to pray when we do not know what to pray. This is a good thing for us to keep in mind. Notice that when Balaam was willing to follow direction from the Lord. I am not using the word for obedience in relation to Balaam because He did not obey. We will discuss this later. Balaam had a willingness to submit to the outward command. How often are we inquiring of the Lord not because we want to obey, but because we know it is necessary and right?
Fourth, God spoke to Balaam (Numbers 22:9). The passage that this verse is in, is key to understanding all of the issues with Balaam. God specifically tells Balaam ‘you will not curse these people, for they are blessed’. God clearly tells Balaam what he is not to do ‘do not go, do not curse’. This is a clear declaration by God of what Balaam is and is not to do. Balaam listens and sends the men on his way.
Fourth, Balaam listened to God, but did not obey (Numbers 22:22). This is a major point. This will clarify the problem of contradictory commands in the text. Balaam knew what the command of God was concerning the people of Israel, yet he entertained the princes and told them he would inquire of the Lord again. We know from other text in the Bible that the money offered to Balaam was a great temptation. God specifically told Balaam of what He could not do. This is like when our children know you have said no to something and then start to whine and wheedle or persistently ask, yet what they are asking for is harmful and what is not best for them. Obedience is not just following orders, but it is having a right heart and attitude.
Balaam did not obey. He did not have the right heart or attitude based on his willingness to listen to the princes of Moab. How do we know this? Peter tells, “Forsaking the right way; they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.” This is a common error. Scripture speaks of Balaam’s error on more than one occasion and never in good way. (Jude 1:11, Revelation 2:14). Oftentimes we think we know what we want and we are persistent even after God has given us a direct or clear no answer. We would rather have our stuff than give God obedience.
God told Balaam to go, even though God had clearly told Balaam what was and was not going to happen. Balaam had a direct command not to curse. Balaam knew that this was what Balak wanted Him to do. God gave Balaam warnings along the way, so much so that Balaam was rebuked by a donkey. God handed Balaam over to his sin and Balaam reaped the rewards (Numbers 31:8).
Fifth, Balaam could not do anything contrary to the Lord’s will (Numbers 23:8). God allowed Balaam to go, but God did not listen to Balaam and curse His people rather He made Balaam bless them. God put the words in Balaam’s mouth. No matter how much Balaam wanted to curse these people, he could not because the only thing he could do was what the Lord told him to do. Though Balaam knew that he could not curse Israel, He did deal treacherously with the people of Israel. Numbers 31:16 tells us that Balaam caused the people of Israel to act against the Lord. Balaam had the Moabite women lead the men of Israel astray in to pagan worship. Remember God told Israel to not intermarry as this will lead them away from God. This command continually is disobeyed and the people of Israel end up in captivity because of this sin of idolatry. In Numbers 25, we see that the Israelites followed after other women and they followed after the other gods. Balaam instigated this.
Balaam is a figure that we can look at and be thankful for God’s work and plan. God tells us clearly in Joshua 24:10 that He would not listen to Balaam. God is not at our beckon call. Throughout the story, Balaam seeks God hoping for a change and it never happens. God has a clear plan he has laid down from the foundation of the world. This plan is according to His own infinite and wise counsel. We have seen how God always fulfills His Word. It is a refuge for us.
How are you trusting in the promises of God, relying on Him, following Him in all things with a right heart and right attitude? What ways are you following after the error of Balaam? How are material things more important than the Word of the Lord? Spend some time meditating and reading God’s Word and ask the Spirit to illuminate these things.
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC
*Special thanks to Pastor Jason Taylor for his Gospel Partnership and help with this week’s devotional.