Balaam is famous for his talking ass but there is more to his story. He is the ancient forerunner of an idea that has begun to blossom on social media. Balaam establishes the biblical precedence for the idea of loving God but hating his people. It surprised me to find this fairly contemporary idea in the Bible, but there it is.
Balaam was a prophet (2 Pet. 2:15-16). Okay, but there are false prophets in the Bible, was he one of those? It doesn’t appear so. Peter explains that God rebuked Balaam “for his own transgression.” It was Yahweh who did that, not Baal: “But God’s anger was kindled because he [Balaam] went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary” (Num. 22:22). In verse 18 Balaam says “I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God…” Balaam confessed God as his own, using his covenant name; he was not manipulating a foreigner god, but was obeying his own. God spoke to Balaam. He rebuked and corrected him. He used Balaam to bless Israel when Balak hired him to curse them. It appears that Balaam had a relationship with the true and living God.
And yet. Though he wouldn’t curse Israel because God told him not to, Balaam didn’t really love Israel either. While he couldn’t curse them, he did figure out a way to bring about their downfall. Balaam had Balak, the king of Moab, trip up Israel through a temptation they wouldn’t resist. In Numbers 25 the people go after the women and gods of Moab and 24,000 Israelites died because of God’s anger at their idolatry and sinfulness. According to Numbers 31:16 this was Balaam’s idea.
So could Balaam really love God if his plan was to drive a wedge between God and that which he loved? What does it mean to “love” someone and seek to destroy their work? It must cast doubt on the reality of your love for that person.
To love God and hate the church didn’t turn out well for Balaam. In Numbers 31:8, Israel kills him with the sword. God’s restraint of the prophet’s madness (2 Pet. 2:16) only went so far then the restraint turned into something more permanent.
What does this mean, then, for people who love Jesus and are frustrated with his church? If we take Balaam as an example we must recognize that God wants us to help make the church more faithful, not trigger them to behave less faithfully. God does not care for the prophet who confesses his name and hates his people.
Israel was not perfect. God hated the generation he led out of Egypt (Psa. 95:10) and threatened to wipe them out a number of times. God can be angry and frustrated with his people but it is up to God to deal with his people, not us. If you truly love God and have problems with his church, the answer is not to stir up controversy and then point out the foibles of those who answer you poorly. Rather:
Strive to excel in building up the church. (1Cor. 14:12)
We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1Th. 2:12)
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. (Heb. 10:24-25)
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.” (Isa. 35:3-4)