Posts Tagged ‘Balaam’

Build Up, Don’t Trip Up

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)

What You’re Told To Say

And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. – Numbers 22:20-21

But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. – Numbers 22:22

Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak. – Numbers 22:34-35

Setting aside the talking donkey for a moment, what is up with this? Balaam asked once and God said no so he didn’t go. Then better princes come and he asks again and God said to go. So he goes and God gets mad and sends an angel to kill him. Balaam admits he’s wrong and offers to not go but the angel says to go. Anyone else get whiplash following that?

From the information I’ve summarized above I can’t see where Balaam did anything wrong. He asked God and didn’t go till God said yes and if a donkey crushed my foot against a wall it would probably get a good crack on the hinder too. So is God just being fickle here? May it never be! As Balaam himself says in the very next chapter, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” So assuming Balaam is right here what gives? The Angel of the LORD tells Balaam and us:

And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me…” – Numbers 22:32

The problem wasn’t with Balaam going, it was with why he was going. It appears that despite what God had told him, he was planning on doing what Balak had asked him to do: curse Israel.

Look at Balaam’s response to Balak’s people. First, in verse 13 he says, “Go to your own land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” Then in verse 18 when the second set comes he says, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more…” When God lets him go in verse 20 he says “But do what I tell you.” Then after Balaam’s encounter with the angel when he meets Balak in verse 38 he finally gets it and says “Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” It looks like the meeting with the angel is what convinces Balaam that going or not going wasn’t the issue. He really has to do what God told him and will tell him. Period.

Okay, so what about the talking donkey? It is entirely possible that God temporarily gave the beast the ability to speak her mind. However, since her conversation during that brief interlude was so focused and the angel takes up her defense even though he says that his mission was to oppose Balaam, I kind of think that was the angel speaking to Balaam through the donkey. She doesn’t speak any more after the angel starts talking so perhaps he’s done with her. Even if the donkey were speaking of her own volition, she is doing what Balaam should have been doing. She was saying nothing more and nothing less that the LORD told her to say.