Monday, February 22, 2016

Reflection on Numbers 22-25: Lessons from Balaam

Numbers 22:7 and 24:1 indicates that Balaam was a man who used divination and was seeking omens.  Balaam is an illustration of greed, error, and false teaching, according to 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11, and Revelation 2:14.  The Israelites later killed Balaam, according to Joshua 13.  Balaam was not an good or godly man.

The puzzling thing is why God would speak through someone such as Balaam.  As I read the story, I see a man who claims, "I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of Yahweh my God" (Num 22:18).  I find this statement astounding.  In what sense is Yahweh the God of Balaam?  I seriously doubt that Yahweh was truly Balaam's God.  Balaam is not an Israelite and seems to only know about Israel what Balak's men or what God tell him.  Balaam is a man that appears to engage in divination and omen seeking to whatever god will work for him in at the moment.  In this case, it happens to be Yahweh.  Only in this sense can he say that Yahweh is "his God."  

I suppose if God could speak a message through Balaam's donkey, he could speak a message through someone like Balaam as well.  For God to use someone in his divine plan does not depend on whether that person is an obedient and faithful follower of God.  I am reminded of how God stirred up the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, so that Cyrus would let Israel return from captivity and finance the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.  I am also reminded of Judas Iscariot.  God used Judas' betrayal as part of his divine plan for Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the world.  God can use Balaam in spite of Balaam.

As I consider Balaam, I see a man who is focused on himself.  Even though God already had told him not to go with Balak's men, Balaam tried to get further word from God.  He was hoping God would change his mind after Balak increased his offer to come and curse Israel.  The money was simply too good to turn down!  I don't know if Balaam was looking for an omen, using divination, or using some other method to seek some sign from God.  Whatever he does, it appears that he kept inquiring until he got the answer he wanted.  God finally "allowed" Balaam to go with the men.  This did not mean God was pleased with it.  Even though God permitted it, God was angry with Balaam for going after God had already said no the first time.  God sent an Angel of the Lord to stand in Balaam's path with his sword drawn and ready to strike him down.  Only Balaam's donkey could see it.   If it were not for Balaam's donkey that kept dodging the Angel of the Lord in the road, Balaam would have been struck down.

What a lesson!  When God makes his will known, that should be the end of it.  But Balaam seemed to be determined to get the answer from God that he wanted.  I suppose we can do the same thing today.  Instead of divination, we can use enlightened skepticism against the Bible so that we deem it unreliable and inapplicable to our day and age.  Instead of seeking an omen, we can misuse modern scholarship to make a passage say something different than what it actually says.  We can simply reject the Bible, or parts of it that we feel do not fit with the modern times.  We can make ourselves feel okay with what we want to do just as Balaam did.  No wonder 2 Tim 2:14 says not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers!

It is simply the wrong approach to try to find a way around what God has plainly communicated.  Even if there doesn't appear to be any immediate consequence, this does not mean God is okay with it.  There may still be a consequence down the road for not being submissive to what God has communicated to us.  Even  if there is not a consequence in this life, there will be an eternal consequence for disregarding God's word.  1 Samuel 15:23 says that rebellion against God is like the sin of divination and insubordination is as the sin of idolatry.   Psalm 119:11 clearly says that God's word is settled in heaven. Isaiah 40:8 says that the grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.

Lord, please forgive us for the wrangling of words that we do.  You have communicated that this is unprofitable for us and leads to our ruin.  Help us to be open, submissive and obedient to you in order that we may please you.  Help us to never forget the transient nature of this world and everything in it.  You are the same, your years will not come to an end.  Your word stands forever.  Your word is sweet to our taste, it makes us wiser than our enemies.  Lord, even when following your word puts us extremely out of step with the world around us, help us to remember that we are not of this world, and that in the end, you will abolish all rule, authority and power. 

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