Today’s reading includes Numbers 24:1-25:18, Luke 2:1-35, Psalm 59:1-17, Proverbs 11:14.
Today we continue with our reading of the story of Balaam. Balaam is a complex, interesting, confusing character. He was a prophet of God, however, he also practiced divination and sorcery. Not a good idea to combine the two. One is holy, the other is unholy. One is pleasing to God and the other is forbidden by God. Balaam walked a dangerous line, trying to make two opposite world views work together. We do that, too, sometimes, don’t we? We want to take part of what scripture says, but only the part we feel comfortable with. Then we take other parts of what the world says, add our intelligent opinions, mix in a little psychology and there we have it. Our own mix of what we want to believe. We can learn a lot from Balaam and learn from his mistakes. That is the mark of a wise person—being able to learn from others mistakes so we don’t make them, too—and suffer what they suffered.
On first glance, Balaam seems to be following and consulting God, but he was not doing so whole-heartedly. And God sees the heart.
… for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7
In the story of Balaam, one needs to gather all the facts from the whole Bible to piece together the whole story of Balaam, and to see why an outward appearing “good prophet” went the wrong way.
First, what did Balaam do right? Well, he didn’t curse the Israelites as Balak wanted him to. Instead, he spoke the words of blessing that God wanted him to. But God saw that the “obedience” was not from the heart. It was because God had made Himself abundantly clear.
By now Balaam realized that the Lord was determined to bless Israel, so he did not resort to divination as before.
And actually, God just took over the situation. He had already spoken through a donkey, and now He spoke through a stubborn prophet who really preferred sorcery.
Then the Spirit of God came upon him, and this is the message he delivered…
It reminds me of an episode of 24 when the computer programmer is sitting there realizing that an outside force had taken over his computer and suddenly was giving directives that the programmer was not delivering. In this story, God was overriding Balaam. God was the One blessing the Israelites, not Balaam.
In very Peter-like fashion, we see Balaam referred to in his rant concerning unfaithful ones, who had a chance at godliness and chose otherwise. Balaam is the only named listed.
Bold and willful, they are not afraid to slander the glorious ones,[f] 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not bring against them a slanderous judgment from the Lord.[g] 12 These people, however, are like irrational animals, mere creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed. They slander what they do not understand, and when those creatures are destroyed,[h] they also will be destroyed, 13 suffering[i] the penalty for doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation[j]while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 They have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam son of Bosor,[k] who loved the wages of doing wrong, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the deepest darkness has been reserved. 18 For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just[l] escaped from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was passed on to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb,
“The dog turns back to its own vomit,”
“The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud.”
2 Peter 2: 17-22
And Balaam did turn back to wallowing in the mud. Though he did not curse the Israelites, it was his idea to send in the local Moabite women to tempted the Israelite men to whoredom and idolatry. Thus, a curse actually did come upon some of them. Though we do not get the whole picture in this passage, we piece together what really happened in other passages in the Bible.
14 “But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin.
Later, we see that Balaam suffered the consequences for walking on the fence between God and the world, and for turning the people of God toward idolatry and sexual sin.
22 Along with the rest of those they put to death, the Israelites also put to the sword Balaam son of Beor, who practiced divination.
Throughout this strange story, we find a truth within on which we can embrace for ourselves. God is faithful. He cannot be manipulated. Even if we lie to ourselves, we can’t lie to God. He sees all, even the deepest places of our hearts. He knows our motivations even better than we do. We can fool ourselves and others, but we can’t fool God. And yet, throughout everything, He is faithful. We see that truth in Micah 6:1-5, when He refers again to Balaam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
God is saying, “Remember, I am faithful to you in good times and bad times. When you sin and when you are true to our covenant.” We know what happened in Shittim. That is in today’s reading when the people sinned and God punished them. Even in that punishment He was faithful. He was faithful to not allow them to continue in their sin and effect the inheritance of all of the people. And the reference to Gilgal? That was when they crossed into the Promise land, led by Joshua. That is when they remembered God and renewed their covenant. From beginning to end, in good times and bad times, in our disobedience and in our obedience, He is faithful.
3 What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true,