Our Daily Bible Reading group recently finished the book of Numbers. We were reminded of the story of Balaam in Numbers 22 and were once again amazed that God used a talking donkey to convey his message. In addition to a talking animal, there is another aspect of the story that can be a bit puzzling.
When Balak sends his messengers to fetch Balaam for the purposes of cursing Israel, Balaam refuses to go. He tells the messengers, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of my Lord. . .” (Num. 22:18). Well, God ends up doing exactly that, commanding Balaam to go and meet with Balak. In verse 20, God tells Balaam to “rise, go with them, but only do what I tell you.” So, in the very next verse, Balaam rises and goes, just as God commanded. It appears that Balaam is simply being obedient to the word of the Lord and that, if God had not so ordered, he would not have gone with Balak’s messengers.
So, it is a bit surprising that in the very next verse we read this: “But God’s anger was kindled that he went. . .” (v. 22). That doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? God commands Balaam to go and when he obeys, God gets mad at him. Surely there is something more to this.
Well, indeed there is.
This is an example of how Scripture can interpret Scripture for us. The apostle Peter helps us out with this seemingly difficult text. In 2 Peter 2:14-16, the apostle says, “they have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing. . .” The context of Peter’s argument is based on the reality of incoming false prophets who speak and act based on greed. He then cites Balaam as an example of how greed can distort even the outward appearance of obedience to Christ.
Once again, we see how God is more interested in the heart than he is mere outward actions. Apparently Balaam had ill intentions stored up in his heart even though he was obeying God in the command to go. He went, but not in the spirit of how God wanted him to go.
Are you serving begrudgingly? Are you obeying so you will be noticed? Do you care more about what others think than what God thinks? Are you only willing to serve God if you receive the approval from others you think is merited? For those of us who are pastors, what are our motivations for growth in our churches? Balaam is an important story for us all. A person who was willing to obey, but more interested in his own personal gain from obedience rather than the gain for the Lord God Almighty.