Just a quick FYI to those of you who follow these posts on a regular basis. I’m stepping away from writing my daily blogs during August as I enjoy some time with family, so this will be my last post for a while. I will continue reading through the Old Testament and will start back up in a few weeks with where I am in scripture.
How would you respond if a donkey spoke to you – out loud, in the language you could understand?
The story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22-24 always fascinated me as a child. I grew up reading fairy tales, so as a child, I had no trouble believing absolutely that a donkey could speak. As I matured and grew and was taught the difference between truth (God’s Word) and fantasy (man’s fairy tales), I still had no trouble believing it because I knew God had created me and was easily able to open a donkey’s mouth. I knew this wasn’t “magic,” but the Almighty, All-Powerful Creator’s intervention.
What I couldn’t understand was why God gave Balaam permission to go with Balak’s men for the supposed purpose of cursing Israel, and then almost taking his life when he went. To get the “story behind the story” you have to go all the way to the end of the Bible, to Revelation. In His messages to the churches, Jesus exposes a little detail we don’t easily see in Numbers – He shows us Balaam’s heart.
Revelation 2:14 – But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.
From all appearances, Balaam spoke for God. Three times Balak gave him the opportunity to proclaim a curse over God’s people, but Balaam was only allowed by God to bless them. God put His words in Balaam’s mouth, even though Balaam’s heart was far from Him.
Matthew Henry explains it this way.
Balaam’s seeming resistance of, but real yielding to, this temptation. We may here discern in Balaam a struggle between his convictions and his corruptions.
His convictions charged him to adhere to the command of God, and he spoke their language. Nor could any man have said better: “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, and that is more than he can give or I can ask, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God.” See how honourably he speaks of God; he is Jehovah, my God. See how respectfully he speaks of the word of God, as one resolved to stick to it, and in nothing to vary from it, and how slightly of the wealth of this world, as if gold and silver were nothing to him in comparison with the favour of God; and yet, at the same time, the searcher of hearts knew that he loved the wages of unrighteousness. It is an easy thing for bad men to speak very good words, and with their mouth to make a show of piety. There is no judging of men by their words. God knows the heart.
His corruptions at the same time strongly inclined him to go contrary to the command. He seemed to refuse the temptation. But even then he expressed no abhorrence of it, as Christ did when he had the kingdoms of the world offered him, and as Peter did when Simon Magus offered him money. But it appears that he had a strong inclination to accept the proffer; for he would further attend, to know what God would say to him, hoping that he might alter his mind and give him leave to go. This was a vile reflection upon God Almighty, as if he could change his mind, and now at last suffer those to be cursed whom he had pronounced blessed, and as if he would be brought to allow what he had already declared to be evil. He had already been told what the will of God was, in which he ought to have acquiesced, and not to have desired a re-hearing of that cause which was already so plainly determined. It is a very great affront to God, and certain evidence of the dominion of corruption in the heart, to beg leave to sin.
God allows Balaam to continue on his way, but thwarts Balak’s desire to curse Israel. God is protecting His people just as He promised. However, in the very next verses, we see the results of what Balaam did behind the scenes – something we don’t learn in full until Jesus reveals it in Revelation.
Numbers 25:1-2 – When Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
Balaam’s heart was determined to gain the wealth offered by Balak and evidently proposed a more subtle way to destroy Israel. He knew full well how God felt about idolatry and that when the people succumbed to the temptation of “joining in” with the seemingly innocent practices, it would lead to their downfall and defeat. He taught Balak to not attack Israel, but to invite them to join them in their worship.
I can’t judge anyone’s heart; only God can do that. But this story is a warning to us. Just because a teacher proclaims to speak God’s Word, we cannot assume their hearts are loyal to Him. One of the most subtle ways the gospel is maligned is when supposedly “good” teachers align themselves with those who clearly worship other gods. Twenty-first-century teachers, speakers, and preachers can be just as tempted to compromise for the lure of wealth, power, and prestige as easily as Balaam was.
Balaam knew what was right but persisted in asking God permission to do what was wrong because he wanted the worldly goods that came with aligning himself with the enemy. In the process, he led many of God’s people astray, and in the end, it cost him his life (Joshua 13:22).
What we see in this story is that God is fully capable and willing to protect us from the enemy’s attacks and attempts to destroy His people. Balak posed no danger, as long as they remained faithful to God. When they began to compromise with false religions, however, the enemy won the battle without lifting a sword.
What teachers are you listening to?
Who do you consider a prophet of God (one who speaks God’s message)?
If you want to know their heart, look at their lifestyle, and their companions. Examine where they are willing to compromise, both with sin and false religions. Satan is a great deceiver, and he delights in leading us astray.