Thursday, May 03, 2012

120503 - Numbers 22-23 - Perverse Balaam

Thursday SOAP: Balaam, an apparently gentile prophet of the true God, makes his way perverse before the Lord. His story illustrates why "technical obedience" is actually gross disobedience, and how it can be particularly destructive to my walk with God, the fruit of my ministry, and what others learn from me.

S: 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. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 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.” (Numbers 22:32-34)

O: The story of Balaam is a mysterious one in many ways, and not just the part about the angel that's only visible to the talking donkey. The Moabite king Balak sees what happens to the Amorites and sends for Balaam, who seems to be a prophet who claims the LORD is His God. (Numbers 22:18) God tells him not to go with the princes sent to fetch him. But the next time Balak sends princes, Balak asks again and the Lord gives him permission to go. But the donkey he is riding sees an angel with a drawn sword and refuses to go further. Finally God allows the animal to talk to him, and opens his eyes so that he can see the angel.

A: By now it should be plain to Balaam that he has sinned and was even nearly slain for it. The angel says, "your way is perverse before me." Yet he presses again and finds the permission, if not the approval, of God.

God warned him to do what He told him to (22:20), and Balaam does bless the people three times, infuriating Balak, rather than cursing them. But We find out (Numbers 31:16) after Balaam's death in Numbers 31:8 that it was he who taught the Midianite women to seduce the Israelite men into idolatry. (Numbers 25:1-3)

Although it is not disclosed, perhaps King Balak was so furious with Balaam that he was about to kill him, and he found himself without the protection Elisha enjoyed, (2 Kings 6:17), having stepped so far out of the will of God. Finding himself in such a position, Balaam cunningly thinks of a way to curse the Israelites without pronouncing the curse himself.

In the New Testament, Balaam becomes symbolic of corruption. Three aspects of his story are referenced with assumption that the New Testament reader is a student of the Old Testament:

  1. The "way of Balaam" (2 Peter 2:15) - this is what the angel described as "perverse" - it's the whole attitude by which he did not fear presuming upon God's mercy if it meant he could profit by it. He said in his heart, "God has said 'no' to this, but maybe there's a way I can do it anyway."
  2. The "error of Balaam" (Jude 11) - I think this is the specific mistake narrated above - despite being physically stopped and threatened, he made the mistake of assuming permission to go forward was some kind of indifference to his way on God's part, when God had already clearly revealed His will.
  3. The "doctrine of Balaam" (Revelation 2:14), which is a willingness to subject even the very purpose of God in making man (Isaiah 43:7), to some selfish purpose. In Numbers 31:16 and Revelation 2:14 the examples show it even extending to outright idolatry.

I suppose all of these are very similar, but I think they can be described as a progression. The way of presuming upon God's mercy for selfish reasons leads to the error of circumventing even His interventions to prevent us from straying in our own way (Isaiah 53:6), and this finally leads to the teaaching of others in the same corrupt way. Balaam may have said the Lord was his God, he may have understood that there are no other gods, and an idol is not any thing (1 Corinthians 8:4), but the story reveals that there really was idolatry in his life after all.

P: Father, from the repeated warnings about this in your Word, I am without excuse. Please keep back your servant from presumptuous sin.


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