Numbers 22:1–41, 1 Corinthians 5:1–6:11, Psalm 19:1–14
The story of Balaam was a considerable puzzle for me for a long time. He was asked by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites because they were a threat to him. “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” (Numbers 22:4–6)
Then God came to Balaam and asked him what was going on, as if He didn’t know! Obviously, He wanted to hear Balaam’s description. Balaam replied, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.’ ”
At that, God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:9–12)
This was not the end of the story. Balaam did say no, but Balak sent his men back to him and asked him again. So Balaam asked God about it, and God said, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.”
Then the narrative says, “Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.” (Numbers 22:20–22)
God told him not to go, then told him to go, then was angry with him because he went? For a long time, that did not make sense to me, but I think I understand now. The second time Balaam asked God should not have happened. God already told the man not to go, but He knew this man’s heart. If Balaam had been loyal to the Lord, he would never have asked the second time. So God tested him by saying yes to see what he would do. Balaam went.
But an angel blocked his way, and after realizing he was not to go, Balaam seemed more yielded to the command of God. God let him go at this third time, but this man was not trustworthy.
Other passages say that Balaam actually was willing to do the cursing. The Moabites “hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing.” (Nehemiah 13:1–2) The NT said Balaam was in error, perhaps because he thought he could do whatever he pleased, regardless of what God says.
He isn’t the only person ever to be like that. Actually, we are all like that. We go our own way. But thankfully, God changes lives. Paul wrote to the immature Christians at Corinth a letter of rebuke. Part of it says . . .
“I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:5–11)
Paul’s accusation of ‘shame on you’ turned into a warning about deception, then a reminder of what God had done for them. They had been guilty of much, but now they were cleansed, set apart, justified — because of Jesus Christ. Paul’s point was that those who profess faith will demonstrate their faith with changed lives. We may start out slow, but God is in the transformation business. Even if nothing else works, the Spirit of God does work.
Certainly, His working is quicker and more effective when I cooperate, but I realize that many times I’m blind to what needs to be done. I might think my biggest flaw is grumbling and He shows me something else. The psalmist also knew this tendency to be blind to our own sins. He prayed, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:12–14)
This last line is often my lifeline. I’m slow to get it, like Balaam, and easily deceived like the people at Corinth. I’m also totally grateful for Jesus. He is my Savior — I most certainly cannot see my own sins, never mind save myself!