Numbers 23:1–30, 1 Corinthians 6:12–7:16, Psalm 20:1–9
Balaam is still in these readings and in my thoughts. He was ordered to curse the Israelites, but he replied, “How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced? For from the top of the crags I see him, from the hills I behold him; behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations! Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!” (Numbers 23:8–10)
This sounds so good, but remember one thing – he willingly went with Balak to do what he was told and instead, God puts a blessing in his mouth. Then the king ordered him again to curse Israel. Balaam did not. This time he said, “Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it. He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The Lord their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them. God brings them out of Egypt and is for them like the horns of the wild ox. For there is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel; now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘What has God wrought!’” (Numbers 23:20–23)
Two times Balaam willingly goes with Balak to curse the people of God, and two times God puts a blessing in his mouth instead. Is this Balaam being obedient, one of the good guys? I don’t think so. He is too willing to do the cursing. If he was a righteous man, he would never have gone with the king in the first place. Even though the Lord overruled, this does not make Balaam a special person! He was making arrogant choices.
The title of this devotional guide is “Connect the Testaments.” Sometimes I cannot see a connection. This time, the NT reading is also about decision making, but Paul is a far cry from Balaam. He knew that in Christ, and because of the grace of God, he was a free man, but he didn’t act without considering what he was doing or the consequences. He said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)
This does not mean that if Paul had been in Balaam’s shoes he would have thought it lawful to curse God’s people, but he would not have acted as if it was okay, or talked as if he was being obedient when he wasn’t. Christian freedom is not about mocking God or playing games. It is not about messing around with orders from the enemy, thinking I can do that and God will bail me out of trouble. I am not given freedom so I can say I trust Him and then rely on something else, either myself or some other source of wisdom or strength and do whatever pleases me.
“May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the Lord fulfill all your petitions! Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” (Psalm 20:4–8)
My “chariots and horses” cannot answer my prayers, fulfill my plans, or save me from sin. Even if anything I trust besides God happens to ‘deliver’ me now and then, eventually they fail. Only the Lord can stand forever, and I stand only in His mercy in grace. This cannot be mocked or messed with but rejoiced in as my source of strength so as not to be like Balaam.