Balaam is a strange Biblical character. He is never called a prophet or a man of God, he is instead called a diviner, someone who practices arcane rituals in order to gain access to the spiritual world. Obviously Balaam has some fear of God, because he refuses to say anything except what God commands him to say, even though this causes Balak to become angry. Balaam spoke the words that God commanded him, bringing a blessing to Israel instead of the curse Balak was trying to hire him to deliver.
There is where it is strange. Balaam obviously did not have much in the way of favour with God. I kind of get the impression that Balaam held no more reverence for God than he held for any of the other spiritual beings he had come in contact with. Balaam recognized that Israel was under Yahweh’s protection, just as he believed Moab was under the Baals protection. But he didn’t necessarily see God as Almighty, or King of kings. There are many people in life who give God a nod of the head, but don’t actually commit to faith in him or don’t actually acknowledge him as Sovereign God. Their lives never reflect their belief or God’s values.
Here’s why I think Balaam was no friend of God. First, further on in Numbers 31, we’re told that Balaam is among those killed when Israel defeats Midian, a death that God reminds Israel of in Joshua 24. If he were a friend of Israel then his death would have been avoided. Then in Revelation 2 we read: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” After the story of Balaam, you read about Moab and Midian leading the Israelites into worship of Baal. Revelation 2 would make it seem that this plan was hatched by Balaam after he was unable to curse Israel.
These accounts teach us two things: paying God lip service is not acceptable, and we must guard against being “enticed” into worshipping other things. I’ve mentioned before in these posts that there are gods in our society today that are working just as hard to distract us as Baal was working to distract Israel. Power, influence, money, comfort, entertainment, sex. They are all quite effective at luring our attention, our time and our resources away from worshiping God. That’s what it means to be enticed, to be lured away. Like a fish that falls for the flash, flick and rattle of a good lure…and then finds itself on the hook.
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?
Tomorrow’s Reading: Numbers 26-27