Today’s Reading: Numbers 21-22; Psalm 52; 1 Corinthians 11:17-12:11
Have you ever been told one thing by someone and then a moment later they act totally counter to what they were just saying?
I think we see this all over our world today. One moment someone is preaching the necessity of life and the next moment they are degrading it. One moment our parents tell us not to lie, or we tell our kids that, and then suddenly we find ourselves lying. One moment we promise to swear off of chocolate for lent, and the next moment we are 1/4 through the bucket of M&Ms on your desk…
Ok, that last one might be partially true… #thestruggleisreal #m&msaresogood
But in Numbers 22, it almost seems like God does exactly that.
Israel is out in the desert and God has just started to give them the land of the Amorites. They defeat these kings in battle who come out to attack them and God protects them and actually lets them stay in this land for a period of time.
Once they get on the move again, you have King Balak of Zippor look out at a fraction of the Israelite people and he gets pretty spooked. He doesn’t want them to come in and destroy him like they did the Amorites (but again, the Amorites came and attacked Israel, not the other way around).
So in order to remedy this, Balak goes to this guy named Balaam. Balak has heard that ever time Balaam blesses someone they are blessed and every time they are cursed they are cursed. So he goes and tries to get him to curse Israel for him.
Each time Balaam is called to go to Balak and do this for him, Balaam goes to God in prayer. At first, God tells him not to go. So Balaam doesn’t go. The second time though God tells Balaam he can go but God commands him to only do what He tells him to do.
Sounds pretty plain, right? God told Balaam that he can go with the people who Balak sent to get him.
Then the very next verse (22) it says, “But God’s anger was kindled because he [Balaam] went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary.”
This sounds just like the examples I gave above! Is God just being petty here? There are lots of things in this world that we see being pretty petty. And sometimes we even can see God this way.
Sometimes we read something too quickly (I’m guilty of this, too!) and we make an assumption about God or we feel a specific way towards Him that is pretty negative.
But what we discover as we continue to read in the text, is a clue to why God was angry with Balaam.
Balaam is riding his donkey and three times the angel of the Lord blocks his way so the donkey stops and each time Balaam gets more and more angry with the donkey, eventually hitting it with his staff. Then in verse 28, “then the :RD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.”
Just a few verses later God speaks to Balaam and tells him “you way is perverse before me.”
So was God being petty and going back on what He told Balaam?
No, not at all. Actually the biblical author, I think wrote that so that we would be intentionally listening for a resolution to the tension we felt as we saw this conflict.
What we see in the narrative is that Balaam must have gone out with these men with a proud heart. There was something about his attitude towards God with these men that led him to have a perverse way before God.
Maybe he was seeking honor in going. Maybe that is why he explicitly says to his donkey that she was making a fool of him. While the text doesn’t say exactly what was going on in Balaam, it does say that he went out in a way that was perverse and against God’s desire. Again, God commanded Balaam to only say what he wanted him to say.
It’s almost like God was reinforcing in Balaam the magnitude of the situation he was being brought into. God needed Balaam to say only what He was commanding him to say.
So for us, what might be some of the ways that we, while outwardly appearing to obey God, disobey Him inwardly through having a double-minded heart? Where are we looking for our own glory or honor rather than God? Where are we concerned about being made a fool in the sight of others for doing what God has called us to do?
Take some time to walk through this passage in Numbers again and pay attention to how God constantly provides for Israel even despite their grumblings, and then reread this story with Balaam to see how God is protecting Israel through Balaam. God cares for His children and He desires for us to find our satisfaction and honor from Him, rather than from other false sources.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Numbers 23-25; Psalm 53-54; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13:13