been reflecting on Baalam son of Beor recently (Numbers 22 – 24,
Balaam was known as a prophet whose words carried power (“...For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”).
A local king (Balak, king of Moab) saw the horde of people on their way from Egypt, heading to the Promised Land, and he was afraid for his life. He had reason to be. This mob of former slaves had just wiped out the neighboring kingdom (21:25).
So he decides to hire the local prophet, and here is where things get interesting. This is what stuck out to me this morning:
• Balak tries to hire Balaam to curse the invading army (22:6). Balaam answers, “I’ll check with God.” (22:8)
• God tells Balaam “Do not go with them.” Balaam tells the recruiters, “Go back to your own country, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” (22:13)
So far so good.
• But Balak is determined. He offers more cash, more status. Balaam knows God has already said no. That should have been the end of it. But he goes back to check with God again.
It occurs to me that an awful lot of prophets I know (NOT all of them!) have some measure of insecurity in them, and with reason. People who speak for God are not often welcome into polite society: prophets encounter rejection more than some folks. This seems to be a tender spot for Balaam.
• And this is where things go haywire. God defers to Balaam’s free will, lets him go with them, but says, “...but do only what I tell you.”
• Balaam saddles up his donkey and heads to Moab with the royal recruiters.
• And along the way, an angel tries to kill him three times. His talking donkey saved his life. (22:28)
That’s what sin does, of course: it gives hell permission to beat on us. God says, “Be holy” for a reason. (Leviticus 11:44,45; 19:2, & 1Peter 1:16) (Fortunately, his command to be holy also releases his power for us to choose holiness successfully.)
I come away from this thinking that free will really is a big deal. Our free will is so powerful, it will let us defy the will of God. Of course, there are some formidable consequences to that choice, but it is still a choice.
It’s not that hard to talk yourself into doing what God said not to do. And God will let us do it. There have been times that I’ve asked him not to, but free will seems to be a big deal to him: he generally insists that we make our own choices.
Note that in the end, Balaam did attempt to curse Israel, but God turned it into a blessing (Deuteronomy 23:5), but he ended badly (2Peter 2:15 & Revelation 2:14).
I don’t want to be like Balaam. His words carried power. His prophecies all came to pass. But he was damned fool about it: he disappointed God and nearly got killed by an angel. (But he got to hear a donkey talk! That’s kind of cool. An ass talking to an ass, I guess.)