GOOD GUY? BAD GUY?
Lord, I still my heart in your presence. May other voices fade and yours become the one I hear. Speak, Lord. I am listening.
Read NUMBERS 22:21-41
21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.
24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.
26 Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” he said.
31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.
32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.[a] 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”
34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”
35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.
36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”
38 “Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”
39 Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp.
- Numbers 22:32 The meaning of the Hebrew for this clause is uncertain.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Really to pray is to stand to attention in the presence of the King and to be prepared to take orders from him.’1 Is this how you pray?
The story so far had portrayed Balak as a bad guy, but Balaam appears to be a man of integrity, committed to following God’s directions. Why, since yesterday’s reading ended with divine permission to proceed to Moab (v 20), does today’s passage say that ‘God was very angry when [Balaam] went’ (v 22)? We are given several clues…
First, despite addressing God as ‘Lord’ (Yahweh, his covenant name), Balaam extends hospitality to those who are clearly hostile to God’s covenant (vs 8,19). The apostle John warns against the kind of hospitality that gives false teachers a foothold in the community of God’s people.2 Second, Balaam makes his living by divining (v 7), something strictly forbidden by God, and is considering accepting a highly paid assignment to curse God’s people (v 17)! Peter denounces this as ‘the wages of wickedness.’3
Finally, despite receiving a clear revelation of God’s will (v 12), Balaam is clearly bent on changing God’s mind. Balak didn’t accept Balaam’s initial refusal (vs 15–17). Similarly, Balaam won’t accept God’s ‘no’ (see v 19) and so God says ‘go’ (v 20)! CS Lewis identified two kinds of people: ”Those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”4 Balaam falls into the latter camp. Although the whole donkey episode made God’s displeasure evident, Balaam demonstrated no real repentance, only offering a lame, ‘If you are displeased, I will go back’ (v 34, italics added). Balaam’s way is ‘reckless’ (v 32) and it is a recklessness driven by greed.5
God’s permission is not necessarily God’s pleasure. Do I beg God’s approval for my desires? Or do I long to know (and do) what pleases him and furthers his purposes?
‘Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long’ (Psalm 25:4,5).
1 Donald Coggan, 1909–2000 2 2 John 10,11 3 2 Pet 2:15 4 CS Lewis, The Great Divorce, HarperCollins, 2001, p75 5 Jude 11
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