Today, I want to reflect on a very unusual story in the Old Testament. It is the story of Balaam, a hired prophet, a diviner, or a sorcerer. The story is found in Numbers 22:2-24:25. Balaam is a mystery because we see God give him a message to speak over the people of Moab. God even uses Balaam to prophesy the coming of the Messiah. (Numbers 24:17) “there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.”
As our story begins, we see the children of Israel came out of the Egypt, traveled around in the wilderness for 40 years, spent some time at Mount Sinai, camped a little while at Kadesh-Barnea and now are in the plains of Moab. They are ready to go into the land God had promised Abram. The Israelites had multiplied into a great number of people. They were strong and had defeated by God’s power many nations. Among them were the Amorites who had defeated Moab. The king of Moab, Balak, was afraid of this great crowd of Israelites. He had heard of the victories and how their God was able to give them success. Now they were knocking at his door. He calls on his neighbors the Midianites to come join him. Together the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian decide to call on this hired prophet, Balaam.
They send their messengers with their “rewards.” Balaam has a well known reputation. Balak says of Balaam, “I know that whom he blesses is blessed and whom he curses is cursed” (Numbers 22:6 King James Version).
Lesson #1. Not every prophet who says he has a “word from the Lord” is a true prophet. Truth is sometimes laid down beside deceit.
Balaam tells the messengers that he wants to seek the Lord overnight to find his message for the people of Moab. “And God came to Balaam and said,’What men are these with you?” (Numbers 22:9) God tells Balaam “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” (Number 22:12). Balaam does refuse to go but Moab tries a different approach. Balak sends princes, more in number and more honorable than before.
Lesson #2. Beware. If at first you refuse but your heart is not firmly planted in the right place, temptation may come from a different place.
Balaam refused the money but could not refuse the honor that was promised him. Sometimes we fall because we like being honored. Balaam answered them the second time, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more.”(Number 22:18)
But Balaam then tells the messengers wait and I will check with the Lord one more time to make sure. Really!! The Lord has already said, “Don’t Go!”
Lesson #3. God will sometimes allow you to do what He has told you not to do which is a very dangerous place to be. Balaam is allowed to go to Moab but he can only say what God tells him to say. Balaam is contemplating how he can get the rewards and the honor and still not offend the God of Israel, who he has called “my LORD”. Remember Jesus words, “not everyone who says, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven only the one who does the will of the Lord.” (Matthew 7:21)
Balaam saddled his donkey and rides off to Moab. In verse 22 we read, But God’s anger was kindled because he went and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary” (Numbers 22:22)
Lesson #4. If you do what God has instructed you not to do, then you risk kindling God’s anger and He may stand as an adversary. God opened the eyes of a donkey to show he was not pleased with Balaam. Balaam does not see the angel!!! He is blinded by his own greed and desires. The donkey tries to escape the angel by running to a field. Balaam strikes him. The angel narrows the path and the donkey is struck and Balaam’s foot is pressed against the rock. Again he strikes the donkey the third time. This time the donkey sits on Balaam. The donkey opens his mouth and speaks to Balaam. “What have I done to you that you strike me three times?” Number 22:28. Now the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam and he saw the angel of the Lord. Balaam bowed his head and fell on his face. He realizes he has sinned but still he goes on to meet Balak. Not only does he meet with Balak but he goes to four different places of worship, sacrifices and pronounces prophecies over the land. He says exactly what God told him to say. He blesses them rather than cursing them.
Lesson #5. We can use the word of God to manipulate getting our way. Just like Balaam used God’s message thinking he could find favor with the king, we sometimes twist the meaning of scripture to do what we want. i.e. Take a little wine for your stomach.
Balaam is used as an example in several N.T. verses all of them are examples of bad behaviors. (II Peter 2:15-16; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14)
He also led the children of Israel into sin and idolatry. He could not curse them but he told the king how to cause them to sin and bring judgment on themselves. “There are some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.” Revelation 2:14 Balaam ended up being killed with the Midianites
As believers, we need to be careful that we walk in the path where God leads us. We need to worship Him only and not serve other “gods”. We can do these first two only by firmly being rooted and grounded in God’s Word. Lastly, walk worthy of your calling and do not lead others into disobedience.
Today we are bombarded by false prophets who for hire will “bless you.” Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing! Balaam was an example in the Old Testament of a false prophet. He spoke like a true prophet but did not follow the Lord’s command. He worshipped like a true prophet but was worshipping the wrong gods. People looked up to him but he led them astray.
Father, I pray that we would be obedient to your Word. May we keep our lives free of things that would distract us whether it is the love of money, the need for significance or the temptations of the flesh. Help us to use discernment to recognize those who would be false prophets. I pray that we would lead people to Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life.
By Freda Reynolds