Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” [Numbers 22:38 ESV]
Balaam, son of Beor, carried the reputation of speaking for the gods. His story is a study in Scriptural contrasts and seeming inconsistencies. A soothsayer, one who was seen as able to predict and manipulate the future he was summoned by Balak to curse Israel. Balak, the king of Moab, had witnessed the destructive power of Israel as they moved into his territory. Israel wanted to pass through peacefully but the kings they encountered insisted on engaging them in combat. Every king who came against Israel was defeated. Barak, seeing combat would fail, tried to buy a curse against Israel from someone he recognized as powerful.
Balaam could do nothing unless God allowed it. He obviously knew about God, as he knew about all of the false gods of the countryside. When summoned by Balak Balaam enquired of God about what he should do.
God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” [Numbers 22:12 ESV]
Balaam followed God’s instructions and sent the emissaries away. He was not a man after God’s own heart. Yet, he heard God speak and followed His instructions.
Balak’s emissaries, his own sons, came a second time to ask Balaam to come. They brought more money and larger promises. A second time Balaam told them he could not curse Israel, even if the king gave him all the gold and silver he could muster. But, Balaam asked God a second time what he should do, as if God is one who changes His mind. This time God told Balaam to go with the men but speak only the words He would give him.
Balaam’s oracles concerning Israel are classic blessings of God for His chosen. Those who God blesses are blessed. Those who God curses are cursed. Balaam spoke the words God revealed to him by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
There are many difficulties in this story which may be hard to comprehend and understand. It sounds almost mythical, a story of a story told by generation after generation, subtly changing until the whole story becomes implausible.
At three different times while Balaam was on his way to meet Balak the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ, stood ready to kill him. A donkey saved the man’s life three times. Balaam, angry because his donkey veered of the road, crushed his foot and leg, and finally lay down when it saw the Angel of the Lord, beat it. Then God opened the mouth of the dumb beast so it could speak in a way both Balaam and the donkey could understand. Please note, if God can put words into the mouth of a dumb animal He can put words into the mouth of a godless man. Balaam was not a man who worshipped God even though God obviously spoke through him. God will speak through anyone He wishes without necessarily guaranteeing that person a place in His kingdom. Even a donkey can receive God’s revelation and be inspired to speak the words of God by the Holy Spirit.
Those who claim the position and authority of teacher, showing knowledge and understanding of God and His Word, may teach His Word without knowing Him intimately and without Him knowing them as a child of His. Their desires give them away. Nothing is hidden from God, who knows all even to the depths of the thinking of the hearts and the precise actions of the person’s future.
Balaam was a master of manipulation, knowing the boundaries within which he could move without compromising his worldly reputation. When God would not allow him to curse Israel, only bless His people, he offered a suggestion to Balak, a way to attack and compromise God’s people without engaging them in open combat. “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” [Numbers 25:1 ESV].
Nowhere in this story are we told Balaam suggested Moab entice Israel to worship false gods and commit sexual immorality. Jesus tells us in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, when He confronts the Church at Pergamum “but I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” [Revelations 2:14 ESV].
Teachers who do not teach righteousness according to God’s absolute will are false teachers, sprinkling the Word of God with the thinking and motivations of the world. “They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness” [2 Peter 2:15-16 ESV]. People who give the impression of holiness and righteousness and truth and goodness gain nothing if the thinking of their hearts are not changed by the God who is these characteristics.