Numbers Chapter 22

Why Was God Angry With Balaam?


This chapter contains some puzzling verses which can seem confusing at first glance.  Here is the problem:  The elders of Moab, serving under King Balak, were sent to Balaam.  Their desire was to bring him to King Balak so that he would curse Israel, and they would reward him generously for his efforts.  At first, God told Balaam not to go with these men:  "Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed" (Num. 22:12). 

When Balak learned that Balaam would not come, he sent another delegation promising the prophet honor and riches. This time God gave Balaam permission to go, saying, "If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do" (Num. 22:20).

Balaam began his trip the next morning on his donkey and went with the princes of Moab, "and God's anger was kindled because he went" (Num. 22:21-22).  If God told him to go, then why was God angry that he went? 

There are a few observations that might make this passage more understandable.

First, notice that when Balaam told the men that he could not go with them, he only told them half of what God had said.  In verse 13 he told them that the Lord refused to let him go with them (Num. 22:13). This was true, but there was something that he left out.  God had also said that Balaam was not to curse the people of Israel for they were blessed (Num. 22:12).  Balaam left out this part.  If he had made this known to the first delegation, it's possible that the second delegation might never have come, since their whole purpose was to hire the prophet to curse Israel.

Second, God did give Balaam permission to go with the second delegation, but it was contingent on the men coming to call on him (Num. 22:20--"if the men come to call thee, rise up and go with them").  In other words, Balaam was told to let these men take the initiative. As we read the account, there is no indication that Balaam waited for this.  It appears that as soon as morning came, he took the initiative and went with the princes of Moab (Num. 22:21).  It's as if he presented himself to the delegation and said, "Here I am; I'm ready to go!" And yet, God had told him to wait for their call.

Thirdly, Balaam was strictly told by God that he was only to speak what God told him to speak.  God alone knew the heart of this man. From the New Testament we learn that this man's heart was covetous.  He loved the wages of unrighteousness (2 Pet. 2:15).  In Jude 11 we read that he "ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward."  Balaam had a covetous heart, fully known to God.  Balaam wanted to be abundantly paid for his services, and he hoped that there might be some way to get around God's prohibition that he only speak what God would tell him to say.  God's requirement was that he only speak the word of God. However, God knew the heart of this man was not settled on this course of action, due to his desires for riches and honor.  God allowed Balaam to go, but only on the condition that he have a heart that had purposed and determined to follow God's instructions.  Balaam did not have such a heart, thus resulting in God's anger against him.

The incident with his donkey was used by God to demonstrate to the covetous prophet that God was very serious about what He had said. God was not playing games. The conversation with his donkey and his encounter with the living God made it very clear to Balaam that if he should fail to prophesy according to God's Word, his life would be in great danger.  As it turned out, Balaam did deliver the exact message that God wanted.

Personal application:  Do I pay close attention to God's clear Word, and settle in my heart that God has spoken, and that I must accept His final Word? Or do I, like Eve, or like Balaam, muse, "Did God really mean that? That doesn't suit me and that is not what I had in mind. Perhaps there's another understanding of what He said that I would like better." May we be like Mary who did not question God's Word (other than asking sincerely for an explanation) but said, "Be it unto me according to Thy Word." We ned to be grounded and settled on the truth of God's Word, and to receive without question that which God has said.  Otherwise, God may allow us to tragically pursue our own way as He allowed Balaam to do.

God's will was clear: "God said to Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people; for they are blessed." (Num. 22:12) But Balaam was bent on pursuing his wicked self-will, so, in sham piety, he falsely "sought" the Lord's will again as if it might have changed: "And now, I pray you, abide ye also here this night, and I shall know what Jehovah will say to me further." (Num. 22:19)  Then, in God's governmental dealings with Balaam, He allowed him to have his own way that he was bent on pursuing.  However, in so doing fully exposed his state and the intents of his heart (which was more stubborn than a stubborn donkey), and gave him ample warnings of His continued displeasure with Balaam's wicked way. The Lord ultimately and sovereignly overrode Balaam's wicked purpose and had him prophesy truly and solely according to His mind and purpose for His earthly people Israel.   --James Ventilato


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