It just doesn’t seem to make sense. In fact it doesn’t even put God in a good light.
Israel was encamped next to the border of Moab and it’s king, Balak, was nervous. So he sent his emissaries to the diviner Balaam, requesting him to come and curse the Israelites for Balak. Balak tells the emissaries he first has to seek God. He does and the Lord tells him not to go with Balak’s men as the Israelites are a blessed community. So Balaam sends them on.
Balak sends higher level men and with higher financial incentives if only Balaam will come and curse those dratted Israelites. Then the Scriptures say this:
“God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “Since these men have come to summon you, get up and go with them, but you must only do what I tell you.” When he got up in the morning, Balaam saddles his donkey and went with the officials of Moab.
But God was incensed that Balaam was going, and the the Angel of the Lord took his stand on the path to oppose him” (Num 22:20-22).
Huh? Balaam is told by God to go and when he goes, the Angel of the Lord stops him and even would have killed him if it weren’t for his donkey? (v. 33). This doesn’t make sense at first. Are there other Scriptures out there that could shed any light on this?
“They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.
In addition to those slain in battle, the Israelites had put to the sword Balaam son of Beor, who practiced divination.
But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness.
Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.
We see from these verses a couple of things:
1) Balaam practiced divination and was not a God-follower
2) Balaam was motivated by greed and love for money
3) Where Balaam tried to curse, God caused him to bless the Israelites
4) There was an incident at Peor where the Israelites were enticed to be unfaithful and they fell for it
5) Joshua and his men killed killed Balaam
So again the Question
Why did God tell Balaam to go and then try to kill him for going? While we have a little bit more insight into his character, that he was a rascal who had no desire to honor God, but why this strange contradiction?
There are several thoughts on this.
1) The “if” question. Some would say that the Lord told Balaam, “IF” these men come to call you, then go with with them. And that he was in disobedience because they didn’t call him.
The problem was they were there and they had already asked. It isn’t apparent whether or not they asked again, but their very presence was to see his response.
Another issue is that “if” is not always translated “if.” The HSCB translates it “since these men have come to summon you.” So not sure on this one.
2) Another thought is that perhaps this was Balaam’s way of mocking the Lord to try to negotiate up the price. He was a soothsayer and not a prophet. It would be like wink, wink, ‘I’ll go ask God.’ The God talk was a facade to barter for a better price.
This is possible as clearly Balaam was in it for the money. He really didn’t have a relationship with the Lord such that he could even see the Angel of the Lord.
3) Maybe this was indeed God telling him to go, but Balaam was going with mal-intent–to defy God, curse the Israelites and to profit off of the deal. He had no intention of doing or going based on God had told him, but so that he could make some good money off the deal.
I’m not sure we have enough of the details to know for sure. Maybe it was a rhetorical device to barter up the price. Perhaps it was the issue of motivation. We don’t know but what we do know is enough. Because we do know for certain that Balaam’s motivations were evil. He was a diviner/soothsayer, he was ridiculously greedy and wanted to profit off of cursing God’s people, he was sexually immoral and encouraged the Israelites (successfully) to sexual immorality as well as eating food sacrifice to idols. That alone is enough to make God angry enough to oppose him in a deadly way.
On a side note, even today it seems like food and sex are the easiest way for satan to turn people away from obedience. Even with God’s people.
But in the end God had the final say. Every time that Balaam tried to curse the Israelites, blessing came out. It incensed King Balak because that was not the deal. It was powerful that God could even overcome a greedy man’s intent. A man who “loved the wages of wickedness” (1 Pet 2:15). King Balak ended with this:
“Now go to your home! I said I would reward you richly, but look, the LORD has denied you a reward” (24:11).
It was perhaps after a statement like this that the slimy Balaam instructed Balak to use food and sex as ways to make Israel fall. And it was successful. The Israelites fell so bad that God allowed a plague to break out and 24,000 perished. Balak didn’t even have to lift a finger. It was to be a wound in the history of Israel that would still hurt in memory throughout the ages. And even be repeated (Rev 2:14).
It’s easy to get stuck on these verses (though it’s a worthy pause) and get distracted from this point:
God really loved Israel.
It was a righteous act of the Lord (Micah 6:5) that when a powerful man came to curse them, God reversed the curse and made him to bless God’s people.
However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. (Deut 23:5)
But on the flip side there is a warning. A warning that we would do well to heed today.
1) Sexual immorality and wrong relationships with food can dearly harm God’s people. Both of these issues are a real problem today. With food we do not honor how it was procured and the animal was treated before that steak came to our table or hamburger in our fast food restaurants.
Additionally there is a subtly idolatry in many of our ways and practices and thinking. We have replaced faith in God with the hope in political systems, political parties, our financial stability and more. This is idolatry.
And with sexual immorality even in the church it seems almost everything is now acceptable. People are living together and sleeping together prior to marriage almost as much as those outside the church. This will not bring God’s pleasure but his anger as we see in Num 25.
2) Greed is very subtle and deadly. Very few will ever see their actions or heart intent as “greedy.” But now it is entirely acceptable. We justify it and say that it isn’t greed but making sure that we are “secure.” There is a place to save for sure. It is a Biblical precedent. But when we make money our security we are walking in idolatry. When we make subtle changes and cater to others because we need their funds, this is greed and idolatry. And it can even look like stockpiling toilet paper or other “necessities” in a pandemic beyond what is appropriate.