We’ve been looking at the journey of life through the Exodus, and I want to stop along the way and more closely examine a fascinating story, concerning a prophet by the name of Balaam. This is a case study in how people, including us, attempt to manipulate God…
BALAK’S INSURANCE POLICY
The children of Israel are wandering through the desert, and have just successfully beaten up, killed, and plundered the Amorites. Balak, the king of Moab, has just seen all of this, and he is worried that his people might be next in line. What he is looking for is an insurance policy, and he sees his chance in a guy called Balaam. He sends a load of what’s called “fees for divination,” read a healthy bribe, and says this…
Numbers 22:5-6 (ESV Strong’s)
“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
Balaam had a reputation as someone who knew God, could hear God and could curse or bless people and it would stick. He also had a reputation as a prophet for profit, dispensing God’s blessing or curses as he desired to the highest bidder.
When first approached, Balaam does the right thing, he goes to God…
Numbers 22:8 (ESV Strong’s)
And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.
The Lord clarifies who these men are, and what they were asking Balaam.
Numbers 22:12-13 (ESV Strong’s)
God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”
I’d have thought that was a pretty clear answer… Do not go with them. You can’t get any clearer than that! Now, God doesn’t always tell you why. He might just say “No.” But apparently Balaam had such a good relationship with God that He even told him why he wasn’t supposed to go. “You shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.”
This is where we start to see sin crouching at the door, the slow, subtle decline into disobedience. Balaam could have said, “I can’t curse these people, because God says they are blessed,” But he didn’t. Notice what he did say… Verse 13… the Lord has refused to let me go with you.
What does that mean? He means that he wished he could go, but “God won’t let him.” Remember, he expected to be paid for his work. “I’d love to do it guys, but that big old mean God won’t let me!”
How many of us are like that? We know God wants us to be obedient, and we are, but grudgingly. See where Balaam’s heart is pointing right now? How often, when we know what God wants us to do, do we go through the motions, not out of love but out of duty or fear.
BALAAM: DISOBEDIENCE MASQUERADING AS OBEDIENCE
So Balak, sensing an opportunity to bend Balaam and hence God to his will, sends more princes, more numerous and distinguished than the former.
Numbers 22:17 (ESV Strong’s)
for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’”
Notice once again Balaam’s answer revealing his reluctant obedience…
Numbers 22:18-19 (ESV Strong’s)
But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “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. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.”
Let’s recap… Balak asked Balaam, Balaam asked God, God said no. Then Balak asked Balaam again, Balaam again grudgingly said no, then added, let me just ask God once more. Balaam is trying manipulate God into giving him what he wants, and he does it in a very pious and religious sounding way!
So what about you? When God says no, how do you respond? Do you demand a reason? Do you try another method to manipulate God?
There’s a big difference between just obeying God on the outside, and obeying from a thankful, joyful, loving heart. I don’t obey God because I have to, or because I’m afraid He will zap me with lightening if I screw up. I obey Him because I love Him.
DEAR LORD I WANT IT…
Let’s look at an example… you’re looking for a husband or wife. Along comes a nice girl or guy, kind, pretty, smart. Problem is, they’re not a Christian. So you say, “I’d love to date you, but God says I can’t.” That is a green light for them to try plan B, or C, until they find a way to win you over. They will often pretend to get saved just to get you!
And the start of this decline comes when God says no and you say, let me just check in on that again and see if maybe God has changed His mind.
When you want a job, a ministry, a spouse, a house or anything else that bad, you need to understand how wicked that actually is, and realise that you’re opening yourself up for all kinds of attack. You’re saying, not what you want from me God, I demand this!
If the devil knows you’re convinced that God is the wisest, and that you know it’s best to follow His counsel, that you trust Him no matter the result, then he doesn’t have a point of attack. But if he knows you lack conviction, then all he’s got to do is get you to believe that your desires or opinions are better, smarter, or more pleasing than God’s principles.
WHAT’S YOUR PRICE?
Balaam sees the entourage coming, and it’s not just the messengers, it’s the corporate VP and general manager, and he thinks, “hmmm, I really want this, I might just go and work on God some more. This is a one time offer I need to take no matter what.”
A poll was taken in the US asking men and women how much money it would take for them to agree to sleep with a stranger. The average amount for the men was $10.00. The average for the women was $10,000. But as the dollar amount got higher, almost everybody at some point said, “Yes, I’d sleep with a stranger for a million dollars.”
But what I’d say to all of them is – you’re all prostitutes! All you’re changing is the price. You’re willing to set aside your convictions for money. If you can be bought at any price, then God doesn’t care about the price. He only cares that you can be bought.
At what point are you willing to disobey God? What is there that can buy you? Are you for sale? Is God for sale in your life? Is obedience for sale?
James 4:17 (ESV Strong’s)
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
2 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV Strong’s)
Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?
The flesh vacillates, it changes according to whims and fashions and social norms, but the Word of God stands forever. We need to be obedient, not trying to manipulate from God the answers we want!
LET ME PRAY ABOUT IT
If you’re going to disobey God and sin, do it in a Christian way. Say, let me pray about it. But if you are asking God, and God says no, but you keep asking until He seems to allow it, beware!
Numbers 22:19-21 (ESV Strong’s)
So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.
Balaam should have said, I asked, God, He said no, that’s the end of it!
James 4:7 (ESV Strong’s)
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Balaam didn’t resist the devil, he entertained him. He invited the devil in for tea and scones! He should have told the messengers to go, but he essentially said, “let me go talk to God. Let me pray about it. Maybe God will change His mind by the morning.”
How many people have gone to hell “praying about it”? How many people have disobeyed God saying, “Well, I really have a burden for this,” or “I really feel led to do that.” I’ve seen dozens of people claiming God told them to leave a church, and they go nowhere, and achieve nothing for God!
I can’t believe the number of people that say, “Well, I’ve really prayed about it…” I don’t care what you’ve prayed, I want to know what God said, not what you’ve convinced yourself you’ve manipulated Him into doing for you!
Christianity is not a tool to get what you want. We need to pray with open, honest hearts, ready to obey, not trying to manipulate God. Some preach
Mark 11:24 (ESV Strong’s)
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Some teach this means you can get God to do your bidding if you just believe hard enough. God can be your celestial Santa Clause giving you whatever you want if you ask and believe for it. They completely overlook what it means to pray according to God’s will. If means trusting God even if you don’t get what you want!
GIMME, GIMME, GIMME SAID BALAAM
God answered Balaam, and Balaam appeared to get his way. God had said no, but as some spouses know, nagging can get results.
God says “No” to Balaam one time, and the next time He just tells him, “All right, go,” without giving any reason. Beware. If God says “No,” and then you keep asking, He may just say, “All right, if you’re not going to be obedient, go ahead. Do what you want.”
Numbers 23:19 (ESV Strong’s)
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Watch out – if you keep whining and whimpering to God about that thing you want after He’s already told you “No,” you’d better be very careful…you just might get what you’re after. He may finally say “Yes,” and you will have to live with the disastrous results.
WISDOM FROM AN UNLIKELY SOURCE
Now for a spot of comedy.
Numbers 22:22 (ESV Strong’s)
But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.
3 times the donkey disobeyed his master, and Balaam beat him. Then, weirdly,
Numbers 22:28 (ESV Strong’s)
Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Now Balaam should have stopped and thought, that’s odd, a talking donkey. But he was so intent on sinning, he never stopped to see the obvious. Sometimes we are so intent on getting what we want we miss the obvious warning signs!
Numbers 22:29-31 (ESV Strong’s)
And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”
Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face.
God gave Balaam what he wanted, which led directly to death, but his donkey saved him… The angel said,
Numbers 22:33 (ESV Strong’s)
The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.”
THE LONG SLIDE
This is where Balaam’s words get really interesting.
Numbers 22:34 (ESV Strong’s)
Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.”
Let’s analyse this. I have sinned… OK, he acknowledges his sin, that’s a nice start, you might even think he is repenting, turning around and heading home. But no, look at what he says. He’s not sorry he’s sinned, he’s just sorry for the consequences. But his next statement sounds pious but is really very, very wicked… Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” It means, “If it displeases you, I will turn back.”
What more do you need, Balaam? Your donkey is talking to you, and you’ve got the angel of the Lord Himself standing there with a drawn sword ready to kill you, and you’re saying, “If it displeases you, I will turn back”!
When you disobey and then dull your conscience, beware… You are headed to destruction. Balaam wanted the rewards so bad, even in the face of disaster, he still paid lip service to repentance without actually repenting.
THE ATTITUDE GOES DOWNHILL
So Balaam gets his wish and goes with the men, and Balak expects him to curse the people of Israel. Balaam points out the following…
Numbers 22:38 (ESV Strong’s)
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.”
Balaam is saying, I’m here, but God has me over a barrel, and I’m not happy about it, but sadly, I have to obey God. Reluctant obedience!
Listen, no one gives up anything for God. Serving God is the greatest privilege and joy I know, but I’m sick of hearing people who say I’ve given up this career or that guy or this opportunity for God.
The Apostle Paul had power and prestige and respect, but he said this
Philippians 3:7-8 (ESV Strong’s)
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Count them as rubbish, which in Greek literally means dung or poo. It means all the things I could have in life are like pieces of poo next to knowing and serving Jesus. I don’t give up my garbage, I throw it away. If you put God first, unlike Balaam, then He will raise up in you potential you probably don’t even know is there, and you can impact this world for Jesus!
STOP, AND LET IT GO!
So over the next few chapters, Balak takes Balaam to different locations hoping to get a good curse out of him, but all Balaam can do is bless the people of Israel. Why is Balaam still there? Why is Balaam following him? Balaam just won’t let this thing go. Maybe it’s a word to someone here to stop pursuing your own way and turn back to God while you still can.
Balaam tries everything. He makes loads of sacrifices, prays a lot, inquires of the Lord, gets all religious, but in the end all he does is bless instead of curse, and Balak is getting really mad at him.
Numbers 23:12 (ESV Strong’s)
And he (Balaam) answered and said, “Must I not take care to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”
That’s a religious Spirit right there. He claims to be speaking the words of God, but he sure hasn’t been obedient… It’s just lip service. Balak drags Balaam from mountain to mountain, offering more and more money, and Balaam keeps following him because his eyes are on the loot!
Well, Balak has had enough and is so angry he says
Numbers 24:11 (ESV Strong’s)
Therefore now flee to your own place. I said, ‘I will certainly honor you,’ but the Lord has held you back from honor.”
In other words, you’d better get out of here before I wipe you out!
WHERE THERE’S A WILL, WE FIND A WAY!
Numbers 24:14 (ESV Strong’s)
And now, behold, I am going to my people. Come, I will let you know what this people will do to your people in the latter days.”
At first glance you might think Balaam has come to his senses, but hidden in Balaam’s words are more than oracles of blessing upon Israel. After he leaves,
Numbers 25:1-2 (ESV Strong’s)
While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
Balaam couldn’t get his way by manipulating God, so he found another way. As a result 24,000 Israelites died of plague.
Balaam could not curse Israel, but he offered Balak a little friendly advice, probably to get the fee he was after: “If you want to know how to get them, send your hookers, send your daughters, own there to entice them and tempt them and intermarry with them. Then invite them over to your religious services, to your gods, and you’ll steal their hearts away from their God.”
Balaam was pretty smart, you know. He said, “I can’t curse them because God won’t let me. But sin will curse them. If you can get them to sin, you won’t need me to curse them. Sin will do it for you.” Here’s proof of his advice…
Numbers 31:16 (ESV Strong’s)
Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.
Revelation 2:14 (ESV Strong’s)
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.
Balaam got his way eventually, but he also got his comeuppance!
Joshua 13:22 (ESV Strong’s)
Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain.
You cannot manipulate God and get away with it. I bet when they parted, Balaam, left a rich man, but he was really a fool…
Mark 8:36 (ESV Strong’s)
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
What does it profit you if you manipulate God into giving you your own way but compromise your relationship with Him?
2 Chronicles 16:9 (ESV Strong’s)
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.
OBEDIENCE OR BUST
Balaam error was twofold: 1. He used the gift and calling of God for his own selfish gain, and 2. When God said clearly no, he kept asking. He did his best to look religious and pious while finding a way around actually being obedient to God. He spoke God’s words, but he didn’t have God’s heart.
And if you don’t share God’s heart, you might think you’re doing what He wants you to do, but you may in fact only be going through outward motions of obedience. You might read your Bible and say your prayers and keep the rules, yet in your heart be can be a wicked, wicked servant.
You must know His heart and His attitudes; share His hatred toward sin, and His love for souls… His love for others and His love for you.
How many want something specifically right now?