Balaam

Numbers 22-24 tells the story of Balaam son of Beor. Since he was a well known prophet, Balak-the newly elected king of Moab – sent for him to curse Israel in order to stop them from wiping out the Moabites like they did the Ammonites.

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The first time Balak sent for Balaam he was rejected because God told Balaam not to go. He was persistent and sent a second more honorable group of princes promising anything he wanted to curse Israel.

He decided to ask God again and got the approval to go under the condition he only spoke what God told him to speak.

 “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you” -Numbers 22:20

In verse 21 Balaam rose, saddled his donkey, and left. So why did God get so mad at Balaam for going when he gave him permission? Does this make God untrustworty or unfair?

A popular opinion is that this story is just that a story. It was completely made up by the Israelites to justify the destruction of the Amorites and Moabites. It is hard to see the love of God through him sending an Angel with a sword to kill Balaam. According to this opinion, this story was a source of propaganda the Israelites used to prove God was on their side.

According to Jeff Miller of Apologetics Press, the key to the answer lies in the two letter word—“if.”  If the men were to come get him that morning, it would have been okay for him to go. However, Balaam got up on his own, got everything he needed and left with no hesitation. The passage doesn’t mention the princes coming to get him, so Balaam did not keep the compromise with God by waiting for the princes to call him. He isn’t unfair; Balaam just did not keep up his end of the deal and was too eager to make money from Balak.

Shubert Spero proposes that in the story of Balaam we have a quite intentional contradiction made for the purpose of poking fun at a very popular diviner who was no match for the true God. In other words, the narrative is interrupted for a few moments of satire — readers don’t understand this because of their modern lenses.  In his opinion, Balaam was the common “pay-for-prophecy” diviner. By saying God wouldn’t allow him to go the first time may have been code for “I need more money to do this.” This explains why Balak sent a second group of princes with more to offer Balaam.

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Whether this episode in Numbers is just a made up story to cover for the Israelite’s choices or an example of God’s literal meaning in his words, it made for a very elaborate tale. In my personal opinion God knew Balaam’s heart and saw his desire for personal gain. God wasn’t unjust in this matter and was just testing Balaam- – which he failed and paid for it immensely.

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