Balaam’s story is a cautionary tale. He was the prophet in the book of Numbers who ended up getting schooled by a talking donkey. To be honest, I’ve read the story a few times and never really appreciated just how bad this guy was. After all, he sought God and never spoke a single word that God did not tell him to speak. But on closer inspection, I see that his heart was not so much set on obeying God as it was set on getting around Him. He made a critical error that I have probably been guilty of myself on a few occasions, and maybe you have, too. It involves the 3 wills of God, and it taught me a lesson this week that I pray I will remember from now on.
Balaam the Prophet of God
The name Balaam means “foreigner.” He was a Mesopotamian Gentile prophet to the Ammonites, Moabites, and Midianites. He had a reputation as one who could bless and curse with results; he was kind of a big deal. This story takes place right at the end of the forty years the Israelites wandered the desert after Moses led them out of Egyptian captivity. The Israelites were starting to gather strength. Their numbers were concerning to the kings of the nations in this area.
In fact, as the children of Israel made their way through inhabited lands, they asked permission to pass through. The Moabite king, Balak, not only refused their request, but he conspired with the king of the Midianites against them. The plan was to send an envoy of princes to the prophet Balaam with a “diviner’s fee” to ask for help in cursing the Israelite people. For all his flaws, Balak wasn’t stupid. He knew that the battle was a spiritual one more than anything else. No amount of preparation, training, supplies, or tactics would be able to help if God was with his enemy. So, he sought to take Israel out on a spiritual level before he tried anything physical.
Balaam, for his part, really wanted to help Balak. He enjoyed the prestige of being a man of respect among kings. More than that, though, he was all about the money that would go along with the job. When Balak’s princes showed up with the offer, Balaam eagerly invited them to stay even before seeking God with their request. Here was God’s reply:
“And God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.’”Numbers 22:12
That was a pretty solid no. But Balaam knew where his power came from. There was nothing else he could do but to send them away. Maybe there was something in his voice, though, that gave them hope that he would change his mind. A short while later, Balak gathered even more princes and even more money and tried again.
Balaam’s First Mistake
Here’s where Balaam made his first grave error. Instead of sending them away immediately, he invited them to stay again and went to inquire of God a second time. This time, God told him he could go, but he would have to speak only the words He gave him. Balaam agreed and eagerly arose to go with the men. On the way, though, his donkey saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the path and refused to move. Three times, Balaam hit the donkey for disobedience until she finally just lay down under him.
Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth to speak. Numbers 22:30, ”So the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?’” No, Balaam had to admit. She had been a pretty good donkey up to this point. Then God opened his eyes to see the Angel of the Lord in front of him with His sword drawn. The Angel, many believe a preincarnate Jesus, informed Balaam that his donkey had just saved his life. Balaam half-heartedly offered to turn back, but the Angel told him to continue with his plan but only to speak what he was told to speak.
Four Prophecies and Two Curses
Long story short, after sacrificing a total of 42 animals on three different high places (typically used for worship of other gods) in Moab, God spoke three times through Balaam, blessing Israel instead of cursing. After Balak had had enough of Balaam’s “help,” he tried to send him home empty handed. It was then that God gave one more Word through Balaam. He spoke of the birth of Jesus Christ and the coming destruction of neighboring nations, effectively cursing Moab in the process.
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult.”Numbers 24:17
Balaam Didn’t Go Home
But the story didn’t stop there. See, Balaam still wanted the money. He wasn’t able to get anywhere doing it through his prophetic anointing, so he came up with another way to curse Israel without God’s help. He told the nearby Midianite women to seduce the men of Israel in order bring them into idolatry through worship of their pagan gods. We find this out later when Moses goes to war with the Midianites. Numbers 31:15-16, “ And Moses said to them: ‘Have you kept all the women alive? Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.’
Balaam’s Death at Age 33
In the beginning, Balaam held fast to the idea that he could only do those things the Lord allowed. In the first Word given by God, he even made the statement that he wanted to remain a faithful prophet of God. He said, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!” (Numbers 23:10b). But he didn’t stay faithful. His love of money pushed him to continue with the enemies of God’s people, even conspiring with them for the spiritual downfall of Israel.
When God took His revenge on the Midianites, Balaam was right there in the middle of it all. Numbers 31:8 said, “They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of those who were killed—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. Balaam the son of Beor they also killed with the sword.” Commentaries, including the Jewish Encyclopedia, say Balaam died without honor at the age of 33.
The 3 Wills of God & Balaam’s Error
Partially taken from the Life in the Spirit Study Bible, page 1066. These are the three ways that God expresses His will for people.
1. “The Will of God” – Law of God/The Word of God
God shows us His will through the Bible. In Psalm 40:8, David says “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.” In Romans 2:17-18, the Apostle Paul said, “Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law.”
Balaam knew what it meant to be a prophet of God as per Deuteronomy 18:18. “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.” Initially, he only spoke the words that God gave him to speak, but ultimately, he didn’t follow the spirit of Deuteronomy 13:4. “You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.” He might have been a gifted prophet, but Balaam’s heart was far from God.
2. “The Perfect Will of God” – The Revealed Will
God shows His will in His revelation of His goodness. In 1 Timothy 2:4, we learn that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And, in 2 Peter 3:9, Peter says it another way, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
In Balaam’s case, God specifically revealed that His will was for Balaam to stay put (and stay pure) in Numbers 22:12. “You shall not go.” This was God’s will, and Balaam knew it. But Balaam didn’t stop there. He wanted to do what he wanted to do and thought, like a child, if he kept asking that God would change His mind. But God doesn’t change His mind. He simply changes His will. If we will not listen to His perfect will, He gives us over to His permissive will.
3. “The Permissive Will of God” — Often Contrary to the Perfect Will
God shows his will by allowing free will. Romans 1:28, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers.” Also, sometimes, it is God’s will that Christians suffer as a test of sorts, like in 1 Peter 3:17. “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
Balaam failed the test. He didn’t listen to God because he wanted the money. Even when he seemed to remain faithful on the surface, underneath, he was plotting ways to go around God to get what he wanted. His name became a lesson and a byword all throughout the Bible as God reminded people again and again of the “error of Balaam.”
- Joshua 24:9-10: “Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose to make war against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you. So I delivered you out of his hand.
- 2 Peter 2:15-16: “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.”
- Jude 1:11: “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.”
- Revelation 2:14: “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.”
My Lesson This Week
This week, just as I was finishing Balaam’s story, I had my own situation arise that seemed oddly similar. I wanted to do something to help someone, but when I went to my husband with the idea, he told me that he didn’t want me to do it. He left it up to me in the end, but I knew what his feelings were on the matter, and it would not please him if I went against his wishes. Now, it’s God’s will in the Bible that a wife listen to her husband.
In addition, I received a dream about the situation that was confirmed with another Bible passage that connected on the same day. The situation could cause spiritual harm if I did go through with what I had been planning to do. God’s perfect will in this situation was that I refrain from helping that person at this time. As I sat there pondering the whole thing, it occurred to me that NOTHING was more important to me than doing God’s perfect will. Nothing.
God knows the future. He knows the consequences of actions far better than I ever could. If God didn’t want me to do something, I wouldn’t do it. I always want to stay in His perfect will. I rebuked the enemy’s condemnation and guilt for not helping the other person, and I renewed my resolve to always do my best to discern and follow what God truly wants in every situation.
Following God’s Will
“ For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”Jeremiah 29:11
Balaam’s error was is refusing to obey the perfect will of God. Even with his prophetic anointing and direct access to God Himself, he allowed rebellion and iniquity to be his downfall. He left the protection of God’s plan for material gain and died dishonorably among the enemies of God.
Our job is to learn the lesson of Balaam. God’s will is what is best for us. When God tells us “No,” we need NOT to ask again hoping for a different answer — because we just might get it. The Bible shows us the 3 wills of God, but it is up to us which one(s) we follow. When we step outside the law of God and outside His perfect will, the alternative can and will cause harm. Instead, we must hide God’s Word in our hearts, listen for God’s voice, and seek to obey Him no matter what.
Enjoy articles about obedience? Check out Chastisement And an Object Lesson About Iniquity. In it, God teaches me an important lesson about doing things God’s way. Or, try When Obedience Is the Sacrifice. In that one, I choose obedience even when it cost me to do it and learn is it is much less painful than regret. Please subscribe to my blog via email in the top right corner. Also, consider visiting my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.