The rest of the story: Numbers 23-25


Today’s reading: Numbers 23-25.

After watching the prophet Balaam ride off into the sunset, you wonder whose side he was really on. Numbers presents some conflicting information about the man with the power to bless or curse. Did God want him to visit Balak or not? Did he care about truth or only about money? Did he believe in the Lord? It’s hard to answer these questions as Balaam leaves in Numbers 24. But rather than giving up, we should remember an important Biblical truth: Christians need to know “the whole counsel of God” before making a decision. And it turns out, as is often true, that the Bible has a lot more to say about Balaam.

Before Balaam arrives in Moab, he has the famous run-in with his talking donkey. That story reinforces the point that God can put words in the mouths of anyone, including Balaam.

Then Balaam uttered his oracle: “Balak brought me from Aram, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me; come, denounce Israel.’ How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the LORD has not denounced? From the rocky peaks I see them, from the heights I view them. I see a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!” Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” He answered, “Must I not speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?” Numbers 23:7-12

Though it seems Balaam is on the side of Israel, his words may not come from his heart. After he returns home (Numbers 24:25), the men of Israel soon commit sexual immorality and idol worship with the Midianite women. No connection between these events is immediately apparent, but in Numbers 31 we read that the Israelites waged war on the Midianites in revenge, and that Balaam is one of those killed by the Israelites. Moses goes on to say that Balaam’s advice was the means of turning the people of Israel away from the Lord. What advice did he give? The answer doesn’t come until the very last book of the Bible, but we read more about Balaam in several passages along the way. Deuteronomy 23 says that Moab “hired Balaam … to pronounce a curse on you. However, the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you.” 2 Peter 2 says that Balaam loved the wages of wickedness. Jude 1 says that men have rushed “for profit” into Balaam’s error. Finally, in Revelation 2 we read that Balaam “taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.”

If we stopped reading about Balaam in Numbers 24, we might conclude that he was a somewhat godly man who blessed Israel. But by reading everything the Bible says about him, and considering the whole counsel of God, we can make a much more accurate conclusion. Balaam was a profit-seeking prophet-for-hire. When God foiled his initial plans, he found a backdoor way to curse Israel by enticing them to commit sexual sins and idolatry.

On many occasions people have tried to prove a point by quoting only part of God’s word. Don’t be misled in that way. Look at everything the Bible has to say and then make your conclusion. Make sure you know the rest of the story.

Balaam was a terrible character; he was a man of two things, a man who went all the way with two things to a very great extent. I know the Scripture says, “No man can serve two masters.” Now this is often misunderstood. Some read it, “No man can serve two masters.” Yes he can; he can serve three or four. The way to read it is this: “No man can serve two masters,” They cannot both be masters. He can serve two, but they cannot both be his master. A man can serve two who are not his masters, or twenty; he may live for twenty different purposes, but he cannot live for more than one master purpose—there can only be one master purpose in his soul. But Balaam laboured to serve two; it was like the people of whom it was said, “They feared the Lord, and served other gods,” 2 Kings 17:33. Charles Spurgeon

There are many who desire to die the death of the righteous, but do not endeavour to live the life of the righteous. Gladly would they have their end like theirs, but not their way. They would be saints in heaven, but not saints on earth. Matthew Henry

A man may be a false prophet and yet speak the truth. Richard Sibbes

Image by Palestine Exploration Fund on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0