He didn’t go home. Said he was. Said he was done trying to frustrate the purposes of God. Said he would no longer try and curse what God had determined to bless. Said that the money which had enticed him in the first place to become Balak’s mercenary prophet against Israel wasn’t enough for him to defy the God of creation who had spoken to him numerous times (once through a dumb animal). Three strikes and Balaam said he was out. That’s kind of the story of Numbers 22 to 24. Concludes with Balaam rising and going “back to his place.” Except he didn’t.
He should have gone home.
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. . . .” And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, together with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. They warred against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every male. . . . They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain . . . And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.
(Numbers 31:1-4, 6-7, 8b ESV)
Honestly, these aren’t the sort of passages I like to hover over. Given my reading plan this morning, I’d far rather noodle on “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23); or, “we are more than conquerors . . . nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39); or even, the psalmist’s desperate cry, “lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2).
But it’s Numbers 31 that primes the pump for meditation this morning. Particularly, seeing Balaam’s name pop from the page twice. Once as part of the roll of those who died under God’s hand of vengeance, the second mention as part of the reason why.
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.
(Numbers 31:16 ESV)
Balaam said he was going home at the end of Numbers 24. Evidently, he didn’t, or else he wouldn’t have been on the casualty list in Numbers 31. Evidently, when God forbade him three times from opposing Israel verbally, he couldn’t walk away from the bounty he had been offered and so came up with a plan to do it stealthily. While he was prevented from turning God against His people, he came up with a plan by which the king of Moab could evoke the anger of God towards His people. A plan which saw the daughters of Moab and Midian infiltrate Israel’s ranks and entice them to worship their gods (Num. 25:1-9, Rev. 2:14). Twenty-four thousand from the tribes of Israel perishing as a result of a plague sent by God. Mission accomplished. Send the check in the mail.
What strikes me is the hardness of heart exhibited by the greedy prophet-for-pay. How someone could encounter the living God, again and again, and still set himself against Him. Balaam wasn’t some atheist who refused to believe, but a opportunist who couldn’t resist a payout. And God’s longsuffering was refused. His kindness spurned. Repentance wasn’t even a consideration. Blinded by the almighty buck, he bucked the Almighty.
Forsaking the right way, [false prophets among the people of God] have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing.
(2Peter 2:15 ESV)
And it was fueled, as well as financed, by Midian’s hatred of God’s people, and by their wanton arrogance in seeking to manipulate the people’s God. Thus, they purposefully drew Israel into pagan practices to evoke the curse of God upon them. Eventually, crossing the line. Eventually, incurring the just wrath of the God they had sought to use for their own wicked purposes.
Says something about how deep sin can run. How far rebellion can go. How blind arrogance and greed can render a person.
Also says something about how feared our God should be. How, in His justice, the wages for all wrongs will eventually be paid. The only question is whether those wages are paid for at the cross of Christ or at the judgment seat of God.
Says something, then, about grace, as well. Doesn’t it? And that, for God’s glory.