Sometimes it just doesn’t taste good. Even if it’s good for you (aka God-breathed and profitable for being trained in righteousness), it still leaves a weird after taste no matter how long you chew on it. That’s kind of how I’m feeling after two days with the story of Balaam in the book of Numbers.
So many, “Why did God?” types of questions. Why did God have any interaction at all with a dude who made a living through divination on demand (Num. 22:7)? He met with Him, it seems, as face-to-face as you can get, just like Moses. God comes to him repeatedly. First, telling him not to go and take the job to curse the Israelites (22:12). And then, after Balak strokes Balaam’s ego further with another entourage of princes “more in number and more honorable” (and with a fee greater in value, I imagine), God tells him to go with them; “but only do what I tell you” (22:20). And yet, unlike Moses, no indicator that Balaam’s face shone like Moses’. In fact, every indicator is that, despite having these encounters of the divine kind, there is still a darkened heart. What gives? How could that be?
But God’s not done showing Himself to Balaam. “The Angel of the Lord” intercepts Balaam on his way to Balak. Based on the manner in which this “angel” interacts with Balaam, also telling him to “go with the men, but speak only the word I tell you” (22:35), I’m thinking this is a theophany, a pre-incarnate earthly visitation of the Son. Feels a little “road to Damascus” like to me (Acts 9:3-4).
And let’s not stop there. Let’s make this a Trinitarian affair.
And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel!
(Numbers 24:2-5 ESV)
Addressed by the Father, met on the road by the Son, come upon by the Spirit, so that He blesses the people of God four times. As one-on-One (or should I say as one-on-Three) as you’re gonna get and yet, no Damascus road conversion apparently. For though he prophesies as God tells him to prophesy, if you know the rest of the story it seems he still finds a way to collect on the fee Balak offers him (Num. 25:1-9, 31:16). How is that even possible?
Okay, I’m still chewin’, but this is far from satisfying.
You know, if it were me, and I felt compelled to include the story of Balaam in Numbers, I think I’d just leave it at that. I’d let it be buried in the middle of a book that most people won’t read anyhow. If I had to leave it in, I’d be inclined to leave it hidden because it can be so confusing. But it ain’t me. It’s the God of infinite wisdom who graciously seeks to communicate to His creation concerning Himself and His ways.
And so you’re gonna find this story referred to again and again. In Deuteronomy, in Joshua, in Nehemiah, and in Micah. But not just in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament as well, in Peter’s second letter and in Jude’s first. And the cherry on top? Referred to by the risen Christ Himself as He speaks to the churches in Revelation (Rev. 2:14).
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.
(Revelation 2:14 ESV)
The curse Balak wanted Balaam to pronounce on Israel, Balaam managed to bring on Israel in another way. And 24,000 people died (Num. 25:1-9).
So, this story of Balaam doesn’t leave just a bitter taste, but a weird taste. So, what do I do with it?
Well, I don’t dwell on “Why did God?” ‘Cause His ways are always higher than my ways and His thoughts than my thoughts (Isa. 55:-9). Nor do I make it only about learning the lesson that I shouldn’t mess with food sacrificed to idols or practice sexual immorality (though that’s important to learn). Instead, rather than belaboring the “Why”, or just resolving to do the “What”, I sit back in wonder before the Who.
The God of heaven who graciously interacts with those on earth. The God of promise who goes to such great lengths to call, and to protect a people for Himself. The God of patience and grace who allows even those He visits to respond as if He hadn’t. The God of power who is dependent on nothing and no one to accomplish His purposes.
Behold your God! Even in His incomprehensibility.
And be in wonder that He has made Himself known to you as your God. And has given you eyes to see, and ears to hear, and a heart to receive the revelation of the Father through the Son by the Spirit.
Now that tastes pretty good.
By His grace. For His glory.