NUMBERS 23, 24 and 25
You would imagine that a man who was really a false prophet, a fraud and a mercenary would be put off his mission by being rebuked by his donkey and nearly killed by the Angel of the Lord. He certainly offered to turn around – since he was scared for his life – but God decided to teach him further life lessons and told him to go further with Balak and to speak only what God told him to say.
Next morning Balaam had seven altars built and animal sacrifices made on each. Later, he returned to Balak and prophesied blessings upon Israel – to Balak’s obvious annoyance. So he encouraged Balaam to move to a different vantage point, where only part of Israel could be seen. This is a typical worldly superstitious mindset; he didn’t really believe that the prophecies were of divine origin and he reasoned that, if Balaam were in a better frame of mind, then he would curse them with more confidence! That simply made the prophecies more explicit, including the phrase: “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind”. Balak was still unimpressed. So, he took Balaam to a third vantage point, thinking, this time, God might change his mind. The pagan perspective on gods is that they are capricious, small-minded, and easily manipulated; not a lot to recommend them, then!
The altar-building and bull-sacrificing resumed, but the only effect was to sharpen Balaam’s ears towards the Lord’s voice and to start to melt his heart towards him. How he wished he were an Israelite now! So, he prophesied blessings on Israel and, for good measure, curses on everyone else! Balak, by now, was ready to consult his solicitor and gripped his money bags more tightly. “The Lord has kept you from being rewarded”, he said vindictively to Balaam. Balaam was unfazed and provided four more prophecies free of charge. He was rather enjoying hearing God’s word and having his eyes opened; for a charlatan prophet, this was the real deal! As we draw near to the Lord, we also can experience that refreshing reality of his presence and his favour.
You can read more about Balaam in Numbers 31 (where he was killed, and his scheming against Israel was uncovered); Joshua 24 and Nehemiah 13 (repeats of the above), 2 Peter and Jude 1:11, and finally, Revelation 2:14. This last passage confirms that it was Balaam who – perhaps in his greed for the lucrative fee that he had missed out on – talked Balak into sending some very attractive young Moabite women Israel’s way, to entice them into worshiping and sacrificing to their gods, the Baals, and to indulge in illicit sexual activity. Numbers 25 describes this in more detail; it is significant that v3 declares that, in so doing, “Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor”. Sexual sins yoke you to the wrong women (or men) and idolatry yokes you to false gods; it is not clear which comes first! (But read Romans chapter 1 for some further thoughts.) The true God was very angry and demanded that justice was done against the ringleaders. Furthermore, a plague began to pick off the Israelites one by one.
Whilst this was going on, an Israelite man brazenly brought a Midianite priestess into his tent, and they began to indulge in the all too obvious activity that her presence provoked – adultery and idolatry always seem to go hand in hand. Seeing this blatant slur on God’s presence, Phinehas the new high priest (Aaron’s son) was filled with God’s righteous anger; he fetched his spear and entered that tent. He exited shortly, leaving behind his spear doing what spears do best!
Sometimes anger is justified, and it was in this situation; but only when it is used to uphold God’s righteousness and not simply to further your own ends. God was so impressed with Phinehas’s zealousness that he stopped the plague instantly and declared Israel ‘rescued’. In today’s era when anger-management courses are all the rage, it is salutary to consider that there are certain injustices that warrant our righteous anger and our urgent actions – even to the extent of making ourselves unpopular and being viewed as extremists. God, after all, is the ultimate extremist!