Why Does God Speak Through People Who Work Against Him?

Have you ever had someone in your life who was used by God but turned out to be living a life of sin?   The story of Balaam is one such example.

Why Does God Speak Through People Who Work Against Him?

Numbers 22-30

Today's Scripture Passage

A Few Thoughts to Consider

Have you ever had someone in your life who was used by God but turned out to be living a life of sin?  

The story of Balaam is one such example. After seeing what Israel did to the Amorites in Numbers 21, Numbers 22:3-4 says, “Moab was terrified of the people because they were numerous, and Moab dreaded the Israelites. So the Moabites said to the elders of Midian, ‘This horde will devour everything around us like an ox eats up the green plants in the field.’”

A man named Balak is the king, and he reaches out to Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet, to place a curse on Israel—offering substantial financial incentives to do so. Of course, this idea of blessings and curses was nothing new and is a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament. After receiving Balak’s messengers, God has some clear words for Balaam in Numbers 22:12: “You are not to go with them. You are not to curse this people, for they are blessed.”

But King Balak is persistent and sends another envoy; this time, God gives Balaam seemingly contradictory instructions. At first, he tells Balaam to go, but then in verse 22 it says, “God was incensed that Balaam was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand on the path to oppose him.” So what is going on? Roy Gane answers this question with another question:

We could ask the same question about why the Lord was angry with the Israelites at Kibroth Hattaavah when they gathered quail he had sent for them to eat (11:31–33). It appears that in both cases the Lord is testing people by giving them what they want in order to see whether they will show some restraint in accordance with what they already know to be right. The Israelites and Balaam both flunk by single-mindedly gravitating to self-gratification. In Balaam’s case there is an additional aggravating factor: He is setting out to enrich himself at the expense of God’s people, who are divinely blessed. Understanding the firm nature of the blessing, he should have taken God’s first “no” as the final answer. [1]

Regardless of whether this theory is correct, Balaam has done something God hates, and the angel of the Lord opposes him. Only a talking donkey changes Balaam’s heart.

Gordon Wenham writes,

“It is immaterial to the story whether the donkey really spoke, or whether Balaam just imagined it talking. The Old Testament certainly sees inspiration as a supernatural phenomenon caused by the Spirit of God. Thus if men were able to utter God’s words, why should not the same be true of animals?”[2]

Finally, the Lord opens Balaam’s eyes, and in verse 34, we see that “Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, ‘I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the path to confront me. And now, if it is evil in your sight, I will go back.’” The angel tells Balaam in the following verse, “Go with the men, but you are to say only what I tell you.” From there, Balaam goes on to bless Israel three times instead of cursing them as Balak wanted.

Despite these seemingly noble actions and being used as a mouthpiece for God, Balaam’s heart remained unchanged, and Numbers 31:16 notes that at Balaam’s advice, Moabite women were used to seduce the Israelite men, leading them into idolatry and immorality—thus leading God to bring a plague that killed 24,000 Israelite men. New Testament passages like 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1:11, and Revelation 2:14 speak very negatively of Balaam and associate him with selling his soul for financial gain.

God used Balaam powerfully, even though Balaam’s heart plotted to work against him.

A Meditation to PRAY

Praise | Thank you, Lord, that you know the thoughts and intentions of every person.

Release | Forgive me for those times I acted outwardly spiritual but was inwardly disobedient.

Ask | Rid me of a double-minded spirit. Help me to be the same person on Monday that I am at church on Sunday.

Yield | I give you my desire for personal gain. Let all I do be done for your kingdom.

A Challenge to Act Like Christ  

The story of Balaam shows us that God was active in the hearts of people outside of ancient Israel. Even though Balaam would eventually work against God’s purposes, God still used him to prophesy the coming Messiah. In Numbers 24:15-17, Balaam says,

15 The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
the oracle of the man whose eyes are opened;
16 the oracle of one who hears the sayings of God
and has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls into a trance with his eyes uncovered:
17 I see him, but not now;
I perceive him, but not near.
A star will come from Jacob,
and a scepter will arise from Israel.

One day, Jesus, too, would ride on a donkey.[3] But unlike Balaam, Jesus would be obedient to the voice of God. Instead of leveraging his status as God for earthly gain, he came in the form of a servant and set it all aside, leaving us an excellent example to follow. While Christianity is riddled with Balaams who bless God in public, only to live a life of sin in private, it’s important to remember that our only perfect example is Christ. He is the only one who will ever disappoint.

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[1]Roy Gane, Leviticus, Numbers, The NIV Application Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 693.

[2]Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 4 of Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 192.

[3] Matthew 21