As a scientist, I must say that I tend to look for “natural” causes for many of God’s works in the Bible. If there is fire and brimstone raining down on Sodom, perhaps there is some sort of fault line near a sulfur source that given the right conditions might result in sulfur literally raining down somewhere. My natural brain tends to shy away from the explanation of direct supernatural intervention. Definitely this is a weakness for me, and it isn’t actually even logical (which is ironic). Why would one’s brain allow for the idea of supernatural intervention at times (tough to come up with a naturalistic cause for the resurrection that doesn’t completely shatter my faith) but be resistant to it in other circumstances? Childlike faith is not my strength at times. I guess it makes sense then that I would then get a talking donkey in my first blog as your most junior overseer.
The story of Balaam (and his noble steed) falls directly before Joshua’s succession of Moses and after the sin of Moses (hitting the rock he was instructed to speak to), so we’re just about to usher the Israelites into the Promise Land. In short, Balak the king of Moab asks Balaam to curse Israel (which was a good thought since his future looked pretty bleak with the Israelites headed his way). It doesn’t appear entirely clear to me what Balaam’s relationship to Yahweh is, but Balaam knows enough not to oppose the clear will of God.
It seems clear that if God allowed it, Balaam would have happily cursed Israel for the reward offered him for doing so (in fact Balak likely came to him because he was typically available to hire for such a task). Unfortunately for poor, greedy Balaam, God did not allow Balaam to go with Balak’s men and curse God’s people. The story gets interesting, yet a little confusing when Balak sends in his varsity squad of negotiators (and a better bribe) the next round. This may be somewhat conjecture, but it seems fairly clear that God has already spoken on the issue. God does not tell Balaam that Balak’s price is not yet high enough to curse His people. He simply says “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”
God’s response is without ambiguity. Why then does Balaam return to God a second time when the price is more enticing? As I said, the story gets a little confusing at this point. God allows him to go, yet is angry that he does (leading to the well known story of Balaam smacking his talking donkey while narrowly escaping the sword of the Lord). Perhaps we aren’t given all of the information. I’ll leave further questions to better scholars than I. We also aren’t told why Balaam doesn’t seem to think it odd that his donkey is speaking. Perhaps Balaam’s omitted response was “gee wiz you are a really smart donkey.” God would have known how that would eventually translate in the King James and would have wisely left his response out to eliminate years of snickering in Sunday Schools. Forgive my old English joke, let’s get back on track here… Let’s go back to a simple principle at play here because it seems to play out in our lives (and those around us) very often with sometimes devastating consequences.
The principle is this: do we clearly hear from God on an issue and then later make attempts to come up with different answers when temptation increases. Here’s a common example. I have yet to have a conversation with a Christian brother or sister who is single (not dating or married) in which they have concluded that dating/marrying someone who doesn’t share their faith is an idea that God approves of. I have, however, seen time and again believers asking (again) this question when they happen to meet someone with whom there is mutual interest that is A) clearly not a believer and B) an otherwise spectacular dating option for them.
Let’s try another example. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife. I know today that in the future if we were to fall on difficult times (relationally) I might to be tempted to wander (mentally or physically) or simply give up on our relationship. God has spoken on my responsibility and moral obligation. As with Balaam, God has spoken without ambiguity. But how many people have found themselves in the middle of similar temptation and taken a request to God where the answer is already abundantly clear. I think this is particularly dangerous. Is God really in a position to have to be redundant on issues like this? In our sin we may go to Him with the same heart as Balaam. We know He has spoken. We know it is written. Yet we persist in making insincere petitions of God in the hopes that some warm, fuzzy feeling will take hold in us that we can attribute to God to pacify our need to justify our sin.
This highlights two needs. 1. To be men and women of conviction even when the truth or righteousness is more difficult and less convenient than a selfish desire. 2. To be students of God’s word early and often. Once the emotions of life become involved in decision making, it is difficult to remain objective. If I have no idea what God thinks about ending a marriage to begin a new relationship, how foolish would I be to attempt to ascertain what God thinks about that for the first time after temptation has already occurred? The heart is deceitful, and a time like that is a perfect opportunity to see that principle at work.
There is an endless list of issues that we must make decisions on between now and the grave. Who/how to date, work requirements that we are and are not OK with, appropriate responses to a myriad of situations, and on and on. The better equipped we are to answer those questions preemptively before any level of temptation is in the equation, the easier it is to be honest with ourselves and God. For too many there is not a “Mr. Ed” (or whatever Balaam’ donkey’ name was) to warn them of the danger to come if they continue on a particular path. If God has settled something, it is our job A) to know God’s position and B) to resist the temptation to pursue sin if God doesn’t creatively restate His position (since He has already made it abundantly clear to us).
I do not happen to be one that finds certainty easily when dealing with God’s perspective on an issue. I tend to question everything and try to dissect out man’s tradition on a particular issue until I am comfortable with a conclusion. Even then, I want to leave myself open to reinterpreting an issue given new information or perspectives, but NOT simply because of a new temptation. Somehow it is easy for me to see how ridiculous it is when my kids ask me repeatedly for the same thing. Perhaps “obey all the way, right away” should be a speech I should also give to myself (but maybe not 20 times a day!) and not just my kids.
Posted on Wed, March 16, 2011
by Mark Newman