“Woe to them . . . they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error.” (Jude 11 NIV)
Every time I read the story of Balaam it reminds me of the grave danger in insisting on my own way with God. He might give in to me but it may not be His perfect will. There are different measures of “God’s will.” There is the “good, pleasing and perfect will of God,” which of course all Christ followers are encouraged to pursue. (Romans 12:2) But there is also the permissive will of God with its variations which would be best to avoid.
I have learned this the hard way, and so in some measure can understand Balaam’s plight. On several occasions in my life I have committed to doing something I thought was God’s will only to find in the end it was really religious self-deception and fueled by a stubborn pursuit of my own desires. Even though I “prayed” about it and asked for God’s “perfect” will, my heart was so set on what I wanted that God gave me His “permissive” will instead and off I went to do my own thing.
Those decisions led to some very painful experiences. Through them I have learned more about God’s ways. Most importantly I have realized the necessity of checking the motivations of my heart as I seek His will. The clarity with which a person can discover God’s will for their life is directly proportional to their commitment to doing what He reveals. Nobody says this more clearly than Jesus. “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God.” (John 7:17 ESV)
The study of the false prophet Balaam illustrates this important lesson for everyone who genuinely wants to hear God’s voice and do His will. It pulls back the covers on hypocritical prayers desiring God’s will, and reveals a religious veneer covering up a stubborn heart that really wants its own will.
Balaam is a guy who even most Sunday school children are familiar with because he had a talking donkey. God used that donkey in an attempt to stop Balaam from proceeding on a course of action that was contrary to His will. (Numbers 22:21-35) In Balaam’s heart of hearts he had already made up his mind what he was determined to do before he asked for God’s direction. He wanted the rich financial reward Balak, the king of Moab, was offering him to put a curse on Israel.
As a result Balaam refused to take “no” for an answer the first time he inquired of God about responding to Balak’s request. Like a little kid pestering his parent, Balaam repeatedly kept asking God for permission until he got a “yes.” He did this on five separate occasions and each time God acquiesced. We are told however that God was very angry with him. (vs. 22)
We need to be careful under what condition of heart we coax a “yes” from God. This pattern of Balaam’s behavior in the face of repeated warnings reveals a stubborn insistence that gives way to a self deception. Sinful desires left unchecked, invariably lead to deception and eventually a hardness of heart. (Ephesians 4:22 & Hebrews 3:13)
The thought of such a dire consequence in seeking to go our own stubborn way should put the fear of God in every follower of Christ who desires to do His will.
Getting our own way eventually results in God’s discipline. His discipline is meant to teach us His ways so that we might forsake our own. Unfortunately Balaam did not learn the lesson and ultimately it cost him his life.
God thwarted Balaam’s three attempts at cursing Israel by turning them into blessings instead. But Balaam was not stopped entirely from wrecking havoc upon Israel. He also counseled Balak with a strategy to infiltrate and destroy Israelfrom within using Moabite women. The book of Revelation tells that he “taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:14) As a result, Balaam’s day of reckoning came with the blow of a sword when the Israelites invaded Moab. (Numbers 31:8)
The book of Jude has a terse reference to Balaam that sums up the lesson we can learn from his life. “Woe to them! They . . . have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error . . .” (Jude 11) Balaam’s error was that he was caught up and desirous of his own profit and glory and not God’s. His desire was much more to see his kingdom grow and advance than God’s kingdom. He saw an opportunity for personal gain and he rushed headlong into pursuing it. His prayer for God’s guidance was mere lip service. He wasn’t looking for God’s will; he was looking for a word that would affirm his own will.
Let us not fall prey to Balaam’s error. I’ve been there, done that – and wouldn’t recommend it! If you are going to insist on your own way, make sure it is also God’s way!
Do you have a Balaam error story to tell?
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