Bible Readings for May 14th

Numbers 23 | Psalms 6465 | Isaiah 13 | 1 Peter 1

In the mind of Balak, the arrangement he was making with Balaam was simple. Balaam would prophetically curse Israel, and Balak would make Balaam rich as a reward. Balak’s mistake is understandable, although certainly not excusable. He genuinely thought about prophets like Balaam in the way that we might think of a gifted salesperson—that a skilled prophet could convince the gods to do whatever he asked of them.

Balaam, for his part, is not innocent in this matter. Yahweh did give him permission to go with Balak in Numbers 22, but with a strict condition: “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you” (Num. 22:20). Apparently, Balaam immediately violated Yahweh’s commandment in some way, since Yahweh’s anger was kindled against him as he went (Num. 22:22), leading to the scene where Balaam’s donkey speaks to him after refusing to pass beyond an angel with a drawn sword—an image reminiscent of the cherubim guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword. In the New Testament, we read that Balaam abandoned himself “for the sake of gain” (Jude 1:11). In other words, Balaam must have conspired in his heart to do whatever was necessary to gain the large reward that Balak was promising to him.

What both of these men fail to recognize is that Yahweh is a real person, with his own thoughts, his own intentions, and his own desires. What’s more, Yahweh’s thoughts, intentions, and desires are governed not by some desperate attempt to gain something that he needs, but rather they are the outflow of his own infinite, eternal resources. So, as Balaam begins to prophesy on behalf of Yahweh, the oracles he receives cut through both Balak’s desperation and Balaam’s greed by insisting that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Num. 23:19).

We deeply need to hear this message in our culture today. As the Bible has slipped from its once-central place in the church as the authoritative word of God, we have felt a false freedom to rewrite what God has spoken. When we find his thoughts objectionable, we simply ignore what he says, or we find ways to raise the same question that the serpent did in the Garden: “Did God actually say…?” (Gen. 3:1).

Whether we do this because we feel that God threatens our lifestyles or because we see an opportunity for greedy personal gain, we fail to recognize that God is not impressed by our ability to squirm out from under his word any more than he was impressed with the foolishness of Balak and Balaam.

When God speaks—especially in the final word he has provided in his Son (Heb. 1:1–2)—do you listen?

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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