BALAAM (Part 4 of 7) 

  1. The Conversion of the Curse 

As Balaam moved from spot to spot seeking the place with the right prophetic ‘network signals’ for downloading his curses upon his unsuspecting targets, his patron client clung close by his side, ensuring that everything went according to plan.   Together, they raised twenty-one frustrated altars in three consecutive locations of seven altars each.  From each of those spots meant for cursing the Israelites, Balaam spoke beautiful prophecies over those oblivious sojourners in the valley.

It would generally appear that Balaam did not succeed to curse the Israelites.  However, one gets a different impression from reading Deuteronomy 23:5 and Nehemiah 13:2 which say that “God turned the curse into a blessing,” and Joshua 24:10 where God says, “But I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he blessed you still: so I DELIVERED YOU out of his hand.”  Wow, a kind of deliverance indeed – from a demon preacher.

There are two possibilities to those scriptures.  The first is that, despite God’s repeated disapprovals, Balaam went ahead to pronounce the curses.  After all, he had been hired, and had to be fair to his clients, no matter what.  So, God let him pronounce his curses, but meticulously converted them into blessings.

The second, and more likely possibility, is that Balaam actually positioned himself and his mouth to curse, but each time he opened his mouth, instead of curses, what came out were blessings.  What he had in his mind was not what was coming out of his mouth. He couldn’t help it.  The Lord had “put a word in his mouth.”  He lamented desperately, “have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak” (Numbers 23:16; 22:38).  At last, even the customer was exasperated, and said, “Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all” (Numbers 23:25).  What he had bargained for was not what he was getting.  “I called thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast altogether blessed them these three times,” he lamented.  And Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam.”   The client was so angry, he threatened to harm the contractor. He said to him, “Therefore now flee thou to thy place: I thought to promote thee unto great honour; but, lo, the LORD hath kept thee back from honour.”  Balaam was chased away.  He couldn’t wait to get the balance of his hire (Numbers 24:10-11).

We often pray, God, use me.  For men like Balaam, however, it seems to have been the other way round.  He was out to use God, not for God to use him.  He was out to be hired, for his gain, not the Lord’s.

  1. The Mad Prophet

Along Balaam’s stubborn route with the diplomats of Moab and Midian, an angel nearly killed him.  Balaam had very strange brushes and crashes with his limousine donkey.  He was in a convoy with many princes on their own state-of-the-art donkeys and, maybe, chariots, but only his donkey kept having erratic slips off the highway, and strange crashes against walls, until it became very clear that God was not in his mission.  An angel with a drawn sword stood out there to kill him (Numbers 22:22-35).

At that point, any right thinking person, to say nothing of a true follower of God, or even a prophet, should have turned back, but not the wages-obsessed Balaam.  As if the ominous brushes had not been enough, the donkey suddenly became a preacher, in a human voice warning the prophet of the danger ahead.   Still, Balaam went on.  Apostle Peter called it “the madness of the prophet” (2 Peter 2:16).  According to Peter therefore, Balaam was a mad prophet.  Only senior apostles like Peter could have called him by such a name, in miniature epistles not as copious as the melodious psalms of King David or as grandiose as the revelations of the noble Daniel, but no less divine.  Some mad men are however likely to dismiss his voice as that of a poor and unlearned fisherman who had known nothing of royalty and diplomatic protocols.

After his escape from the sword of death, Balaam confessed to the angel, “I have sinned” (Numbers 22:34).  Normally, anyone who sincerely makes such an admission should turn back from their wrong path.  Not Balaam.  He went on.  That could only have been madness amplified by greed.  Balaam did not always keep his words.  He sometimes made confessions he didn’t mean.  He publicly confessed to sins he was never prepared in heart to forsake.  There was a problematic disconnect between his lips and his heart.  Madness.

If you wondered how an adult preacher of his international reputation could bring himself so low as to do some of the stupid things that Balaam did, it was madness.  If you wondered how a prophet of God would take sides with unprovoked killers against godly kinsmen and women, insanity was the explanation.  Balaam was no fake or false prophet.  Apostle Peter acknowledged him as “prophet,” albeit a mad one.  Not evil spirits and devils but angels and God often spoke with him, yet he sometimes did very insane things.  Mad men don’t do rational things.  They run by a logic of their own world in which everyone else is mad but themselves.  Madness was one devil that Balaam might have cast out of other clients, but not from himself.  Can a prophet be mad?  Ask Apostle Peter.

  1. The iniquity of the Prophet 

According to 2 Peter 2:16, not only did Balaam become mad, he also added INIQUITY to his madness, and would brook no rebuke.   All the same, the God who would usually find a witness found one, and the prophet “was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice.” 

It was “HIS iniquity,” not another’s, no matter how much Balaam sought to blame his faults on others.  It was his weakness.  It was his greed.  It was his iniquity.

What is iniquity? According to Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (1986), it means unrighteousness, lawlessness, wickedness.  According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (2006), it means crookedness, perverseness, that which is not straight or upright, moral distortion, deviation from the right path; it means to bend, to err, to go astray.

Could all those sorry adjectives have been an appropriate description of that single preacher? Was that the sort of garment that Balaam wore in his later days, while he prophesied to many, while he cursed and blessed?  Didn’t anybody see it then, until Peter?  Did Balaam really get so crooked?  How did he manage to combine iniquities with prophetic anointing?  God is merciful.

16.The Fickle Preacher 

Balaam was a good preacher, but not so good a doer.  For example, Balaam was once heard proclaiming aloud to his audience, “If [King] Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God” (Numbers 22:18).  Nice words, but by the next morning, without God’s express permission, Balaam “rose up … saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab” (v.21).  So, Balaam said one thing in the day, and did a different thing overnight.  What he preached to his many hearers was not what he did, especially if he had to bend to suit and soothe ‘dignitaries.’  He seemed fickle, but he raised many altars and prophesied.  God is mighty in mercy.  God is to be feared.

  1. The Proud and Incorrigible Lone Prophet

Sometimes people are destroyed not for the terribleness of their actions but for that of their attitude.  Sometimes people fall not because the road had been slippery, but because they had been walking alone.  Balaam was one.   According to Ecclesiastes 4:9-10,

9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 

In all the story of Balaam, we do not see another prophet-friend with whom he walked the way, apart from two servants, maybe his PA’s (Numbers 22:22).  With Elijah, there was Elisha, and others before.  With Elisha, at least there was Gehazi, with all his greed, besides others in the school of that prophet.  With David was a Nathan.  Even novel Samuel was not alone.  In 1 Samuel 10:5-6, the Bible speaks of “a company of prophets,” endorsed and cited by the prophet Samuel, suggesting that he knew of them and might have been part of them.

With Jesus, there were twelve other men, disciples, whom He could take with Him to mountain tops and prayer gardens at crucial times, to intercede with Him. Furthermore in the New Testament, we read of the Antioch church with its very virile network of “prophets and teachers,” who “ministered to the Lord” and to one another, laying united holy hands of pure love on one another (Acts 13:1-3).  Nothing like that in the ministry of Balaam.  No other prophet or network of prophets with whom he worked.  Maybe he was so superlatively superior to everyone else, he couldn’t sit with ‘lower’ prophets.  Maybe he was so opened-eyed, none else was fit to prophesy to him.  Only he could prophesy to everyone else.  He lived alone, ‘ate alone’ (as we would say in Nigeria), and died alone.  Had he not been a holy loner, as it appears, somebody might have drawn early attention to his greed and his distractive regal and political companies, before they ruined him.

Further to Balaam’s aloneness, and maybe the cause of it, was that prophet’s apparent incorrigibility.  Nobody could advise him, which also said that he must have been a very proud person.   After all, he walked among kings, so who was noble and anointed enough to be his adviser?  Proud people usually have no advisers.

Not only was Balaam in segregative self-isolation and pride; not only was he adamant and stubborn to God and mortals who thought differently from him, he was also an angry man.  His behaviour when his donkey surprisingly spoke in a human voice and tried to draw attention to the danger ahead of him, opened up something about the temperament of that prophet: “and BALAAM’S ANGER was kindled” (Numbers 22:27).  Any other normal person might have been shocked and awed to their penitent bones by such a spectacle, but not the proud mad prophet.  He was not just alone, he was incorrigible, proud, and temperamentally dangerous.  Nobody could advise him without the risk of being severely beaten, as he did his long-faithful driver-donkey.  He trashed it over and over, then threatened the life of the donkey with a sword, if only he had had one.  He meant it.  Maybe he also loved the sight of blood (Numbers 22:27-30).  How might he have made the rest of the long international journey if he killed that donkey on the way?  Well, there is little place for reason when anger meets madness in the isolated life of an incorrigible proud princely preacher.

It is strange how that donkey managed to have stayed with that boss for so many years.  Such people don’t retain true friends, only sycophant praise singers, who stay around for what they get.  In Balaam’s sober thereafter, did he return to apologise to the abused donkey that saved his life?  No.  Proud people apologise to nobody.  They take apologies, or even demand it.  They don’t give it.

From The Preacher’s diary,
January 18, 2023.
(to be continued) 

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