The Madness of Balaam
What does it mean for one to have “madness”. In our modern, clinical world, we tend to equate madness with illness, something that is a disease or affliction that someone has through no control of their own. We consider an insanity as a just reason for someone to not be held accountable for their actions.
But is there a different definition of madness? One that isn’t inflicted upon, but chosen by the individual. Someone who is presented with full knowledge of repercussions, but chooses the foolish path. It would be considered madness for a parent to allow a young child to play in an area scattered with broken glass. In this case we would consider that an act of insanity, but not one that would receive any sympathy or relief of accountability.
It can almost be thought of as dual minded. On one hand, you are consciously aware of the right thing to do, and yet, you purposefully choose to do the wrong thing.
I bring this up because in 2 Peter 2:16 we read, “But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey–an animal without speech–who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness”.
I see this dual mindedness in Balaam. In one mind, he hears God’s voice. He knows to obey. No amount of money can change his pledge of obedience. In another mind, he chooses to commune with evil spirits, to practice divination and sorcery, to go for monetary gain to disobey God and speak against the Israelites. In his other mind, he can witness and angel and bow down in repentance and obedience.
Again, I am not presenting mental illness as an excuse for Balaam, but I do believe his actions (and God’s actions) speak to someone who was mad. Balaam clearly heard the explicit command of the voice of God. The one he (Balaam the obedient) had chosen to listen to and obey. And the very next morning he (Balaam the idolator) was who got up and saddled his donkey.
We see the wickedness in his outburst of anger. We see his separation from obedience to God in his blindness to the Angel of the Lord. It does not say God prevented him from seeing, it only says that God later opens his eyes after allowing the donkey to chastise him. It is clear that this is not the same minded Balaam who obeys God in 7 oracles of blessing (tomorrow’s lesson).
I don’t think God was angry with Balaam for asking repeatedly. Paul asked repeatedly to be allowed to witness to the Jews, and that door was repeatedly closed. God was not angry for Paul’s persistent prayer. I don’t think God was angry with Balaam for not waiting for the officials to come back to him to get him to leave as many commentators have stated. I understand scripturally how they make their argument based on the wording of what God says in Numbers 22: 20 “if” (the Hebrew word ‘im: Strongs H518 = if). But the English translation of that word depends entirely on the tense of the sentence: If the men come to you vs. if these men have come to you (i.e., since these men came to you). Since sentence tense is completely different between Hebrew and English this is why we see differences between bible versions from the KJV to NIV. I’m just not on the page that God was angry because he didn’t wait.
I think it is not only that he went, but what mind he was in when he left. The Balaam that left that morning wasn’t one bent on serving God, it was one seeking profit, power and prestige. It was one who knew what was right, but still had full intent, as he had done repeatedly in the past, to practice sorcery and divinition. God was angry because he (that Balaam) was who was seated on the donkey that day.
I also see this as different than falling into sin as we all as Christians often do. Balaam’s sin was not the result of temptation, it was the purposeful and direct choice to willfully not only reject God’s direct commandment, to reject God and attempt to put Him on the same level as demons and fiction. It is like going in to a test in school knowing all the right answers but purposefully choosing to select the wrong answers. This is a clearly spiteful act and contrasts decidedly from someone performing in error.
The amazing part to me wasn’t God’s anger or even the talking donkey, but the fact that God is so filled with love for His creation that he allows the level of choice that Balaam was executing. To hear the voice of God and purposefully choose to willfully reject Him and commune with the lowest minions of the devil. To sell your services of wickedness and curses. It must break God’s heart to see the depths to which his creation can fall, and, yet, He gave even Balaam, and even a donkey, a voice to speak His truth. We also see His love of Israel. That regardless of the wicked plots of earthly kings, no curse would befall them.
What an amazing God.
King of a terrified people, filled with dread, took action to call on Balaam
buy a curse on the Israelites, then fight them and hopefully defeat them and drive them out of the land
moved, met with, gave passage to, sought to know the God of Israel, invite Moses, repent
fight, conspire against, use power of others such as the courts, try to undermine. Some use diplomacy. Money to buy power or influence
No – Despite knowing the truth he chose to live a life attempting to put God and demons, the divine and divination on the same level.
Do not add to or subtract from God’s word. God’s word can be heard by both believers and non-believers. God is interested in the heart. God can say no to a believer in love and yes to a non-believer to bring both into a state of heart obedience
Taking greater caution to hear all of God’s message, not to add to or subtract from it as Balaam did to suit his own purposes. To put my belief in God, not just have a belief of God