Bible reading for May 13.
"So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab." (Numbers 22:21)
THE ENIGMA OF BALAAM. By the enigma I do not mean Balaam's donkey that spoke. That's plainly a miracle, and I can't explain the dynamics of how an animal with donkey vocal chords can communicate by talking. After all, we do have the case of the serpent in Gen 3 communicating with the woman. I believe that it happened in the way it is recorded in the inspired account, and is historical, and I take it by faith. After all, I do believe that God spoke the universe into existence and that his Son rose from the dead on the third day, so I don't have a problem with the report of miracles. No problem with the donkey.
THE PROBLEM I have is the same one that we face in the Bible not only with Balaam, but also with King Saul (1 Sam 11:6; 16:14), Judas (John 6:70; 13:2), and Simon the Magician (Acts 8:9-24). How can people who appear to believe, to be sincere about serving God, and who display the power of God's Spirit -- how can they be so wrongly related to God, even from the beginning? Why were they not changed? Why were they chosen in the first place?
THE SPIRIT OF GOD came upon Balaam (Num 24:1-2) and he seemed to want to please the Lord. He appears to be sincere in communicating the truth of God. But, here's one observation right off: he seemed interested in money and prestige. His continued seeking of God for the sake of Moab appears to have been motivated by the honor and wealth he would receive from Moabite rulers (22:17; cf 2 Pet 2:15). In this he appears to be like King Saul, Judas, and Simon Magus -- in it for the wrong reasons, that is, to be noticed, esteemed, to gain position, power, and wealth. Also, Balaam never gave up being a diviner, nor did he change allegiance (Moab and Midian) to become a friend of Israel (Deut 23:4-5; Josh 24:9-10). In fact the Scripture tells us that he even counseled the leaders of Moab on a more seductive way to defeat Israel (Num 31:16; Rev 2:14). He was not a friend of God or his people.
UNCHANGED. How can the Spirit work so mightily in or through someone and that person not be changed for the better? Jonathan Edwards, in the aftermath of the Great Awakening in colonial New England, had noticed that some people who had been dramatically and visibly affected by the awakening were not continuing in the faith, and some were living badly. He wrote The Religious Affections (1746) to address that concern, and one of his conclusions was that people might have a remarkable experience with the power of the Holy Spirit but remain spiritually (and morally) unchanged. They might be gifted but not regenerated. This conclusion is confirmed by the biblical characters just mentioned, and also by these sobering words of Jesus: "On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'" (Matt 7:22-23).
MANY WILL SAY. Note, Jesus said "many will say..." Not just a few. And they will call him "Lord". And the Lord Jesus does not dispute their mighty works, but says that he never knew them. Never. He does not say that he once knew them and then they fell away. Further, he says they are "workers of lawlessness". In other words, they did remarkable, even spiritual, things, but that a) they did not really have the personal relationship with the Lord that they thought they had, and b) their lives were not transformed from lawlessness to righteousness. It is possible to experience the power of the Spirit and not be regenerate (born again). This is a very sobering truth.
SEARCH ME, O GOD! We must ask ourselves, am I the real deal? Has the Holy Spirit changed me -- is he changing me -- to delight in his will, to turn away from sin, to pursue holiness, to be fully trusting and obedient for the Lord's sake? Am I living for his glory rather than for my own purposes? Is my religion, or spirituality, primarily motivated by a need to be seen, esteemed by others, or a way to achieve personal power or advancement? "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Ps 139:23-24)
"Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you." (Psalm 63:3)
GOD OUR REFUGE. In both of these psalms David expresses his confidence in the Lord. (And so we can, too!) There are many beautiful images here for the Lord and for trusting him: a rock and fortress, glory, refuge, water in a dry land, the sanctuary, rich food, the shadow of his wings, and his right hand which upholds. Note also the stark images of those who oppose the Lord: a mere breath, a delusion, the depths of the earth, given over to the power of the sword, and a portion for jackals. To have life is a gift from the Lord. But to be loved by the Lord with his covenantal kindness is better than life itself.
Image credit: Photo of donkey from Wikimedia Commons.
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson.
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.