When God speaks, we should listen. When God asks a question, we should pay close attention. Maybe we can learn from the questions He asks to others. God had an interesting question for Balaam in Numbers 22. As the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness waiting for permission to enter the Promised Land, the Moabites began to get nervous. They were worried that this huge group of wandering immigrants were going to destroy the land. Balak, king of Moab, sent messengers to a famous diviner named Balaam. Balaam was about three hundred miles away. Balaam’s reputation was great. Balak asked Balaam to come and curse the Israelites for a fee. To Balaam’s credit, he told the messengers they would have to stay overnight and wait for him to ask the Lord for permission.
The Lord came to Balaam with a question, “Who are these men with you?” (Numbers 22:9 NASU) Balaam answered truthfully. The Lord told Balaam not to curse the Israelites because they were blessed. Wisely, Balaam obeyed the Lord. Balak’s messengers returned home without Balaam, telling Balak that Balaam had refused. Balak sent more important messengers to Balaam with a promise of a large fee if he would curse the Israelites. Balaam again refused just like the Lord told him to. Balaam inquired of the Lord once again and this time the Lord told him to go, but to listen and obey as further instructions came from the Lord.
Balaam went, and the Bible says that God was very angry with him. That seems puzzling. Was there secret greed in Balaam’s heart? Was there a secret desire in Balaam’s heart to hurt God’s chosen people? Or could the answer be related to God’s initial question, “Who are these men with you?” Obviously, the Spirit of God was upon Balaam or he would not have been widely respected as a prophet and he would not have been speaking with the Lord on a daily basis. Given that he had the Holy Spirit with him, he should have been able to discern who the enemy of God’s people was. Shouldn’t we who have the Holy Spirit living in us be able to do the same?
2 Peter 2 provides some additional insight. The chapter begins with a strong description of and warning against false teachers and false prophets.
2 Peter 2:13-16 states, “They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.”
(NASU) The condemnation of Balaam and the warning to us involves “the wages of unrighteousness”. Evidently the problem was in the heart of Balaam. He valued wealth over doing what was right. Greed is a strong temptation in the hearts of most men. God provided a way out of the temptation for Balaam, but he did not accept the help. In spite of God’s unusual method of warning to Balaam, he must have never recovered from this sickness of greed. Numbers 25 and 31 report that Balaam later helped the Moabites to entice the Israelites into sexual immorality. This is a sobering warning for all of us. Greed is a powerful force and we ought to heed God’s warning against the strong temptation of greed.