In my last blog post, we began with the story of Balaam and Balak, a story that takes three full chapters of Numbers (22,23,24) in the telling. And we see from its timing, structure, and style that it is almost certainly an embellished account of an actual happening; an account of a very real event that gained legend status among the Hebrews and it’s all intended to get across some important theological principles.
Let me be clear when I say an embellished account: this is NOT a fairy tale nor does it come from someone’s imagination. But it does have elements added to make the telling of the story memorable and thus more easily transmitted mouth to ear. We might say that is has a “folk theme.”
The thing that we must keep in mind is that only in two places in the Bible do animals ever receive a voice:
- The serpent in Genesis and
- The donkey in the book of Numbers.
And the two figures could not be more different in their nature. The serpent was Satan himself and was no ordinary creature or run of the mill snake that had become possessed by the evil one.
Rather it is made clear that this serpent of Genesis was an entirely unique being, and that no creature of the field was the equal of the Satanic serpent.
Balaam’s donkey, on the other hand, had no such spiritual connection or status, nor was it the product of a special divine creation. It was simply an ordinary donkey that is said to have spoken, and Balaam didn’t seem all that impressed or surprised by it.
I maintain that this is one of the key elements of the story that helps us to recognize that over time the actual historical events involving Balaam and Balak and Israel became exaggerated and eventually succumbed to the regular Middle Eastern use of talking animals commonly used in their tales and traditions.
In other words, this is yet another type (of the many kinds) of literary devices employed in the Bible, but one that we are to recognize as theologically based Hebrew fable just as the Hebrews do. What I’m telling you about the nature of this story is not controversial; ancient and modern Bible scholars are in general agreement on this matter.
In this narrative, Balak is the current King of Moab and Balaam is a gentile diviner and prophet who lives in western Mesopotamia, in a place that is right on the border between modern-day Syria and Turkey, alongside the mighty Euphrates River.
King Balak has 3 million Israelites on the doorstep to his territory, and he is worried that his army might not be able to defend his kingdom if Israel’s intentions are hostile. So Balak does a very usual and ordinary thing for that era: he hires a professional sorcerer to help him out.
The key to victory (Balak believes) is to get the gods to side with Balak and Moab and to fight against Israel. In Biblical terms, Balak wants to have someone put a curse on Israel so that they can be defeated. The king’s choice to curse Israel for him is a familiar seer named Balaam, a gun for hire.
While this story is less historical and more of a Hebrew fable in its style, the amount of theology and prophecy it contains is astonishing. As we’re going to see it has wondrous Messianic overtones to it that are undeniable, as well.
Perhaps the leading principle that we first uncovered in our last lesson was this (and it’s a critical one): being inspired by God to prophesy for Him does NOT mean that one has a righteous standing before the Lord.
God has used pagan kings and prophets to achieve His will in the past, and He will be again. Yehoveh has made direct contact with heathens and instructed them to say or do something, and they have obeyed. They are neither redeemed (saved) nor have they been declared to have right standing with Yehoveh.
What this means is that a man who is a false prophet can, at times, be accurate. He can, at times, BY GOD HIMSELF be given a vision of the future so that the Lord achieves some inscrutable purpose known only to Him.
In some ways, this makes it all the harder for a Believer to judge just who is a man of God, versus who is a man who walks apart from God yet outwardly seems to be in fellowship with Him.
I wish I could give you a nice checklist of just how to make that determination, but I’m in the same boat with all other Believers. And this means that I (and you) need to study ALL of God’s Word to be able to recognize God’s pure ways, versus other ways that only mimic His ways to a degree. And so that we can recognize His divinely authored patterns versus doctrines of men that use all the right buzzwords and give us nice warm feelings.
Remember: we’re told that Satan (the evilest being in existence) can disguise himself as an angel of light. Therefore a person can be so deceived that they honestly believe that God anoints them when in fact they are being used as a counterfeit tool by the Evil One (or more likely they have followed their internal evil inclination).
So just because a person says all the right things and claims to be speaking for the Lord, don’t just assume that he or she is.
Here’s the test for a person who claims to be a prophet of Yehoveh: if they are EVER wrong, they’re not God’s prophets.
When I use Prophet in this sense, I mean someone who is predicting an event that has not yet happened or foretelling the future. A Prophet in this sense is also someone who says that the Lord came to them and gave them a word for you.
Today (and at times in the New Testament) the term prophet is used in a sense as just meaning a teacher of Holy Scripture (and believe me anyone who teaches is going to make mistakes from time to time).
But the Biblical Prophet (particularly the OT type of Prophet) is a seer, one who is in right standing with the Lord, and one who “sees” because he has been given a message directly from God. Therefore that message cannot possibly be in error.
Now with this understanding, we are going to stop here, or this blog post would be way too long. We will continue with the story in my next blog post.
Have A Blessed Day!