Indigenous people groups have their own gods. Balak, the king of the Moabites, terrified of the Israelites, bands together with Midianites and calls for a famous diviner, Balaam, to come and curse the Israelites. He knows that he and the god of his people are not up to the challenge.
Balaam understands "that a people's own god had the greatest power over them for bad or good, Balaam attempted to establish contact with Israel's God." Imagine his surprise when God does speaks to him, "You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed" (Numbers 22:12). Driven by personal greed, however, Balaam ignores the counsel of God and continues his conversation with Balak. Balaam will gain nothing by refusing to curse Israel, but cursing Israel promises great wealth. Balaam thinks that he can manipulate Israel's God to do his bidding.
Balaam's donkey displays more discernment than its master when the angel of the Lord God prevents it from going forward. Balaam, used to demonic manifestations, apparently isn"t surprised when the donkey speaks to him (though this time it isn"t demonic).
With a bit of drama and overkill, Balaam builds seven altars and offers seven bulls and seven rams (on three occasions) in hopes that the God of Israel will speak to him. Balaam cannot manipulate God to curse the Israelites; instead, God manipulates Balaam rather to bless them. Through Balaam God also speaks about the coming Redeemer—"I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult" (24:17)—as well as future events— "Amalek was first among the nations, but shall be last until he perishes" (24:20).
The question naturally arises—How can a holy God use a pagan diviner, a man who "loves the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Peter 2:15)?
In times past God revealed Himself to Abimelech, king of Gerar, to prevent him from taking Sarah as his wife (Gen. 20:6-7). He spoke to Pharaoh in dreams (Gen. 41:25). Later, he speaks to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, through dreams and visions (Daniel 4). It is Nebuchadnezzar who declares God's sovereignty over pagans:
"For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the dart are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?"" (Daniel 4:34-35).
God's speaking to a person doesn"t always mean that God has a covenantal relationship with that person; all of His encounters, however, do show His care for His covenantal people, even when He addresses unbelievers.
What is Balaam's primary motivation for entertaining Balak's offer?
What do both Balak and Balaam come to understand about God and His people through this event?
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