The Case of Balaam

Brethren Lipscomb and Sewell: In Numbers 22:20-22 we read, “And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do. And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him.”

Now, if the above is true, what assurance have we of being blessed in doing what God tells us to do? You may say that he did something that God did not tell him to do, but it seems that God’s anger was kindled for the simple act of his going. Please answer in the Gospel Advocate.


This case of Balaam is precisely a similar one to that of the Israelites desiring a king to rule over them in the days of Samuel, the prophet, as recorded in I Samuel 8. Here they wished something contrary to the provisions he had made. He decreed they should have it as a punishment for dissatisfaction with his will. He gave the king, accompanied with the warning as to the evils that should follow.

Balaam gave a sort of obedience to God, but would not accept God’s decree as a finality, and showed his anxiety to go contrary to God’s will by coming to God to see if he would not change this decision. God, provoked at the disposition to rebel and the seeking God to change his mind and decree, did change it, and gave the command – or, rather, permission – for him to go. He did it under circumstances that Balaam ought to have understood that it was left him to rebel against God if he desired. And the going now against the refusal of God was an indication of his anxiety to go contrary to the word of God. When he did this, God’s anger was kindled against him.

It is a principle clearly laid down in the Bible that when men do not wish to obey God’s commands out of pure reverence for his authority, God permits them to go the way they love. They usually satisfy their consciences and think they do God’s service; yet the course they follow only leads to their destruction as a punishment for dissatisfaction with his will. Here he told Balaam not to go. Balaam returned to him, asking if he might not go, or to see if he would not change his mind. God, provoked at this dissatisfaction, told him to go; but when he went, God’s anger was kindled against him to his destruction.

The only difference between this case and that in I Samuel 8 is, here the permission to go, contrary to the expressed will of God, is given without the warning of the results, as was in that case. The reason of this difference may be found in the fact that Balaam was a prophet and less excusable in his course than these uninspired people. It is an admonition to us that we should take God at his word without preferences of our own. If we desire other ways, he will let us follow them to our ruin.

David Lipscomb


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