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A Language Barrier pt. 1

Numbers 22:20-22
And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.

God’s anger toward Balaam for obeying His exact word is so blatantly contradictory both to His character and His expressed desire for our obedience, that a literal interpretation of Numbers 22:20-22 is literally impossible. I don’t write that just to be clever; I write that because it’s the fact. Consider how ludicrous the hermeneutical options are when taken only to the letter. The first interpretation is this: God tells Balaam to go with the men; Balaam obeys God’s command; God changes His mind in the middle of the night without telling Balaam and then gets angry when Balaam doesn’t read His Mind. The second is even less sensical: God was being passive-aggressive initially when telling Balaam to go with the men; He really wanted Balaam to do the opposite of what He said; thus He got mad at Balaam for obeying His words.

Scripture clearly teaches that God is immutable and doesn’t change His mind. In fact, even Balaam will reiterate this truth two chapters later in his first oracle to king Balak. Further, we’d be downright foolish to think that God shares the worst of our human nature—that He’s petty like us. Does the God of the universe play middle-schoolish, passive-aggressive mind-games with His people?! Does He expect us to do the opposite of what He says?! Of course not! So, the question from this bizarre exchange in Numbers 22:20-22 remains: if God hasn’t changed His mind overnight, and if He hasn’t expected Balaam to do the opposite of what He commanded, then what’s really going on between the lines?

We’ll dive more into that mystery tomorrow, friend, but let me leave you with this simple application for the meantime: faith always steps forward on the basis of God’s wisdom, not ours. So lean on His wisdom today, even if Providence fills you with more questions than answers.