Select Wisdom Brand

A Language Barrier pt. 2

Numbers 22:34-35
Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.”

Rather than confirming that Balaam really has done evil in the sight of the LORD here, the angel tells Balaam to continue on the same path, for exactly the same purpose, and, as far as we can tell, Balaam hasn’t had to change anything. So while it isn’t part of Balaam’s commission to turn back around and consider the course, it is part of ours as exegetes. Thus, I ask again: what’s the meaning of this perplexing exchange?

Perhaps a hint is given in the angel’s word ‘reckless’ from verse 32: “Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is reckless before me.” Maybe this is a clue into some unruly motiving hiding behind Balaam’s obedient action. Could it be—and this is only a speculation—that there was an ulterior motive in Balaam’s heart that hadn’t quite manifested in his outward motions? Maybe it was a thought that filtered through his mind as he rushed to pack his bags that morning and saddle his donkey. Maybe his resolve to speak truth to power regardless of the cost was interlaced with a desire to get something in return. Perhaps Balaam really did hold the conviction that obedience is better than a house full of silver and gold, but he hoped he could have both. Maybe the thought of that gold and silver glistened in his mind as he rolled around sleeplessly in bed all night, and maybe, just maybe, the reason he rushed out the door so quickly that morning wasn’t purely for the prophecy but partially for the paycheck.

Only God knows. It isn’t our place to cast judgements on Balaam from the silence. But it’s worth reflecting on the thought that God wants us to not only speak the truth, and apply the truth, but to yearn after the truth with a devout heart. For, according to Christ’s beatitude, it isn’t the pure in word or the pure in deed who see God, but the pure in heart.