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The Fall of Balaam

Numbers 31:7-8
They warred against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.

It isn’t the fact that God Himself commanded this Midianite massacre that troubles me most, nor even that every husband and father in the land is killed, but rather it’s the sight of yet another promising, once stalwart saint biting the dust. Remember Balaam? He was the very Midianite prophet who spoke God’s truth even in the face of extravagant bribery from elites, but, evidently, as we learn in Numbers 31:16, he later counseled the Midianite women to commit idolatrous liaisons with Israeli men, which is a tragic stain on what could’ve been a pristine prophetic record.

Balaam’s introduction into the biblical narrative back in Numbers 22 was a breath of fresh air against the backdrop of Israel’s unfaithfulness. In fact, his resiliency of faith towered over the faithlessness of those ten tribal elders who were sent as spies into Canaan and came back with a disparaging word. Even the elders of Israel couldn’t muster a granule of faith in a God Who’d already delivered them from Egyptian captivity, but this Midianite prophet in the back hills was full of faith. That’s why I find his death so tragic here. So infuriating. So confusing. When and why did he fall away from God? What temptation lured him to compromise his trust? What gift or promotion or flattering word from some elite did he let taint his fealty to the Father? Oh no—what if it’s the same sort that’s tugging at you and me right now?!

The Bible’s pages are all made of glass. They’re windows into the lives of our predecessors and mirrors into our own hearts. The further we gaze, the more our eyes burn and our hearts palpitate and our knees buckle with woe for ourselves. For we’re just like Balaam, aren’t we? We’re saints whose biographies are full of great triumphs as well as great failures.

Be astonished today, friend, not that the sword of divine justice has fallen on the heads of these rebels, but by the wonder that it hasn’t fallen on your own.