The story of Balaam is, in a word, unbelievable. If it weren’t scripture, I’d call it a fable reminiscent of Aesop. But as scripture, it is God’s Word and so true in all it teaches. And it teaches a lot.
It’s amazing to me that God is working for my benefit in ways I don’t and will never know. The story of Balaam feels like one of those stand-alone television episodes that takes a break from the regular story line to fill in the larger picture. Here, God’s people are fighting their way to the Promised Land, and so each episode is another battle, or a time of grumbling against God and Moses, or the death of a major character. But with Balaam, we get a whole story that happens without the Israelite’s knowledge. God does this all the time and throughout time for us, and we don’t even know it. Calling God to account for ignoring our pleas only reveals our ignorance of God’s activity throughout history.
It’s amazing to me that the bible teaches a number of times that Satan is subject to, and occasionally even used by, God. We get the “subject to” part quite easily, for we proclaim that ALL is subject to God. But “used by”? In Job 1 and 2, the earliest writings of our scripture predating even the writing of Genesis, we find Satan standing before God and clearly subject to Him. But it is here that we find Satan sent by God, for the angel that stands in the path to kill Balaam is named “Satan”, the Adversary, but called “an angel of the Lord”. I don’t know whether it confuses you to think in these terms, but it comforts me. The very worst existence has to offer, Satan himself, is subject to a God who loves us deeply.
It is amazing to me that things like prophecy, divination, blesses, and curses are effective throughout this story. Balaam seeks God through divination the first two times, but then gets to know God and so doesn’t bother for the rest of the messages. For these, the Holy Spirit comes upon him and He prophecies destruction for Israel’s enemies, victory of Israel, and even foretells the coming of the Messiah.
This story is amazing, and one we should teach more, for it’s lessons are powerful, encouraging, and important for God’s people today.