Did God tell Balaam to do evil?

Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle

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Question: Numbers 22:12 God tells Balaam “do not go with them” then in vs. 20 God says, “You can go with them.” But once God does give the okay, why does He hinder and block the travel by sending the Angel?

Answer: This is a figure of speech, in this case irony on God’s part to convey the opposite of what he means. Other examples are Genesis 3:22, “The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” It is apparent that this was Adam’s desire but that he did not become like one of the Godhead and did not know good and evil the way God does, but in a fallen, captive way. Judges 10:14 has God saying to Israel, “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble,” though, obviously, He does not believe there are such gods or that they can save Israel.

Balaam knew he was not to go and curse Israel. Yet he was being offered a great deal of money if he would. He wanted the money (2 Peter 2:15) so he was willing to hear God’s ironic statement as the permission he desperately desired. He knew better in his heart but was willing to rebel against what his conscience told him and go anyway. Despite his best efforts at cursing Israel, he couldn’t. So he figured out that if the women of Moab sexually tempted the men of Israel, and they succumbed, Israel would incur God’s wrath (Revelation 2:14). That was the advice he gave to Balak, king of Moab and it worked, in part. He later paid for his disobedience with his life (Numbers 31:8)

We are much like Balaam when we look for ways to justify what we’re doing, even distorting the Word of God in our efforts.

Randall Johnson

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