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Choose This, Not That

Choose This, Not That – What part of ‘No’ do you not understand? (Numbers 22:15-19)

Today’s Reading: Numbers 21-22

Today’s Reflection: Numbers 22:15-19

15) Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. 16) And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, 17) for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.'” 18) But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more. 19) So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the LORD will say to me.”

This text is at the heart of one of the more colourful and interesting stories in scripture.  Fearing the advance of the nation of Israel, Balak, king of Moab, decides to pay a prophet (who he would have seen as a wizard or magician of sorts) to curse them.  What he doesn’t realize is that the prophet, Balaam, serves the same God Israel serves.  When the princes of Moab make their petition to Balaam, he in turn takes the request to God.  God reveals to Balaam that Israel are a people blessed by Him, that they are not to be cursed, and that Balaam should not go with the princes of Moab.  Balaam gives Balak’s men his answer and refuses to return to Moab with them.  End of story, right?

No, Balak sends more princes, and more highly esteemed ones, along with greater promises of wealth and honour.  Well it’s the same request and the same circumstances so Balaam should give these princes of Moab the same answer, right?  Not exactly, as you can see from the text above.  This time God does tell Balaam to go to Moab, and only to do what He tells Balaam to do (verse 20), but just two verses later the Bible says God was angry with Balaam for going (verse 22).  This seems confusing at first glance, but ask yourself why did Balaam go to Moab?  Be sure to read the rest of the story, which progresses in odd and unexpected ways (Numbers 22:22 – 24:25) but for now we’ll examine two points about obedience.

1) God’s Word is not conditional.  What had changed between Balak’s two requests?  Was Israel suddenly not God’s blessed people?   Did God change His mind about having his chosen people cursed?  Obviously, no to both.  But the reward offered to Balaam had changed and the stakes had been raised enough for him to change God’s clear ‘No’ to his own ‘Probably not, but let me ask again.’

We must remember obedience is not a conditional matter.  Lying or stealing don’t become more acceptable based on the circumstances (they may be more understandable, but not more acceptable).  And we can’t discard God’s answer to our prayers if its one we don’t like or find inconvenient.

2) Free will is a learning exercise.  God hadn’t just told Balaam not to curse Israel.  He had taken great care to explain who they were and why he should not curse them.  After having this understanding, when Balaam was asked again he ought to have known well enough to clearly say no once more.  Allowing Balaam the freedom to go to Moab was a test.  Balaam’s decision to go showed that his heart was not fully devoted to serving God.

From the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden, to each of us today, God allows us freedom to choose what to do.  This freedom is itself a test, an opportunity for us to learn how to choose what is right.  This freedom also allows God to show us where we still need to learn when we choose wrong.

Choose This:  Completely obeying God’s Word when it is clearly given

Not That:  Second guessing or disregarding God’s instruction due to selfish concerns

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