Summary: Most of us have good intentions about serving God. But when it comes to sin and the subject of obedience, good intentions don’t cut it.
TEXT: Numbers 22:1-38 (READ)
INTRO: How many of you would agree with me that God’s ways are best? OK…How many of you that agree God’s ways are best can also say with me that knowing God’s ways are best hasn’t always meant you chose God’s way over your own way? (Even tho you would admit God’s way was best, you chose your own way anyway.) There’s a BIG difference between "saying" and "doing"?
Most of us have good intentions about serving God. But when it comes to sin and the subject of obedience, good intentions don’t cut it. Someone once said, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." This story is about a semi-religious man who had some good intentions but poor follow-through. He had one foot in religion and one foot in the world. He reminds me of Paul’s prophetic description of those who will be living in the last days,
2 Tim 3:5 - "…having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them."
A little background info on Balaam is crucial to your understanding of "the rest of the story." The more you know about him, the more insight it will give you concerning why he made the decisions he made and why God dealt with him the way he did. Let me give you his brief bio:
Balaam was not a Jew. He was a foreigner from Mesopotamia. As a boy, when I read/heard this story, I figured Balaam was a righteous man. That isn’t true. Many people in his day considered him a prophet, but he was not. At least not in the Biblical sense. He was a sorcerer. A sort of Far Eastern "witch doctor." Someone called upon to place curses on people. Religion was his business, not his life-style. Belief in curses and blessings was common in OT times. Sorcerers were thought to have power with the gods. So the king of Moab wanted Balaam to use his powers with the God of Israel to place a curse on Israel - hoping that, by magic, God would turn against His people. Obviously, neither Balaam nor Balak had any idea who they were dealing with!
Interestingly enough, Balaam was willing to acknowledge that Jehovah (the God of the Israelites) was indeed a powerful God. But he did not believe He was the only true God. His story exposes the deception of maintaining an outward facade of spirituality over a corrupt inward life. Balaam was ready to obey God’s command as long as he could profit from doing so. (Does any of this sound familiar to you?) Although he realized the awesome power of Israel’s God, his heart was occupied with the wealth he could gain in Moab. Reading this story by itself might lead us to believe he turned completely to God, but later passages in the Bible show that Balaam couldn’t resist the tempting pull of money and idolatry. This mixture of motives - obedience and profit - eventually led to Balaam’s death.
"...having a form of godliness but denying its power..." That was Balaam. So close, yet so far away. He had some knowledge of God, but not enough to forsake his magic and turn wholeheartedly to God. He knew God’s way was the best way, but he had his own agenda. One other thing about Balaam before we move on. If you’re like me, you might read this story and scratch your head wondering why God would speak through or use a sorcerer like Balaam. Here’s why: