MAY 13 — Numbers 22; Psalms 62—63; Isaiah 11—12; James 5
RECENTLY I WAS PHONED BY A MAN who told me he wanted to put me on a retainer as his private theologian. Then, when he phoned or wrote again, I would try to answer his questions.
I did not bother asking what figure he had in mind. Nor do I want to question his motives: he may well have meant to help me or even honor me, or simply to pay his way. But knowing how easily my own motives can be corrupted, I told him that I could not possibly enter into that sort of arrangement with him. Preachers should not see themselves as being paid for what they do. Rather, they are supported by the people of God so that they are free to serve. If he wrote or called and asked questions, I would happily do my best to answer, using the criteria I use for whether or not I answer the countless numbers of questions I receive each year.
Numbers 22 begins the account of Balaam. His checkered life teaches us much, but the lesson that stands out in this first chapter is how dangerous it is for a preacher, or a prophet, to sacrifice independence on the altar of material prosperity. Sooner or later a love of money will corrupt ministry.
That Balaam was a prophet of God shows that there were still people around who retained some genuine knowledge of the one true God. The call of Abraham and the rise of the Israelite nation do not mean that there were no others who knew the one sovereign Creator: witness Melchizedek (Gen. 14). Moreover, Balaam clearly enjoyed some powerful prophetic gift: on occasion he spoke genuine oracles from God. He knew enough about this mysterious gift to grasp that it could not be turned on and off, and that if he was transmitting a genuine oracle he himself could not control its content. He could speak only what God gave him to say.
But that did not stop him from lusting after Balak’s offer of money. Balak saw Balaam as some sort of semi-magical character akin to a voodoo practitioner, someone to come and put a curse on the hated Israelites. God unambiguously forbids Balaam to go with Balak, for he has blessed the people Balak wants cursed. Balaam nags God; God relents and lets Balaam go, but only on condition that he does only what God tells him (22:20). At the same time, God stands against Balaam in judgment, for his going is driven by a greedy heart. Only the miraculous incident with the donkey instills sufficient fear in him that he will indeed guard his tongue (22:32-38).
Never stoop to become a peddler of the Word of God.