As you probably know, the Bible is not like a textbook. The information is scattered. An illustration is Balaam (of Balaam and the talking donkey fame).
The basic story is in the book of Numbers. There are some puzzling statements in it:
- God told Balaam not to go with Balak’s people to curse the Israelites and he did not go (22:12).
- Then he was entreated again to curse the Israelites, with the promise of great reward. Balaam wavered and replied that he will find out what else the Lord will tell him (22:19). God told him to go with them (22:20).
- Balaam went, but God was very angry (22:22).
- God talked to Balaam through the donkey he was riding on. God told him he was on a reckless path (22:32). Balaam was willing to turn back, but God said he he must go, but speak only what God tells him (22:34,35).
If we read only Numbers 22, it is confusing and difficult to understand. However, references to Balaam from the other Bible books help to piece the whole episode together:
- There is a clue in 2 Peter 2:15, They [false teachers] have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam, son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. Balaam’s eyes glittered at the riches Balak promised him (Numbers 22:7,17). That is why he said he will find out ‘what else’ the Lord will tell him. He hoped there was a way around his dilemma to please God and earn good money. Jude 11 has the same theme, …they [godless men] have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error… Balaam was out to make a quick buck, but God was in the way.
- Balaam did deliver God’s message, but he gave ‘extra’ advice to Balak: the way to handle the threat of the Isrealites, was to get Israelite men to indulge in immorality with Moabite women. Then God’s wrath will come on the Israelites. In Revelation 2:14 we read, You have people who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.
- Balaam’s advice was effective, since we read in Numbers 25 what happened. The Moabite women seduced the Israelite men. In the subsequent plague as a result of their sin, 24,000 Israelites died by the hand of God.
- Why was God angry at Balaam? He wanted to protect Balaam from doing something that would cause his own ruin. Balaam’s advice cost the Israelites 24,000 people and he lost his life eventually. In Numbers 31:8 we read, They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
We only understand the narrative fully when we read all the relevant passages in the different books (a good concordance is a great help). This is the pattern in the Bible. The ‘information is scattered.’ It was designed that way by the Holy Spirit so that we will not only read a verse or two, but study and meditate on the Word. Then we will come to understand our Lord God Almighty and His Son, who opened the way for the Holy Spirit to sanctify God’s people and prepare us for eternal life.
Compare The myth of the talking snake.