As I read the story of Balaam, I was intrigued because God seems to contradict Himself. Balak, king of Moab, is worried because a huge, homeless nation (Israel) is wandering in his kingdom’s direction. Balak concludes that Israel wants to claim his land, so he sends Moabite officials to persuade the prophet Balaam to aid him. He wants Balaam to curse the already blessed Israel nation.
The king offers Balaam a lot of money to come to him, but at first God would not allow Balaam to go. The king then sends more officials and money, and God tells him that he can go: “That night God came to Balaam and told him, ‘Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do'” (Numbers 22.20 NLT).
The very next morning Balaam gets up to go with the men, but two verses later God (so it seems) contradicts Himself: “But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way” (Numbers 22.22a).
Balaam does not have his eyes set on God, but the poor donkey he’s riding does. God sends the Angel of the Lord to confront Balaam. Three times the donkey stops before stepping into slicing distance of the angel’s sword; and each time the donkey goes off course, Balaam beats it. Finally, God miraculously gives the donkey the ability to speak.
The donkey asks, “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” (28b).
What is Balaam’s reply? “You have made me look like a fool!” (29). This is a good signifier that something is wrong with Balaam’s motives.
God then opens Balaam’s eyes, and he sees the Angel of the Lord. The Angel tells him, “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say” (35).
So in all, God tells Balaam to go with the officials twice and not to go with them twice. What is going on? It all comes down to motive. God sees sin before it manifests itself into the physical world. God wants Balaam to go with these men, but Balaam’s heart isn’t right. 1) He doesn’t have his eyes on God. He is unable to sense the presence of the Lord even though his donkey does. 2) He worries about what others think more than what God thinks. He yells at his donkey for making him look like a fool in front of the officials. 3) He isn’t planning on being obedient to God. The Angel of the Lord has to remind him to say only what God wants him to say. A reminder isn’t necessary if Balaam is intending to be obedient.
What I learned from this story is this: We can’t just be obedient to God in the physical world; we must also be obedient in the spiritual world. God dwells in the Spirit, and He sees the motives of our hearts. We can go to church, read our Bible and talk about spiritual things; but if our eyes are not on God, if our focus is on other people’s opinions, and if our souls are not obedient to the daily movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will not be able to move on the paths of righteousness He has set for us (Psalm 23.3 NASB).
I believe that God wants to pull out every root of selfish motive (especially the small ones), before we enter into a promised land that He has for us. Even though that root might not be visible to us now, it will grow and start affecting our lives in apparent ways. God has great plans for us, but He might be placing Himself in our way for a reason. He may be protecting us from our ugly motives we haven’t even discovered.
The only way we can find out for sure if there is something wrong with our motives is to allow the Holy Spirit complete access to our souls — mind (thinking), will (actions) and heart (feelings). As Christians, God’s Spirit is in us, and He will bring to light any darkness He finds, exposing all our pretty, sugar-coated intentions.
We will not claim victory unless God fights for us; however, He will not fight for us if our motives are not pure. How do we know when our motives are pure? King Nebuchadnezzar said it best after he lost his throne and spent 7 years living like an animal in the wilderness.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?”
Once King Nebuchadnezzar understood the magnitude of God, his kingdom was restored. Our little lives are nothing compared to God. God is what makes our lives worthy, and He can do what He pleases. The mere fact that we have the choice to be obedient to His will is an honor. I pray that I can understand the expanse of who God is. If I truly knew Him, my motive would always be to glorify Him.
* Another example of motive contradiction is when the people of Israel were too afraid to occupy their Promise Land, even though God promised to be with them (Numbers 13 & 14). After they disobeyed God, they felt guilty about not going. A group decided to finally fight for their land, but it was too late. God did not go with them because their motives were wrong, and the people that went to fight were slaughtered. Their physical actions seemed right, but their motives were not pure. God had the nation of Israel wait 40 years before He reopened the path to the Promise Land, so that the selfish motives of that generation could die off (Deuteronomy 1.26-46).