Every four years we study the Old Testament during Sunday School in church. It’s a chance to refocus on stories in the book and discover ways the lessons in that book of scripture apply to our lives today. This is an opportunity to learn and progress. However, it’s amazing the human race has been going at the same life lessons over and over again. Traditions and customs may change but human nature tends to run the same cycle. One such example is found in Numbers 22-24. There is a sensational aspect of a talking donkey that tends to take the spotlight so I’m not going to mention it. Instead, I’m going to focus on Balaam the prophet of God who happened to be a fence sitter. That is the lesson here.
Balak the king of the Moabites watched the Israelites as they made their way through their promised land. Kingdoms fell before them. He did not want the same fate for his kingdom and understandably neither did his people. To protect his kingdom he called for Balaam the prophet to come to him. He offered great riches if Balaam would curse the Israelites so that he could prevail. But Balaam couldn’t do that because the people were God’s people. God would not let him curse Moab’s foes. Instead of letting it go at that, Balaam counseled Balak how to overcome the Israelites. To borrow some Star Wars’ lingo, he shared the secret weakness of the Death Star. It worked. Sort of. He gained the favor he wanted from Balak. But then it backfired because the Israelites killed him along with their enemies.
That’s a very short summary and it leaves out details. But here is the applicable lesson for me thousands of years later.
- Balaam focused on this life a little too much instead of the bigger picture. He wanted the reward and prestige of helping a king. His aim was to please an earthly king rather than His Heavenly King and in the end the reward he earned cost him his life. I typically do not have to face life and death situations. But I do have to choose what my focus will be placed on and if I’m looking at the bigger picture.
- Balaam followed the philosophy of “How little can I do?” instead of “how much can I do?” He did do as the Lord commanded him and blessed the Israelites. But then he followed it up with destructive counsel. When I follow the commandments do I do as little as possible so that I can say, yes, I did it. Is my heart in the matter? Am I trying to please God and the world at the same time?
- Balaam removed himself from safety when he chose to go with the princes to see the king. He could have stayed at home. Instead, he removed himself from his safe place and physical went where the temptation was even stronger. Do I foolishly think I’m strong enough to withstand temptation and place myself in situations where the lure is more difficult to resist? Do I think I can fight temptation when I am not on holy ground?
Talking donkey aside, there are many applicable lessons in this one little story. The Old Testament if full of little nuggets of treasure that speak and even warn us if we will only listen.