Balaam, at least the Balaam that appears in Numbers, has become something of a spiritual hero for me. Elsewhere in scripture Balaam is condemned as one who tried to curse Israel, but whose curse was turned by God into a blessing. In Numbers, Balaam is portrayed as one of integrity. Who he understood God to be is unclear. Certainly it was not Jahweh. What is clear is that he would accept no payment nor offer any prophecy except that which the Lord gave to him. It must have been hard to stand before the king backed up by his army and say, not once but several times, Tough luck your majesty, but God has blessed these people and there is nothing you or I can do about it.
Balaam’s integrity as a holy person is worthy in and of itself, even if he did not know the God whom he faithfully served. As a Christian I believe that God’s self revelation to humanity is progressively recorded in the words of Holy Scripture, and is most fully and truthfully revealed in Christ Jesus as we know him in the gospel records. That does not stop me from considering that God may be speaking to and through persons of integrity who do not share my faith or understanding of who God is.
Balaam’s courage to be faithful to God’s message is astounding. Fail to do as the king orders and it’s off with your head. Not many of us are likely to lose our heads, but how often has a major donor or influential member threatened to do some sort of damage if the pastor doesn’t toe the line? One pastor, whom I know well, has lamented that he often felt constrained in his preaching for fear of offending powerful members of his congregation. I imagine that is not all that unusual, and I regret those times when I also failed to be bold in proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ.
The Balaam of Numbers has much to teach us, but his mention in 2 Peter 2:16 (KJV) also has its uses. A friend of mine used to mutter a portion of it under his breath during vestry meetings: Behold “…a dumb ass speaking with a man’s voice…”
So here’s to Balaam, and here’s to his ass. May there be more such as they.