Thursday, December 03, 2009

"The 'Madness' of the Prophet"

"The 'Madness' of the Prophet"

Our lesson this week refers to the "madness" of Balaam. It is appropriate that the word "madness" is in quotes. From a worldly standpoint, he was not mad in the sense of angry or insane, he was clever and shrewd.

Though not an Israelite, God favored Balaam with direct communication. Balaam probably earned or enhanced his income by his reputation as a prophet. He must have seemed a pretty smooth operator, at least until his untimely death. Technically, he complied with God's instruction not to curse Israel. His pious protestations that he could only speak the word of God resulted in Balak upping the ante, thinking Balaam was stalling for more money.

If Balaam was truly loyal to God, he could have assured Balak that God had told Moses not to bother Moab or Ammon, both relatives of Israel through Lot's daughters. But, greed was taking over.

The miraculous experience with his donkey makes it incredulous that Balaam continued his journey to the Moabite king. But, the promise of wealth was too much. What a show he made, seven altars, seven sacrifices, the retreat to a "high" place to communicate directly with God. All was calculated to impress the watching Moabites, though it might have been more of a ploy for time. Balaam must have been hoping to concoct a curse that was acceptable to both sides, just tough enough to impress Balak, but vague enough to get around God's instruction. How silly to think God can be fooled.

Given the many remarkable aspects of this story, the most curious is the gullibility of the Israelites. Balaam suggested that the Moabites begin a campaign to entice Israel into idolatry to their gods, Baal and Ashtaroth. Why Israel fell for this is beyond comprehension. It must be remembered that Moses wrote the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, where this story is recorded. He was alive during this episode. He must have reminded Israel that God had promised to deliver the land to them, so concern about animosity from the locals was unfounded. The golden calf debacle was fixed in their recent history. They should have understood the dangers of idolatry. Why did they fall for a clumsy counterfeit?

The answers must be blamed on both Israel and Balaam. Balaam was the worst kind of deceiver. Posing as a pious man of God, he had authority to bring Israel what we might term "new light." The implication is that they were being exclusive in accepting only that light which came from God's messengers. Just imagine the arguments: "We need to mix with Moab, to make friends in the name of 'friendship evangelism.'" "We need to dialogue with them, hear their understanding of various doctrinal points, exchange thought papers even on clear points of theology, just in case they have light for us. After all, Balaam does receive communication from our God." "We need to minimize the more controversial aspects of our faith, avoid hot button words." Poor Moses, at the end of his career and life, his job just got harder.

Why was Israel so receptive to the ploys of the Moabites? Could it be that they were slightly embarrassed at being such a "peculiar" people? After all, no one else believed as they did. What harm is there in just opening a dialogue? Even though God had tenderly cared for them, working miracle after miracle for years, they kept remembering the "good old days;" familiar things, not to them, but to their parents in Egypt. They were "worshipping" their own ideas, not the direct instructions from God. This is why Jude 11 connects Balaam with Cain and Korah. Suffering from greed, idolatry, and pride, no wonder they refused the warnings of Moses.

This spirit is still present. We have only to look at the history of our church and the special message God gave to us through Jones and Waggoner. As they were publishing their articles in the Signs of the Times in the 1880's,opposition was being published in the Review and Herald. By the time of the General Conference session in 1888, many minds were probably closed, even when the acknowledged servant of the Lord urged acceptance.

Truth is always a two edged sword, it cuts both ways. There will always be opposition by some to the truth when it flies in the face of their experience.

"Here is where we have met the greatest difficulties in religious matters. The plainest facts may be presented, the clearest truths, sustained by the word of God, may be brought before the mind; but the ear and the heart are closed, and the all-convincing argument is, 'my experience.' Some will say, 'The Lord has blessed me in believing and doing as I have; therefore I cannot be in error.' 'My experience' is clung to, and the most elevating, sanctifying truths of the Bible are rejected" (The Bible Echo, Dec. 19, 1904).

Those of us privileged to hear and study this "most precious message" naturally want to share it as much as possible. When the message is presented to folks who have a different experience, there can be disapproval, opposition, and, frequently, advice on how to present "the message" in a more palatable manner. While the Lord will always give kind and gracious ways to present the truth, we can never become inadvertent Balaams by distorting, omitting, or watering down truth to garner favor and gain. We may not be satisfied with what we see as lack of progress in spreading the truth, but that is not our problem. We are to preach the Word, the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction to hearts.

--Arlene Hill