Lesson 10: Utter Madness
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” — 1 TImothy 6:10
Those who don’t have it yearn almost desperately after it.
Those who do have it allow their lives to be defined by it.
Yet, without it, none of us could survive in this world.
There are exceptions, yes, to where people are content, controlled, and responsible when it comes to money. But the Bible, more often than not, has some pretty sobering cautionary tales on this topic. The story of Balaam is one of those and it serves as a heavy reminder of how circumstances could develop that would cause someone so ‘good’ to stray so far off God’s path.
Balak, the king of Moab, walked to the edge of his balcony one day, gazed out, saw a multitude of Israelites camping in the plains of Moab “this side of Jordan, by Jericho,” and promptly freaked out. (Num. 22:1-3) Balak had no doubt heard about the recent conquests of this group of people. The stories of the battles and destruction of neighbors like the Amorites sent Balak into a panic. He was looking at sheer numbers, but he certainly must have known “Someone” was on their side. Perhaps he wasn’t in any immediate danger. Perhaps the Israelites were going to leave him alone. Perhaps he could have worked out a peaceful treaty. What we do know is that his panic reached a fever pitch and he set about finding a solution to his Jewish problem. Right now.
Fast forward to Balaam, sitting in his house, perhaps looking through sacred texts or just napping on the divan. Apparently, he wasn’t Jewish, but he still had a pretty direct connection with God. His reputation must have preceded him because Balak certainly knew who to call. And, we know the rest of the story. The good prophet, somewhere along the way, had turned corrupt and his desire for riches tampered with the common sense part of his brain. Despite saying words like, “I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more,” he obviously wanted a different outcome to present itself so that he could get a plum reward. (Num. 22:18)
Besides entering into a conversation with a donkey, Balaam appeared to be right there “with God” when he was humoring Balak and building altars all over mountains as preparations for the curses on Israel. What emerges from this story is not so much a fable about the evils of greed as the danger of trying to serve two masters. At this point, we can no longer point fingers at this poor, confused, money-loving soul who talked to animals and loved to hike mountains with kings. We are Balaam. Every single day. The tragedy of this story is that he, like many of us, despite knowing God’s character, precepts, laws, and boundaries, continued to tinker with temptation in hopes that somehow, the next response from God would be different. More to his liking. Isn’t that the pop-psych definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again in hopes of a different outcome?
God’s ways are not our ways. And the will of God will always be accomplished, regardless of the roadblocks we may throw up. Looking at Balaam, it’s kind of frightening to realize that a man who spoke with God, who could demand an audience with Him and learn His words, failed to realize that God was in control and nothing was going to change. The story could have turned out much different, but instead, Balaam ended up as a sort of puppet, unable to deviate from the blessings God had pronounced upon Israel. Thus, the mention of his name in other parts of the Bible is laced with less than flattering descriptions.
We struggle, as Balaam did, to obey God on the one hand at the same time as our own desires, wisdom, or yes, greed, on the other. We are attempting to reconcile two things that will never become congruent. Sooner, rather than later, may God’s divine power and grace pierce through the haze of our instability and may we exclaim all at once, as Balaam did while he overlooked the vast multitude of Israel, “Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.” (Numbers 23:19)
Image credit: Gustav Jaeger, Bileam und der Engel