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The story of Balaam raises many questions. We could spend pages trying to sort through them. Here are some observations from the Balaam story.
1. There was God outside of Israel. When we read through the books of Moses it is very easy to think that the whole story of the universe is wrapped up in the story of the Exodus. In other words, it is easy to think that God established the Law as a universal law for all people, at all times, and that it is only through the observance of this law that one can possibly interact with God.
Then we meet Balaam. He is much like Melchizedek, whom we met back in Genesis. Both of these men had a direct and intimate relationship with God. God spoke to them just as he spoke to Moses. And yet, neither of them were Israelites. Neither of them worshipped at the tabernacle or observed the law.
Why is this important? Too many times we limit God to the box that He has built for us. Yes, the law was limiting and restrictive. But the limits were not for God, they were for the people. Israel was an infantile nation riddled with fear, bitterness, grumbling, and treacherous tendencies. As a loving father, God had to impose harsh boundaries on them until they grew up.
But that was God’s deal with Israel. We tend to forget that there were Balaams and Melchizedeks all over the planet. Just because God was leading the Israelites out of Egypt doesn’t mean he was forsaking all other people on Earth. God deals with everyone, all the time. He’ll interact with anyone who honestly wants to reach out to Him. Even if they don’t look like us, or follow our rules.
That is still true today. Over the centuries Christianity has become little less than a bunch of rules and cultural mores that restrict human behavior. The traditions are not in themselves, but they tend to foster a spirit of superiority and/or hostility toward the Balaams and Melchizedeks of our time.
Let’s be careful how we treat others who have a relationship with God that looks different than ours.
2. God can speak through a donkey. Hey, if God can use a donkey, then most of us who write or teach are in good company! Enough said.