Monday, March 30, 2009

Balaam: A Model for Preaching?

A few days ago in my private devotions I was reading through Numbers and encountered once again the character of Balaam (22-24). But something new stuck out to me. I found in Balaam admirable qualities. Now I did not expect to find anything like this. I usually wrestle with the theological question of how Balaam could know and use the covenant name of God, how this pagan outside the people of Israel would know and relate to God, or about the unusual account of the donkey speaking. But this time was different. I found two ways that Balaam could specifically be a model for preachers and for all who seek to communicate Christian truth.

First - Balaam spoke only what God had spoken. He faced the great temptation of saying what Balak wanted to hear, to say only what would create smooth paths for him, and he refused. He had been asked to come and curse Israel yet he warned them that, "Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak" Numbers 22:38. What the Lord put in his mouth that he must speak, how many have that conviction? How many are determined to speak only the words of God? Our age (like most ages) is full of those who speak what pleases the hearers. We speak what the experts tell us will grow churches or what will appeal to postmoderns or baby boomers or we speak only to the felt needs of the congregation. Balaam by example teaches us that our hearers must not determine the content of the message, God alone has that authority and He has commanded us to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" 2 Tim 4.2.

Second - Balaam feared God instead of man. Balaam had been brought to do the cursing by Balak a King who feared Israel. Balak had the power to have Balaam killed if he did not do as he wished. Yet opportunity after opportunity Balaam chose to bless Israel as God commanded rather than curse them as Balak commanded. I found this to be really challenging. We worry about offending people in our day. The last thing we want to be in these postmodern, politically correct days is to be offensive. So many are timid, failing to preach the Gospel with fire and conviction for fear of being offensive. We shy away from difficult controversial truths. Yet the people we meet and speak to have only the power to be offended and perhaps hurt us with words. Or if things get particularly bad in a church we could get fired. But Balaam stood with courage and spoke what God spoke when his death was a real possibility. We must fear God rather than man.


Joshua Owen said...

Jamie, I'd caution using Balaam as an example for preachers to follow. The New Testament has several references to Balaam, and none of them are positive. I think his story should warn us that a person can have all the right words (orthodoxy) and still be a false prophet that ultimately leads people away from the one true and living God.

Contrast the NT positive view of Lot, with whom we might find a lot of fault in the OT.

Jamie Fugate said...

Somehow I knew you would have a problem with this post.

If you notice I described Balaam as a pagan and as being outside the people of Israel. I was surprised to find commendable attributes in this pagan.

But in this one instance he does obey God as commanded. He does exactly what God commands and refuses to do anything else. Even if his character does not remain commendable, in this one instance he really show these convictions that we need to hold.

If I appeared to commend Balaam as a child of God, that was certainly not my intention.

Joshua Owen said...

O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.
Micah 6.5

Love ya, Jamie.