The Nature of Wickedness: Part 1 (21 July 2019)

Numbers chapters 22 – 24, 2 Peter 2:15,16, Jude 1:11, Revelation 2:14

In this article we hope to gain insight into the nature of wickedness and more importantly, how God chooses to use the wicked to accomplish His ends. We are talking about God’s sovereign choice to use whomsoever He wishes to accomplish His purpose. One such person was Balaam, the prophet and seer.

The Bible does not explain the calling of this prophet, or the basis on which God chose to use him. What we do know about Balaam is only what little the scriptures reveal. As believers, we may assume that prophets must be righteous and be in right relationship with God. This must be true, especially of a prophet as significant as Balaam, who saw into the distant future, and whose prophecies have proven to be true and accurate. NOT SO. This rule does not seem to apply, not only to Balaam, but also to others. In Numbers 22 Balak asked Balaam to curse Israel, so that Balak may overcome Israel. Although Balak saw a physical Israelite army, he understood that his battle was essentially spiritual, and so had first be won spiritually. We are here dealing with spiritual aware and spiritually intelligent wickedness that seeks to harness the spiritual forces of wickedness. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul confirms this insight, but from the viewpoint of the believer: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” As a prophet Balaam had the reputation of such power: In Numbers 22:6b Balak says of Balaam “For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed”. This is astounding, for the authority to bless and curse is part of the blessing of God on Abraham; Genesis 12:3a “And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

We are dealing with two opposing forces here and God has given us front row seats to observe His intervention in this confrontation. Let us go through the incidents of this storyline to make sense of wickedness, if that is actually possible.

Balaam was asked several times to curse Israel, for money. Each time he said that he cannot disobey God, and can only say what God tells him to say. This sounds quite noble and seems to indicate that he only wished to obey God. It is significant that Baalam did not, as we would expect, refuse outright. The real motives of his heart are revealed in 2 Peter 2:15,16, Jude1:11 and Revelation 2:14. The reality is that he was desperately looking for means of circumventing what he knew to be God’s command. Outwardly, he said that he cannot say anything contrary to God’s will, but in his heart he was like a dog straining at the leash hoping for an opportunity to get away and profit from this opportunity to curse Israel. So outwardly, nothing seems amiss, but inwardly, in his heart, everything was wrong.

Here then is an example of wickedness for us. Balaam had so much going right for him. He was in direct communication with God; Numbers 24:4 “The oracle of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered.” These encounters with God are of the very first order, equal to that of other prophets like Moses and Elijah. He had the knowledge and the understanding and the revelation and yet, his ambition and greed got in the way. No amount of light or revelation was sufficient to keep him back from pursuing the course of self-interest and greed. It did not matter whose lives were ruined and destroyed. It did not matter if issues of life and death were involved. What about truth? What about possessing what is precious, holding to it, and discarding what is worthless? In the story of Balaam it seems that none of these things have ANY value – As long as he was rewarded for his work, that was all that mattered. So in the end is the story of Balaam really about money? It seems so, for 1Timothy 6:10a says “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.”

His behaviour was also a form of MADNESS. Of Balaam, 2 Peter 2:16 says ‘he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the MADNESS of the prophet’. Balaam’s  greed, was causing this madness. The very unusual narrative of 2 Peter, seems quite unhinged (slightly mad). It is not in the disposition or constitution of a donkey to speak, and yet it did. Balaam had a conversation with a donkey! None of us have ever had such a ‘privilege’! We probably should not look for it.

To be continued.

Steve Yap