When I started reading the story of Balaam, I got kind of excited because I've read and heard about the talking donkey a lot. But even though I'm familiar with the Bible and it's stories, I sometimes forget the finer details like the following verses about Balaam:

"And God... said to [Balaam], 'If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.' So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God's anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary." (Numbers 22: 20-22)

    If the Lord had just given him permission, why was he angry with Balaam when he left? Not only was he angry, but he was an "adversary" to him. Here are some theories...
    This source presents two opinions. The first is that God's instruction is conditional: "IF these men come..." This idea suggests that rather than waiting for the men, Balaam went and searched for them, and that is what angered God. But a man named Spero gives a second opinion, that it was all a joke. Apparently, some archaeological data exists that confirms Balaam to have been a pagan diviner and prophet, and Spero thinks that the contradiction in the verses is a break in the narrative for a brief moment of satire in which to poke fun at Balaam. He thinks that "Balaam was just your run-of-the-mill pay-for-prophecy diviner; and his seemingly pious remark to the Moab princes that he would have to ask God what to do was just a tactic... The Moabites probably winked and nodded at each other knowingly, realizing such 'God talk' to be only a facade behind which  Balaam deliberated whether the price was right." In other words, when Balaam "talked with the LORD" the first time, his supposed "no" answer was Balaam's way of saying that their price wasn't enough. To further add to the joke on Balaam, Spero points out the irony as the self-proclaimed prophet isn't even able to see the angel of the LORD in front of him, while his donkey does and tells him about it.
    The third theory is that Balaam left the LORD's perfect will and entered his permissive will. "The response that he might go came after Balaam had refused to take no for an answer." Because of Balaam's persistance that he go with Balak's men, the LORD put Balaam in his permissive will. Also, Balaam's second inquiry shows his greediness - not necessarily for money, but perhaps just for a good word about him to the king. Being driven by greed should be a sufficient reason for the kindling of God's anger.
    Lastly, Will Kinney believes that the answer to the contradiction depends on which Bible you read. His basic arguement is that the King James version of the Bible presents no question on why God is angry with Balaam because it is worded in a non-contradictory way:

"If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them..." (KJV)

He believes that other versions such as NASB, RSV, and ESV are to blame for the contradiction. They read:

"If the men have come to call you..."

It's a nonsensical reading because, obviously, the Moabite men have already come to Balaam and are staying with him. What sense does it makes to say, "If they HAVE come" when they have already? Kinney says that it makes more sense to read it as "IF the men COME to call thee...And God's anger was kindled BECAUSE HE WENT..." Do you see the difference? Another man makes a statement on this site that sums it up nicely. John Gill comments: "...this permission to go seems to be on this condition, if the princes first called him, and were urgent on him to go with them: this was a trial of Balaam, whether he would be eager and forward to go, or patiently wait until he should be called." 

    As for me, I tend to lean toward the last two suggestions: permissive will vs. perfect will and mistranslation. But that's mainly just because the first two seem a little far-fetched for me.  
gabriel calhoun
9/17/2012 01:28:33 pm

i agree with the permissive will vs perfect will as well as he disobeyed God's first command not to go and the bible says obedience is better than scarifice


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