“Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel” (Numbers 25:1-3)
Most of us have heard the expression, “Appearances can be deceiving”. When I think of this expression, one of the characters in the Bible that comes to mind is the Old Testament character named Balaam. Balaam appeared to say many things which were right and true, but inwardly, his motives were corrupt as he was filled with a desire for greed.
As the opening verses above indicate, during the years of wilderness wandering, the children of Israel committed harlotry with the women of Moab. To gain a better understanding of why Israel did this, one needs to look at the rest of the Bible and what it says about the prophet Balaam whom Balek, king of Moab, had hired to curse God’s people (Numbers 22:1-6).
While with Balek, God had insisted that Balaam only speak the words God instructed to him (Numbers 22:35). As a result, Balaam blessed God’s people instead of cursing them (Numbers 23:7-10, 18-24; 24:3-9, 17-24). Balaam then departs from Balak (Numbers 24:25). From reading only chapters 22-24 of the book of Numbers, one might think this is all there was to the story. However, the rest of the Scriptures shed great light on Balaam’s motives and actions.
Balak had promised Balaam great wealth (Numbers 22:15-17). Balaam was willing to curse God’s people because he was motivated by greed (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11). Moreover, it was Balaam who “taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14). The reason Israel committed harlotry with the women of Moab (Numbers 25:1) was because Balaam counseled Balak to tempt Israel to do this.
Balaam DID a lot of things which appear to be right. He did speak God’s Word to Balak. Time and time again, he pronounced God’s blessings upon Israel and refused to curse God’s people as Balak had wanted. He told Balak, "Look, I have come to you! Now, have I any power at all to say anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak" (Numbers 23:38). He also told the king of Moab, “…Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!" (Numbers 24:10)
While Balaam appeared to DO and SAY the right things, these actions came from an evil heart motivated by greed (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11). In an effort to get financial gain, he counsels Balak to get God’s people to curse themselves by engaging in harlotry (Revelations 2:14; Numbers 25:1-3).
As I consider this, I am reminded I can DO and SAY many things which APPEAR to be right. But if my motivation for doing these things is evil (e.g. hate instead of love, pride instead of humility, greed instead of sacrifice, etc.), then, although my actions may appear right, they are wrong in God’s eyes because, like Balaam, my motives are corrupt. On the other hand, I may be struggling with a trial or a sin. I may fail time and time again. Each time I fail, I may reach up and grab God’s hand and ask for His help to continue. Those around me may just see my failure and think I am not really trying to serve God. But God knows my heart. Today, I will live striving to serve God out of a pure heart!
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).