Balaam was a freelance prophet operating in and around Moab. He claimed to have insight into what any of the local gods were thinking and he could pass that information on to anyone who asked … if the price was right. When Balak, king of Moab, contacted him to curse Israel, he saw a tremendous opportunity. How great would that be for business? Consulted by a king. So, not to look too eager and instead more prophet-y, he had the king’s messengers wait overnight while he consulted with Yahweh. You know, people who know Him call Him that.
But the thing was, it actually fit with God’s plan that Balaam speak His message. So He came to Balaam with the injunction to go and speak only the words he was given. I imagine Balaam’s unrecorded response was something along the lines of, “Look, I’ve been a prophet for a while. I know how the game works. You speak the words from the gods the hearers want to hear and everybody goes home happy.”
Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes. Ironic, isn’t it? The “seer.” The one who claimed special knowledge and understanding. The prophet who had his finger on the pulse of all that the gods were thinking, all they required or desired. He got his eyes opened by the One True God.
Balaam shows us that speaking for God is not a game. It’s not a means to personal gain. It’s not a way to enhance your reputation or standing. But the cautions are not just for leaders and teachers. Claiming you’ve prayed about something is not a way to justify what you planned to do anyway. You can’t bend God’s words to meet the demands of politics or culture or ambition. You can’t put words in God’s mouth. And you can’t leave out the ones you don’t like.
Although many try.
May we learn from Balaam’s terrible example. May God open our eyes to who He is before we open our mouths.