The story of Balaam and Balak has caused me much amusement. Balak intended to hire Balaam to curse the nation of Israel, knowing that he could not defeat them by military means. Yet Balaam has an encounter with God, and will only speak that which God gives him to say, and every time he speaks an oracle, it is an oracle that blesses Israel rather than curses them. You can almost hear the indignant tone of Balak as his hired prophet does the opposite of what he wanted:
11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!” (Numbers 23:11)
25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!” (Numbers 23:25)
10 Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times. 11 Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but the Lord has kept you from being rewarded.” (Numbers 24:10-11)
Balak has made a serious error here. He believes that God can be manipulated by use of a prophet-for-hire. As God points out to Balaam:
19 God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)
I think we know this, but do we act as we know this? Or do we, in subtle ways, try to manipulate or bargain with God, imagining that we can bend him to our will, rather than submitting to His?
Some religions have household gods or talismans, that they offer sacrifices to, believing that the god will be swayed to bless them. Not our God. Our God is not a dog who can be influenced with treats. He is a roaring lion, whose voice thunders, and who must be obeyed.
Lions and tigers cannot really be tamed. Their true nature will never be fully subdued, as Roy of Siegfried and Roy found out on October 3, 2003. This from a news report:
But on the night of October 3, that trust was broken. Forty-five minutes into the show, at about 8:15 p.m., Roy led out Montecore, a seven-year-old white tiger born in Guadalajara, Mexico. The 380-pound cat became distracted by someone in the 1,500- member crowd and broke his routine, straying toward the edge of the stage. With no barrier protecting the audience, Roy leapt to put himself between Montecore and the front row, only a few feet away. The tiger kept coming. Roy gave him a command to lie down, and Montecore refused, gripping the trainer’s right wrist with his paw.
“He lost the chain [around the tiger’s neck] and grabbed for it, but couldn’t get it,” says Tony Cohen, a Miami tourist who was sitting ten yards from the stage. With his free hand holding a wireless microphone, Roy tried repeatedly tapping Montecore on the head, the sound reverberating through the theater. “Release!” Roy commanded the tiger. “Release!”
Montecore relaxed his grip, but Roy had been straining to pull away, and fell backward over the tiger’s leg. In an instant, Montecore was on top of him, clamping his powerful jaws around Roy’s neck. Now Siegfried, standing nearby, ran across the stage yelling, “No, no, no!” But the tiger was resolute, and dragged his master 30 feet offstage “literally like a rag doll,” as another witness recalls.
We cannot domesticate God. We can admire his strength and wonder at his restraint, but we cannot tame him. When we pray, we should aim to align ourselves with his will, not persuade him to jump on board and bless our latest scheme.
Prayer for me is an attempt to calibrate my soul with the desires of God, so that when I pray “in Jesus’ Name” it is with confidence that what I am praying for is something Jesus’ wants too. I want to leap into the fast flowing river of God’s purposes, not build a dam and try and divert his blessing into my current psychodrama. Of course, he cares for me, and knows every hair on my head, but I think I make it easier when I’m flowing with him, rather than trying to get him to flow with me and my plans.
As CS Lewis has one of his characters say, when describing the lion, Aslan (the Jesus figure) in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”