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There are so many interesting questions regarding the account of Balaam in Numbers 22-24. But for now, let me focus on the one that is most puzzling to me: Why did the Lord seem to "waffle" in His responses to Balaam's query about whether or not to go with the messengers from Balak:

  • 22:12 God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them." [But the next time Balaam asks, just a few verses later...]
  • 22:20 God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them"
  • 22:22 ...But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him.
  • 22:34 Balaam said... "if you are displeased, I will go back.”
  • 22:35 The angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men."

What do these apparent vacillations of divine will indicate?

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2 Answers 2

The medieval scholar Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) reads this as God allowing Bilaam to exercise his free will. He cites an earlier source, Numbers Rabbah 20:12, which says (Soncino translation):

IF THE MEN ARE COME TO CALL THEE, RISE UP, AND GO WITH THEM (XXII, 20). From this you can infer that a man is led in the way he desires to go. For at first Balaam was told: Thou shalt not go (ib. 12), but once he was so brazen as [to desire] to go, he was allowed to go. Thus it is in fact written, And God's anger was kindled because he went (ib. 22). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: ‘Villain! I have no wish that the wicked shall perish, but seeing that you are eager to go and to perish out of the world, RISE UP, GO! BUT ONLY THE WORD WHICH I SPEAK(ib. 20).

Essentially, you can understand this as God saying "it's up to you; I won't stop you". God wants a certain outcome, but Bilaam has free will, even if his exercise of it angers God.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Actually God commands Balaam to go with those coming to fetch him. See this answer –  To Do Sep 17 '14 at 6:23

Rom 1.18 ff tells us that God gives us what we want and permits us to wallow in the consequences when we choose against his will.

God makes his will clear. Balaam wishes to go anyway. God stops him to remind him that his choice opposes God.

When Balaam feigns a repentance, God permits him to go to teach him although Balaam thinks that he is in charge of his own destiny, that God does not permit the consequences of his disobedience to work against God's purposes.

We have free will, but whatever we choose, God still controls the outcome. God said he created calamity/evil [1]. It is like a giant switch statement. All the cases are pre-programmed with consequences. We get to choose which one we experience with our choices. But no matter what our choice, God has it covered. He has created the prototype (is that the right word for programmers?) of calamity but we implement it by our choice.

Side Note: The purpose of calamity in the world is that it drives us all to declare that 'it' is not supposed to be this way. 'It' is supposed to be better than this. And by so proclaiming, we acknowledge that there is a God and we aren't Him. Rom 1.18.

God created the whole system of consequences, and the system is "Very Good" and we collectively make the experience in this world what it is by our choices.

[1] Isa 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

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Thanks for the thoughts. As a SW dev, I particularly appreciate your programming analogy! –  kmote Jun 6 '12 at 14:02

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