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Obeying from the heart
- Jacob Ninan
When we read the story of Balaam in Numbers 22-24 initially it looks as if he wanted to obey God. He actually kept his actions within the letter of what God told him to do. But it becomes clear that he wasn't obeying God from the heart. Right at the beginning it was clear what God wanted in the situation, but his desire for material rewards from the king of Moab kept him hoping that God might change His mind. God played up to Balaam in order to rebuke and teach him a lesson (Ps.18:26). But in the end it appears that Balaam never learnt his lesson (Re.2:14).
What kind of 'obedience' did Balaam show? He didn't want to disobey God directly, but still wanted in his heart money and honour. Perhaps he thought that if he disobeyed God he would be punished. So he tried to see if God would change His mind. When God made His will very clear to him that he was to bless Israel and not to curse them, he complied! He went on to say many things about Israel in a truly prophetic way. But afterwards, in order to get the rewards from Moab he took advantage of the silence of God and enticed Israel to indulge in sexual immorality with Moab (Nu.25:1). He may have reasoned within himself that since God hadn't told him specifically not to do this he couldn't get punished for it.
Whenever we obey God why are we obeying Him? Is our heart in it? Or, are we obeying Him because we want some blessings from Him or because otherwise we would be punished? We may think that this kind of obedience is fine because externally our actions are right. But God cannot be fooled. He who looks into our heart can see the motives and intentions of our heart (1Sa.16:7;1Co.4:5).
Those who serve their masters only when they are being watched, or those who submit only according to the letter (Co.3:22) may all be thinking that they are doing right. But the question is where our heart is. Is there truth (reality, genuineness) in our innermost being, or is our obedience only outward (Ps.51:6)?
Why would we try to 'cheat' God like this? Don't we know that we really cannot manage to do that? Don't we know that we are only fooling ourselves to think that we are being obedient when we behave this way? Aren't we actually hurting ourselves in this way? If we do all things out of love for God and because that is what He deserves from us, won't we be happy and fulfilled inside and won't we also bring great delight to His heart? Why would we settle for this substandard, cheap 'obedience' when the genuine thing is within our reach?
My guess is that if we have not come to a place of wanting to obey God with our heart, mind and strength it is because we have not come into a love relationship with Him (Jn.14:21). Our relationship may be an Old Testament type--obeying out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. When we 'accepted' Jesus it may have been merely for earthly benefits rather than out of gratitude for saving us from our sins, even if we said the right words.