PREDESTINATION OR FREEWILL: PART FIVE
(FREEWILL AND ACCOUNTABILITY)
God told Adam not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and if he did he would die.
Genesis 2:16-17: And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
It is reasonable to believe God told Adam what it meant to die and that Adam shared such knowledge with Eve. In Genesis 3 we see a talking serpent tell Eve she will not die if she ate of the tree. When the serpent told Eve she would not die, it is reasonable to believe she understood what that meant. The serpent proceeded to tell Eve that if she ate of the tree her eyes will be opened, and she will be like God, knowing good and evil
Genesis 3:1-5: Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, `You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'" "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye and also desirable for gaining wisdom. Therefore, she chose to eat of the tree. She also gave some of the fruit to her husband and he chose to eat of the tree.
Scripture says Eve was deceived and became a sinner (1 Timothy 2:14). To be deceived is to believe a lie. The serpent lied in telling Eve that eating of the tree would not lead to death. The serpent also told Eve truth in saying her eyes would be opened and she would know good and evil like God does. Eve’s belief what the serpent said and her own desire to be wise like God in knowing good and evil led her to choose to eat of the tree. Eve persuaded Adam to eat of the forbidden tree as well. Scripture says Adam was not deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). This would indicate Adam did not believe the serpent but simply made the choice to disobey God and eat of the tree. Maybe Adam was simply trying to please his wife. Scripture does not reveal why Adam ate of the tree. Scripture only says that Adam listened to his wife and ate of the tree (Genesis 3:17).
God created us humans with the ability to reason and make choices between alternatives. That is what choice is. It is deciding between alternatives. Adam and Eve had two alternatives before them. They could obey God’s command or go along with what the serpent said. While very little is revealed as to the thinking process that led to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, they did choose to eat the fruit. They were both aware of what God had commanded them. Eve chose to believe the serpent and disobey God. Adam chose to disobey God for reasons not revealed. Both Adam and Eve choose between two alternatives, a process humans go through day in and day out.
Some believe it was God’s will that Adam and Eve sin and that all of mankind sin so He could have mercy on all of mankind through the Christ event. It is believed Adam and Eve were programmed to sin and the serpent was deliberately placed in the garden by God to facilitate God’s will to have Adam and Eve sin. In this respect, the serpent was simply acting as God’s servant in carrying out God’s will to deceive Eve. Adam and Eve were simply carrying out God’s will that they eat of the tree and sin. Neither Adam, Eve nor the serpent had the power of freewill or choice to behave differently from the way they did. It is believed freewill had no bearing on Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit because her belief in what the serpent told her determined her behavior and she could not have behaved in any other way.
It is believed Eve’s behavior was determined by her belief in the serpent’s lie. It is believed Eve was overpowered by her belief in what the serpent told her. She could not have chosen to do something different because her belief was that the serpent was telling the truth and that belief dictated her behavior. It is believed there was no freewill because she couldn’t choose contrary to her belief. It is supposed that believing the serpents lie removed Eve’s ability to have control over her behavior and, therefore, freewill had no bearing on what she did.
I agree that belief determines behavior. Belief comes about as a result of our analysis of information presented to us and the dynamics of our human makeup. Eve considered what the serpent told her and decided it was creditable. She saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom. Gaining wisdom was a natural desire of her human nature and played a role in her decision to eat of the tree. Eve chose to believe the serpent and follow the desires of her nature.
While it is true that Eve’s belief that the serpent was telling the truth led to her eating of the tree, the fact remains that she choose to believe the serpent. She didn’t have to believe the serpent. She could have chosen to believe God. There is nothing in the Genesis account of this event or anything in all of Scripture that indicates Eve had to believe the serpent. The fact that Eve believed a lie thinking it to be the truth does not nullify the fact that she chose the lie. We often choose to believe information that turns out to be wrong. We choose to believe what we believe based on what seems to be right at the time. The Scriptures teach that "there is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). What seemed right to Eve ended up in death.
We humans choose false information thinking it is true information all the time. Once we make the choice of what we believe to be true, that belief directs our behavior. Eve considered the information presented to her by the serpent and believed it to be creditable. She also was influenced by dynamics of her human makeup, a makeup that included a desire to be wise (Genesis 3:6).
Her choosing to believe what the serpent told her led to her decision to eat of the forbidden tree. Once she made that decision, freewill was no longer relevant. Once we chose what to believe, that belief dictates our behavior. What we chose to believe will determine our course of action. What we choose to believe is based on our evaluation of the information available and the dynamics of our personal frame of reference. Choice involves choosing between alternatives. Choice is an exercise of freewill. We choose who and what we believe Eve’s sin came about by her making the wrong choice of whom and what to believe. She chose to believe the serpent rather than believe God. All sin results from making choices contrary to God’s will.
Freewill and Deception:
Some believe our having freewill presupposes us having power over God in that we have the ability to behave contrary to His will. Some believe this makes us more powerful than God and therefore we don’t really have freewill because we obviously are not more powerful than God.
What is overlooked in this controversy between advocates of predestination and freewill is that freewill is a God provided dynamic of human behavior which allows us to choose right from wrong, good from evil, truth from error.
It should be obvious we have the power to behave contrary to God’s will that we obey Him. Does this make us more powerful than God or in some way diminishes His sovereignty? From Genesis to Revelation we see it is God’s will that we obey Him. Nowhere do we see that it is God’s will that we disobey Him. Yet we do disobey Him and He allows it. It should be clear it is His will that we have the power to obey or disobey and we have such power because God has granted such power to us. God has given man the power to resist His expressed will that we obey Him. God is the Supreme Sovereign power over all things. The devil, angels and we humans have power to the extent granted and allowed by God. All power comes from God and God can grant it in any fashion and to any degree He chooses. Humans and angels having certain powers is no threat to the power of God. This in no way limits God’s sovereignty. There is one supreme power and that is God. All other power flows from this one God and is subject to this one God.
We exercise choice/will according to God’s will that we do so. This does not make our will greater than God’s will. We behave in accordance with God’s will and God’s will is that we have the freedom to obey or disobey Him. This reality screams out at us from Genesis to Revelation.
Our having and expressing freewill does not and cannot thwart God’s will. God does interfere with our ability to exercise choice when God feels it is necessary to facilitate some aspect of His overall will. Scripture shows, however, that in general, God allows us humans to make choices and reap the positive or negative consequences of our choices. God does not micro manage human behavior. We are not robots or puppets on a string being manipulated by our creator to make choices that are predestined to be made in a certain way.
God created us with the ability to reason and to choose between alternatives. Throughout Scripture we see God instructing us to avoid deception and choose the truth. Such instruction presupposes having the ability to choose which in turn presupposes freewill. God expects us to use the intellect he gave us to carefully consider alternatives and choose the right alternative. God expects us do our homework to identify truth from error. God warned Israel to not be deceived. Paul warned Christians not to be deceived. These warnings presuppose having the ability to choose whether to believe or not believe what is presented to us. These warnings show we have the personal responsibility to carefully examine what is presented to us and make an informed choice.
Jeremiah 29:8-9: This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them," declares the LORD.
Ephesians 5:6: Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
2 Thessalonians 2:3: Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.
It is evident from the account of the Garden of Eden event that what God willed is that Adam and Eve not eat of the tree and if they did they would sin and suffer specific consequences. There is no evidence to suggest it was God’s will that they eat of the tree. This would contradict his command that they not eat of the tree. It should be evident by how God reacted when thy behaved contrary to His command that he was disappointed with them. They were punished, as promised, for their disobedience. Even the serpent was cursed for its lying behavior.
Genesis 3:13: Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life” God said to Adam,
Genesis 3:17: Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, `You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life”
If God willed the sinning behavior of these three participants in what is commonly referred to as the “fall,” it appears rather strange that He punishes them for the very behavior He willed upon them. It’s akin to I loaning you my car and instructing you not to crash it and then rigging it so that it crashes. God did not rig Adam and Eve to crash.
The very language God used in informing the serpent and Adam as to the consequences of their sin tells us their punishment was because of what they chose to do and not because of what God willed that they do. God clearly held them accountable for their behavior. It was not God's will that Adam and Eve sin. It was God's will they have the ability to choose whether or not to sin. All humans have this same ability. Did Satan, as represented by the serpent in the Garden, have the freedom of choice to either deceive Eve or leave her alone? Did God plant Satan in the Garden for the express purpose of deceiving Eve?
Did Satan have Freewill?
While Scripture does not explicitly state Satan has freewill, Scripture does give strong indications that this is indeed the case. The serpent is identified in the Revelation as the devil and Satan. Satan appears to be part of a group of angels who sinned. Peter speaks of angels having sinned and being held for judgement. Jude alludes to this same state of affairs. John speaks of the devil sinning from the beginning and Paul speaks of the devil being judged for unrighteous behavior.
2 Peter 2:4: For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell (Tartarus), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.
Jude 6: And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home--these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.
1 John 3:8: He who does what is sinful is of the devil (diabolos), because the devil (diabolos) has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.
1 Timothy 3:6: He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited (Greek: tuphoo, to be proud) and fall under the same judgment as the devil.
Scripture shows that to sin against God is to transgress His law and behave contrary to His will. From Genesis to Revelation we are instructed and exhorted to keep God’s law and behave according to His will. Yet we have the obvious freedom to behave contrary to God’s will. Such freedom presupposes freewill and choice. The fact angels are seen as having sinned and being judged for their sin tells us that at some point in the historical past they made choices contrary to the will of God. The devil is seen as sinning from the beginning and coming under judgement because of behavior contrary to righteousness. Both human and angelic sin presupposes free choice.
At what point in the historical past angels and a personage called the devil and Satan sinned is not clearly identified in Scripture. Therefore, I cannot take a definitive position on the time of their sinning. What is of significance, however, is that Satan and other angels are identified as having sinned. If they didn’t/don’t have freewill, to say they sinned is meaningless. Sin is a consequence of choosing behavior contrary to God’s will.
Some will point out that not all sin is the result of choice. We often sin inadvertently. We simply miss the mark which is another definition for sin. However, choice is still involved. Whether we knowingly sin or sin inadvertently, we still make choices as to how we behave. Choice is fundamental to our human makeup. We make both conscious and sub-conscious choices. We make choices without thinking about them and we make choices after giving considerable thought to the choice. Remember, choice involves picking between alternatives. We do this constantly. Choice presupposes freewill.
Accountability and Freewill:
Throughout Scripture it can be seen that God holds humans accountable for their behavior. Being held accountable for our behavior requires freewill. Scripture teaches we are held accountable for sin because we have the God given power of choice to sin or not sin and when we sin we are held accountable. God held Israel accountable for their behavior. Accountability presupposes the ability to choose between alternatives and have the freedom of will to do so.
In 2 Kings 17:6-7: Israel is seen as being taken captive by the Assyrians. The reason they are taken captive is because thy sinned against God and God held them accountable for their behavior, “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods.”
Jeremiah 11:17: The LORD Almighty, who planted you, has decreed disaster for you, because the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done evil and provoked me to anger by burning incense to Baal.
Jeremiah 17:4: Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know, for you have kindled my anger, and it will burn forever."
These passages of Scripture, and many more like them that I could reference, virtually shout out the presence of freewill and the human ability to choose. God is seen as reacting to the sin being committed by Israel. It should be evident that God did not program the Israelites in advance to behave in a certain way. He desired they obey Him and was constantly seeking ways to have them turn from their sin and follow His ways. This is not a picture of a God who has everything predestined. The following passage of Scripture clearly demonstrates this.
Jeremiah 26:2-6: This is what the LORD says: Stand in the courtyard of the LORD's house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the LORD. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. Say to them, `This is what the LORD says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth.'"
God said “perhaps” they will listen.” This tells us God did not know whether or not they would listen. His hope was that they would listen and avoid the disaster He had planned because of the evil they had done. God’s use of the word “perhaps” (Hebrew uwlay, which means perhaps, if so be, etc.) tells us God had not predetermined whether or not they would listen. God says if you do not listen, then I will do such and such. God’s use of the word “If” and “then” presupposes God not predetermining what Israel is going to do.
While the sovereignty of God includes nothing happening outside of the will of God, it is apparent from Scripture that it is God’s will that we can behave contrary to His will that we obey Him. It is also apparent from Scripture that it is God’s will that we be held accountable when we disobey Him. Being held accountable presupposes having the freewill to choose to obey or disobey. While it is apparent from Scripture that God does predetermine (predestine) certain events and the behavior of those involved in such events, it is equally apparent from Scripture and simple human experience and observation that most human behavior occurs as the result of the exercise of freewill leading to choosing between alternatives.
Accountability and the fairness of God:
Some see in the Scriptures examples of God predetermining the sinful behavior of some and then holding them accountable for the sin they commit by punishing them for such sin. While humans may conclude this to be unfair, it is maintained that since God’s ways are higher than our ways, we can’t evaluate what God does according to human standards. Therefore, the issue of fairness is not up for discussion relative to how God behaves. God’s supposed facilitation of sinful behavior is also seen as evidence that all human behavior is ultimately the will of God. This makes God ultimately responsible for all behavior, both good and bad.
While it is true that we shouldn’t evaluate what God does based on human standards, does God really predetermine sinful behavior and then hold those who commit such behavior accountable and punish them for the very behavior God willed them to perform?
We already addressed this issue to a degree in our discussion of Pharaoh and his behavior toward the Israelites. I will be addressing the issue of God and the existence of evil in Part Six of this series. In preparation for that discussion, let’s look at some Scriptural passages that are sometimes used to show God facilitates sinful behavior and then holds the sinner accountable for the sin committed.
David's numbering of Israel:
In the account of David numbering Israel, some believe God made him do this and then held him accountable for doing it and punished him and Israel for doing it. It is believed God used an adversary to provoke David to take a census of Israel. Is this what happened?
2 Samuel 24:1: Again the anger of the LORD (YHWH) burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah."
1 Chronicles 21:1: Satan (sawtawn: means adversary) rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
Because of what we read In the 2 Samuel 24:1 account of this incident, some conclude God, with purpose of will, incited David to do this census and David was simply facilitating the will of God. Because of what we read in 1 Chronicles 21:1, some see God using Satan to incite David. It is instructive, however, that the word Satan is translated from the Hebrew sawtawn in the Chronicles passage and is without the definite article. The basic meaning of Sawtawn is "adversary" and does not refer to a particular adversary unless identified as such. Since there is no definite article preceding Sawtawn in this passage, it cannot be assumed Satan the Devil is being spoken of in this passage. We can only conclude it was an unidentified adversary of some kind. The NET translation reads “An adversary rose up to oppose Israel.” Nothing is said about God rising up the adversary. A reading of 1 Chronicles 21 shows David commanded his army general Joab to do this census and Joab was very much against doing this. Verse 7 shows God was against it as well. Verse 7 reads, “This command (David’s command to Joab) was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.”
God is seen as considering what David did to be evil and punishing Israel for this evil act on David’s part. Did God provoke David or use Satan to incite David to do evil and then punish David and Israel for doing the evil he provoked him to do? If so, then God is behaving in a totally contradictory manner. Does God behave contradictorily? Does God will evil behavior on people and then hold them accountable for such behavior and punish them for such behavior?
Scripture shows God is a God of righteous judgement. He judges and punishes us for behaving contrary to His will, not for obeying His will. By Scripture saying David's command to do the census was evil in God's sight, it would certainly appear doing the census was not God's will and David was actually behaving contrary to God's will by doing the census and that is why David and Israel were punished.
David said to God, "I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you; take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing” (1 Chronicles 21:8). This statement of David’s would be ludicrous if David’s action to take a census was provoked by God and David was simply carrying out God’s will. When God brought judgement upon Israel because of David’s sin David said this: "Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I am the one who has sinned and done wrong (21: 17). David plainly said it was he who ordered the fighting men to be counted and in doing so it was he who had sinned. In the 2 Samuel account of this event, it is recorded that “David's heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the Lord, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have acted very foolishly” (2 Samuel 24:10).
Those who insist that God directly ordered David to do the census and then punished him and Israel for doing it believe this demonstrates that God predetermines all human behavior to fulfill His sovereign will. Therefore, we really don't have freewill. All human behavior is predetermined by God to happen in the way that it happens. We don't really exercise freewill when we choose between alternatives. Freewill is considered illusionary. Those who take this position readily admit that for God to order David to do the census and then punish him for doing it is contrary to our human sense of fairness and justice. It appears to be contradictory behavior on God's part. It is maintained, however, that this doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that God's behavior appears contradictory to human thinking. It doesn't matter that God considered what David did to be evil or that David is seen as taking the blame for his actions and acknowledging it as sin. It doesn't matter that God held David accountable and punished Israel for something God ordered David to do. Since God's ways are higher than our ways, we can't judge what God does according to human standards or human reasoning.
If indeed God did directly, with purpose of will, order David to do the census and then punish him for doing it, I would have to agree with the above position. After all, God is sovereign and can do anything He wants to do even if it is contrary to human beliefs about what is fair and just. However, the truth of the matter is that God did not with purpose of will order David to do the census. To conclude God ordered David to do the census is to virtually misrepresent what the Scriptures reveal about this event.
A careful consideration of all the dynamics of this event should make it clear that God is not the one who is responsible for what David did or that David was simply facilitating God’s will and had no choice in the matter. It is apparent David acted on his own in response to an adversarial position God was taking against Israel. 2 Samuel 24:1 records that God was angry with Israel. David apparently responded to God’s anger by ordering the census. Some translations of this passage show this to be the case.
Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it (the anger of the Lord) incited David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah" (NAS).
And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah (NKJV).
In these renderings of 2 Samuel 24:1, it can be seen that it wasn’t God who directly and purposefully willed that David number his army. David was responding to God’s anger and it was David that ordered the census. It was God’s anger that prompted David to do what he did. God did not order him to take the census. God was against doing the census and called it an evil (1 Chronicles 21:7). The above renderings of 2 Samuel 24:1 harmonize well with the Chronicles account of this event. It should be apparent that David was responding to God’s anger toward Israel and not that God was deliberately provoking David to number his army. David’s numbering of his army is not an example of God ordering someone to sin and then holding them accountable for the sin He ordered and punishing them for such sin. Such a conclusion is a ludicrous characterization of how God relates to His human creation.
David said he sinned in taking the census. Sin is any behavior contrary to God's will. If God ordered David to take the census, we have to assume it was God's will David take the census. Yet David sees his taking the census as sin, which is behavior contrary to Gods will. How can David's behavior be God's will and not God's will at the same time? It should be apparent that it was not God's will that David do the census which is confirmed by God looking upon what David did as evil (1 Chronicles 21:7).
Balaam and the talking donkey:
In Numbers 22-23 we have the account of Balaam being hired to curse Israel. The Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, had conquered a number of nations on their way to entering the Promised Land. They were now approaching the land of Moab and the Moabites were terrified of the Israelites. The Moabite king, whose name was Balak, sent messengers to visit the seer Balaam and offer him reward if he would come and pronounce a curse on the Israelites. Balaam asked the messengers to stay over night and he would inquire of God what He should do. God instructed Balaam not to go with these messengers and not to pronounce a curse on Israel.
Numbers 22:12: But God said to Balaam, "Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed."
Balaam obeyed God and sent the messengers back to Balak with the message that the LORD has refused to let me go with you" (Numbers 22:13). When Balak saw that Balaam would not come and curse Israel, he sent more distinguished messengers to Balaam offering even greater reward if Balaam would come and curse Israel. Balaam appears adamant in refusing to curse Israel.
Numbers 22:18: But Balaam answered them, "Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God.
Although Balaam seemly remained resolute in obeying God’s command not to curse Israel, he asks the men to stay over night as he had with the first set of messengers and he tells them he would fine out what else God would tell him. It is recorded that God came to Balaam and instructed him to go with the messengers but to do only as God tells him. Balaam proceeds to get up in the morning and go with the men and it is recorded that God was very angry with Balaam.
Numbers 22:19-22: Now stay here tonight as the others did, and I will find out what else the LORD will tell me." That night God came to Balaam and said, "Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you." Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.
The question that is asked is why God would be angry with Balaam for going with the messengers since it is God who told Balaam to go with the messengers. It is often assumed that it is Balaam going with the messengers that has incurred the wrath of God. Is this the case? Is God angry with Balaam for doing something he told him to do? Does God oppose Balaam for doing something He told him to do?
Next we have the account of the talking donkey. The donkey sees the angel but Balaam does not. The donkey refuses to move forward and is beaten by Balaam. Finally the donkey lies down in the path and is beaten again. Then the donkey talks to Balaam and questions why he is being beaten. The donkey defends his actions by saying he has been a faithful donkey all these years and suggests there must be a good reason why he is not moving forward. Then God opens the eyes of Balaam so he sees the angel and the angel says the following:
Numbers 22:31-32: "Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless perverse in the NET) one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her."
It is instructive that the angel is sent to oppose Balaam because his path is a reckless one. It is apparently so reckless that if it wasn’t for the donkey, the angel would have killed Balaam. Why is Balaam’s path considered reckless? Isn’t Balaam simply following the command of God to go with the messengers? Why is he now being told his path is reckless and virtually threatened with being killed for what he is doing? After being chided by the angel, Balaam says he has sinned and offers to go back home.
Numbers 22:34: Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood against me in the road. So now, if it is evil (Hebrew: rah which is translated “evil” throughout much of the OT) in your sight, I will go back home” (NET).
Those who believe God predetermines everything that happens will conclude that Balaam could not choose not to go with the messengers because his going with them was predetermined. Balaam’s choice to obey God and go with the messengers was not really Balaam’s choice but was a choice predetermined by God. Balaam was just robotically fulfilling what God had predetermined He do. Yet we see God becoming angry with Balaam for exercising this supposed divinely predetermined choice and punishing him for making this choice by facilitating the donkey incident. According to this view, God predetermined all of Balaam’s behavior as seen in this episode and then reacted in anger and punished Balaam for the very behavior He predetermined for him.
Is this what is going on here? God told Balaam to go with the messengers which He did. God is said to have become very angry with Balaam when he went. Here is where we need to use some common sense. Balaam is said to have been on a reckless path. God told Balaam to go with the messengers but do only what God tells him. It would appear that God wasn’t angry with Balaam because he went with the messengers. He was angry with Balaam because He saw in Balaam a desire not to do what God tells him but to go ahead and curse Israel in order to receive reward from Balak.
Deuteronomy 23:3-5: No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you.
The implication here is that Balaam fully intended to curse Israel but God turned it into a blessing. God did this by facilitating the donkey incident. After the donkey incident, and the revelation that the angel of God was ready to kill Balaam, Balaam decided if he wanted to continue living he better do what God wanted him to do. If you read Numbers 23-24, you will see Balaam blessing Israel rather than cursing them.
As was true of David and the census incident, Balaam said he had sinned. Sin is behavior contrary to God’s will and not behavior in line with God’s will. While one could conclude he was talking about the beating of his donkey when he says he sinned, Balaam’s words appear to indicate his sin was connected with his intentions to curse Israel as he says to the angel that if what he has done is evil in the angels sight, he would go back home. Remember, God was very, very angry with Balaam. To be very angry with behavior God predetermined in advance to happen as it happened is rather ludicrous to say the least.
God wasn’t angry with Balaam because he went with the messengers of Balak. God told Balaam to go with the messengers and Balaam did. But Balaam apparently had his own agenda as to making the trip, an agenda very contrary to what God intended. God was angry with Balaam not because he went with the messengers but because he went with the intent of cursing Israel which other Scriptures point out. He intended to curse Israel because He wanted the reward Balak had promised. Both Peter and Jude show it was the lure of financial reward that motivated Balaam to act contrary to God’s will and not that God predetermined Balaam act this way and then punish him for doing so.
2 Peter 2:15-16: They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey--a beast without speech--who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness.
Jude 1:11: Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error; they have been destroyed in Korah's rebellion.
Woe to them! For they have traveled down Cain’s path, and because of greed have abandoned themselves to Balaam’s error; hence, they will certainly perish in Korah’s rebellion (NET).
Those who believe that all human behavior is predetermined by God may agree with this explanation but still conclude that God predetermined that Balaam wanted to curse Israel for financial gain and then prevented him from exercising the very behavior God predetermined that he do so God could have a blessing pronounced on Israel rather than a curse. I submit that there is no Scriptural reason to believe such a conclusion. It is much more Scriptural to conclude Balaam, like all humans, had the ability to make choices based on the freedom of will to do so.
It is true that God created circumstances to change Balaam’s mind no different than he created circumstances to change Pharaohs mind resulting in Pharaoh allowing the Israelites to leave Egypt. God will always insure that his will is carried out. But to conclude that to do so, God prevents humans from expressing their own will is contrary to everything we see in Scripture and in life. God didn’t make Balaam bless Israel. Balaam made that decision when he saw his life in danger of being snuffed out if he didn’t obey God and pronounce a blessing rather than a curse. Balaam could have still refused to obey God and do a blessing and God probably would have killed him. God doesn’t generally interfere with the choices we make but he does determine the consequences of our choices.
It was Balaam's will to curse Israel. God did not prevent Balaam from having a will to curse Israel. What God did prevent was Balaam's ability to carry out his will to curse Israel. While God by and large allows us humans to express our will in the choices we make, He will intervene when necessary to prevent the facilitation of our choices when he deems it necessary. This is essentially what God did with Balaam. Balaam was only too eager to curse Israel and obtain a reward. The donkey incident caused Balaam to have a different point of view. There is nothing in this account to suggest God predetermined Balaam's behavior and Balaam was robotically doing God's will. We see Balaam willing to curse Israel and choosing to do so. We see God preventing Balaam from carrying out his will to curse Israel and we see Balaam choosing to obey God and bless Israel instead. It may still have been Balaam's will to curse Israel but he pragmatically chose to obey God and avoid whatever consequences he would have incurred if he had chosen not to obey God.
PART SIX: FREEWILL AND THE ISSUE OF EVIL