Numbers 22 Why was God angry with Balaam?

Is there a contradiction? It depends on which Bible you read.

There are many sites that ridicule the Holy Bible and claim there are contradictions and errors. One such example is found in Numbers 22 where God apparently tells Balaam to go with the men sent from king Balak to curse Israel, and then God gets angry with Balaam for going.

A well known atheistic site called Skeptics Annotated Bible has pictures of a mocking face and unbalanced scales along side the comment: “God tells Balaam to go with the men. Balaam goes with them. God gets angry because he went.”

One of the “Christian” apologetic sites that consistently blows it big time in their explanations of apparent contradictions is called Tektonics. They use the modern versions, and this may be one of the reasons for their perpetual blindness.

On this “apologetic” site, they discard the correct explanation that can be seen if they were using the right Bible (the King James Holy Bible), and instead give an absurdly confusing “answer” to this apparent contradiction.

This Christian apologist says: “This is a story that has caused perplexity for quite some time. Let’s have a look at the verses in question: (He uses a bogus bible version, so he off to a bad start from the get go) That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them,… But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him.”

He then says: “I’ve seen this one cited by skeptics and critics any number of times. What’s the problem, basically? The question is always asked: If God gave permission for Balaam to go, why was He angry with him when he did go?”

His “explanation” is this: “we have a quite intentional contradiction made for the purpose of poking fun at a very popular diviner who was no match for the true God. In other words, the narrative is interrupted for a few moments of satire — and it’s only because we are on the wrong channel that we don’t realize this. Actually, to make the analogy correct: we’ve lost the remote behind the cushions on this one… The purpose of the story is to “debunk the false notions of the age and to poke fun at the pretenses of self-serving men who deceitfully claim to have the power” to hear God.”

I think this is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo by somebody who spent way too much time at a seminary where he had his faith in an inerrant Bible stolen from him and his mind turned to mush. If he saw the truth of how to reconcile this apparent contradiction, he would then have to admit that his favorite modern bible version is in error. Anyway, if you use the right Bible and look closely at the text as it stands in the King James Holy Bible, there is an obvious and easy way to explain this alleged contradiction.

King James Holy Bible

Numbers 22:20-23

“And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, IF THE MEN COME to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.

And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.

And God’s anger was kindled BECAUSE he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.”

Agreeing with the King James Bible reading of “IF THE MEN COME TO CALL THEE…And God’s anger was kindled BECAUSE HE WENT…” are Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1534, the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1599, The Thomson Bible 1808, Webster’s Bible 1833, The Longman Version 1841, The Boothroyd Bible 1853, The Jewish Family Bible 1864, The Ancient Hebrew Bible 1907, the Hebrew Publishing Company’s 1936 translation, the NKJV 1982, The Word of Yah 1993, Green’s Modern KJV, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, The Koster Scriptures 1999, God’s First Truth 1999 – “IF the men come to fetch you…”, Bond Slave Version 2009, the Jubilee Bible 2010, The Hebraic Transliteration Scripture 2010, The Work of God’s Children Bible 2011 – “IF THESE MEN DO COME TO CALL YOU, arise and go with them”, The Biblos Interlinear Bible 2011 and The Modern English Version 2014.

The International Standard Version 2014 also got it right, saying: “God came to visit Balaam that same night and told him, “IF THE MEN COME to call on you, get up and go with them, but be sure to do only what I tell you to do.”

And this online Interlinear Hebrew Old Testament – “IF to call come the men”

The Spanish Sagradas Escrituras 1569, Cipriano de Valera 1602 and Spanish Reina Valera got it right too. “Si vinieren a llamarte estos varones, levántate y ve con ellos; pero harás lo que yo te dijere.” – “IF these men come to call you, rise up and go with them…”

However many modern versions have altered the English text and have created a real rather than an apparent contradiction. Among these are the NASB, NIV, ESV, NET, Jehovah Witness NWT, Catholic St. Joseph NAB, New Jerusalem bible and Holman CSB.

NASB, RSV, ESV, St. Joseph NAB, Jehovah Witness NWT

“God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “IF THE MEN HAVE COME to call you, rise up and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do.” So Balaam arose in the morning, and saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab. But God was angry BECAUSE he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him.”

These versions say: “If the men HAVE COME TO CALL YOU…go with them.” This is a nonsensical reading. Think about it. The messengers from Balaak had already spoken with Balaam and were now spending the night. So according to the NASB, what possible sense does it make for God to say “If the men HAVE COME to call you…go”? They HAD already come for this purpose. This is the reading that causes the contradiction.

Holman Christian Standard Bible

“God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “SINCE THESE MEN HAVE COME to summon you, get up and go with them, but you must only do what I tell you. When he got up in the morning, Balaam saddled his donkey and went with the officials of Moab. But God was incensed THAT Balaam was going, and the Angel of the Lord took His stand on the path to oppose him.”


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.”

The Message

“God came to Balaam that night and said, “SINCE these men HAVE COME all this way to see you, go ahead and go with them.”

In contrast to these modern versions that create the contradiction, in the King James Bible we read: “IF the men come to call thee…go. And God’s anger was kindled because he went…” God is referring to IF the men come again to you in the morning with this same request, then go with them.

John Gill comments: “…this permission to go seems to be on this condition, IF the princes first called him, and were urgent on him to go with them: this was a trial of Balaam, whether he would be eager and forward to go, or patiently wait until he should be called.”

John Wesley hits the nail right on the head when he tersely comments: “IF the men come – ON THIS CONDITION HE WAS TO GO. Because he went – Because he went of his own accord, with the princes of Moab, AND DID NOT WAIT TILL THEY CAME TO CALL HIM, WHICH WAS THE SIGN AND CONDITION OF GOD’S PERMISSION, BUT RATHER HIMSELF ROSE AND CALLED THEM.”

Hawker’s Poor Man’s Commentary is right on when he says: “ I beg the Reader not to overlook in those verses, that Balaam’s PERMISSION TO GO, WAS ON CONDITION THAT THE MEN CALLED UPON HIM AGAIN. WHEREAS IT DOTH NOT APPEAR, THAT HE WAS AGAIN INVITED, BUT THAT HE HASTENED IN THE MORNING TO DEPART WITH THEM.”

Adam Clark also remarks: “IF they came in the morning to call him; because he was more hasty than he ought to have been, and went to them instead of staying till they should come to him.”

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown – “God’s anger was kindled because he went–The displeasure arose partly from his neglecting the condition on which leave was granted him–namely, TO WAIT till the princes of Moab “came to call him” [Nu 22:20]

The King James Bible is right, as always, and there is no contradiction. However such versions as the NIV, NASB, RSV, ESV, NET, Catholic Versions, Jehovah Witness NWT, and Holman CSB do create a contradiction that is scoffed at by atheists, Muslims and other Bible critics.

Will Kinney