I'm going to assume you're familiar with the narrative of Numbers 22-24. Balak, son of Zippor, king of Moab (Joshua 24:9), tries to hire the services of a seer named Balaam. Balak believes that Balaam's words have power (22:6), and he wants Balaam to aim those words at his enemy: Israel.
The whole Balak/Balaam saga is a study in paganism vs. Yahwism. The pagan worldview is that the gods can be handled, "worked," manipulated to serve us and our will. The gods may not be much more than personified, magnified forces of nature; but if we work the right forms and rituals, we can make them serve us. We can make them do what we want them to do.
Balak approaches Balaam from this perspective, this worldview. It doesn't matter to Balak whether Balaam calls his deity Yahweh, Baal, or Brittany. He wants Balaam to work his mojo and get this Yahweh-thingie working for him.
Balak is absolutely nonplused at Balaam's insistence that he can't do that with Yahweh (22:13, 18). Balak is stunned. It does not compute, it blows Balak's circuits. It is inconceivable.
So, Balak figures there must just be a communication problem, or something. Or maybe Balaam's trying to haggle up the price? Balak offers more money. He sends more and flashier dignitaries. Finally, Balaam comes — but still he can't work the name of Yahweh into a curse (22:35, 38; 23:8, etc.).
But Balak doesn't give up. Maybe it isn't Balaam who's driving such a hard bargain. Maybe it's Yahweh. So... if not now, then maybe in a few minutes? If not from here, maybe from there? Or there? Or — come on, work with me! — surely from up there?
Not only is the answer an unrelenting "No," but Balaam blesses Israel, over and over.
Balaam himself is a troubling figure, though a sterling illustration of Biblical inerrancy (see Ronald B. Allen's crackling-good essay on the theology of the Balaam oracles). Balaam looms as a quintessential false prophet for his love of money (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14).
And yet even Balaam knew that Yahweh could not be manipulated, as could the false gods of paganism. Even he knew that Yahweh was Lord, and His word was law (cf. Numbers 22:13, 34, 38). Only thing Balaam finally could figure out to do was to get Israel to bring a judgment on themselves (cf. Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14).
So, Balak assumed that Yahweh — like all the gods — was both mutable and malleable. In truth, Yahweh was (and is) neither (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6). Hence Israel's cry,
"Who is like you, O LORD,Who is like Yahweh among the gods? No one!
among the gods?
Who is like you,
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds,
doing wonders?" (Exodus 15:11).
We shake our heads at Balak's folly... but did it really die with him? Can we not see it in Christendom, or even in "evangelicalism"?
Of course you think "Word-faith movement," and of course you're right. But is it only those nutty, absurd heretics?
Do we see it, sometimes, when people try to get the pastor to "say a prayer" for them, as if he had more "pull" with God, and could get God to see it their way? Don't even the doctrinally more orthodox fall into trying to faith God into doing something, or much-word Him, or good-works Him, or better-than-the-other-guy Him?
Or can we even see whispers in ourselves, as we (unconsciously) try this or that to get God to support our agenda?
Obviously I believe in prayer, as the Bible explains and enjoins it. I've talked about prayer's divinely-designed limitations, and I've also discussed how significant it has been and can be, in the sovereign plans of God. But Christian prayer must always have the essential element that breathes Christ's spirit: "Not my will, but Yours." Even as we plead, argue Scripture, press the promises, lay out our case, we must know: if we actually could manipulate God, it would be the most disastrous event in the universe.
I've often said to God, in closing, after pressing my case to the best of my ability, "...but then, You get to be God — and that's a good thing!"
And I really mean it.
Leave paganism to the pagans.