In my last blog post, we talked about all the important facts about Balaam and the will of God. Today we are going to talk about how God used a helpless donkey to get Balaam’s attention.
Let’s Read Numbers 22:20-35 together.
Notice also that while in the first part of this story the Lord came to Balaam unexpectedly and in some manner in which Balaam was fully awake and conscious, NOW Balaam is going to try to summon God in the more usual manner of diviners: a dream or an unconscious vision.
And, interestingly, God doesn’t disappoint.
Now let me point out that generally speaking receiving something from the Lord in a dream was considered to be an INFERIOR method of divine inspiration as compared to what the Lord’s appointed prophets experienced.
It’s not that a dream was something to be looked down upon, but it paled in comparison to the type of ecstatic and fully conscious contact God’s Prophets experienced (and there were precious few prophets of that kind).
As far as we know the Bible tells us the full extent of those who were God’s prophets. And this is why I pointed out earlier that the title of “prophet” could be applied in two VERY different ways, on two VERY different levels of intimacy with God:
- The prophet who is chosen to be God’s personal mouthpiece over an extended period, bringing forth a direct and new oracle from the Lord.
- And the second type is more along the NT lines of someone who TEACHES God’s Word (and to a degree interprets or provides commentary on what has already been given by the writers of the Scriptures). Loosely speaking what this kind of prophet more closely resembles is a TEACHER.
Verse 20 says that God indeed came to Balaam in a dream and tells him that now it’s OK to go with this contingent of men from Moab if they ask him to. We quickly find that God is not pleased that Balaam wants to go to Balak.
Here we have a clear example of God operating within men’s free will. Balaam was determined to go. Balaam was a diviner who only knew the way of all diviners, and that meant negotiating with the particular god until you got what you sought.
Let’s think this through.
- WHY was Balaam going to Balak despite the Lord insisting that Balaam was NOT to do what it was that Balak was hiring him to do?
- Are we to take it that Balaam only wanted to personally deliver the bad news to Balak that he couldn’t curse Israel?
- That Balaam would travel more than a couple of hundred miles, walking and at times riding on the back of a donkey, just to go home empty handed because he didn’t accept the job?
Hardly: Balaam was not through negotiating with God. After all, Balaam had NOW received permission from God to at least go to Balak; certainly, the next step would be the Lord allowing Balaam some leeway concerning the cursing of Israel.
Tell me: don’t we sometimes tend to do that? We know full well that the Lord’s will is that we do or not do something, but we go ahead with our plan anyway?
We inherently know that God is unlikely to strike us dead in the middle of whatever it is we are doing. And, often, we are no worse for the wear, and achieved whatever it is we set out to do.
At other times, things go horribly, and we realize that we should have listened to the Lord all along. And this is the effect of free will and our using it in a way that is not in harmony with God.
So we find Balaam riding on his female donkey, headed towards Moab, accompanied by two assistants. Suddenly God shows up in the form of “an angel of God.” And amazingly Balaam doesn’t see the Angel of the Lord, but the donkey does.
Now we learn something more about Balaam: he is utterly spiritually blind. He cannot see the Angel of the Lord standing in his path, blocking his way.
His donkey who sees the Lord, swerves off the road and down into the fields, afraid of this sword-wielding apparition. The supposedly super-spiritual Balaam is utterly oblivious to the reason for his donkey’s actions and so beats the donkey to get her back on the road.
A few feet farther the Lord stations Himself in a very narrow spot on the road with a fence (meaning a wall of piled stones) on either side. Afraid, the donkey tries to back away from the fearsome Angelic apparition and in doing so catches Balaam’s foot between her side and the stonewall. Balaam is no longer merely irritated, but in pain, so he beats the donkey some more to get her to release his foot and to continue.
A few more feet and the path became so narrow that the donkey couldn’t go around the Angel of the Lord so in self-defense her knees buckled and down she went, right on the spot. Balaam completely lost his temper and began a terrible beating of his poor frightened donkey that had done the only thing it could do under the circumstances.
Now let me tell you, animals strangely behaving were omens to even the most novice of sorcerers. That Balaam completely ignored this beast’s behavior is meant to show his absolute determination to do what it is that he had set out to do: disobey the Lord and get that money by cursing Israel.
I suppose I could stop and tell you a couple of cute anecdotes about all this, and what this means to us. But I don’t’ think I need to because right about now we’re all thinking: wow, how many times I’ve tried to go around or through the Lord, and it brought nothing but pain and grief. There’s that misuse of our Free Will again.
Still blind to what was going on, the Lord enables the donkey to speak: and the donkey asks Balaam WHY he is beating her. In other words,
- Hey, stupid, can’t you figure out that something extraordinary is going on here?
- Have I EVER behaved like this before?
- Haven’t I been a good faithful servant to you?
And, Balaam admits that the donkey DOES have a point.
Suddenly now that God has Balaam’s attention with the help of his talking donkey, Balaam sees the fearsome figure with the sword standing before him and so Balaam drops to the ground in panic and dread, and now the shoe is on the other foot.
The Lord asks Balaam why he keeps treating his donkey so badly? He points out that, in fact, if it weren’t for the donkey doing the right thing, the Lord would have used that sword, not on the donkey, but on Balaam!
In one of my previous posts, I had mentioned that this was a Bible within a Bible!
OK husbands and wives, parents and children, did you catch what just went on? Did one of you ever want something so much and the other one said no?
- You just knew that taking that new job (even though it meant moving) or selling your house (even though the family was happy where they were)
- Or buying that new car (even though there was nothing wrong with the old one) was exactly the right thing to do, but your spouse or parent just wouldn’t agree, and it nixed the whole thing?
I’m not saying that the one who behaves as a roadblock is the one with good judgment. I’m saying that when something like that happens, it might be wise to stop and take a pause.
STOP AND LOOK FOR THE LORD.
Maybe it’s merely the reaction of a spouse or a parent that just doesn’t like change or one who always wants to control and that’s the problem.
Or maybe, just perhaps, it’s the Lord using that stubborn person to stop something that He doesn’t want to be done, but you are utterly blind to it all. And He is trying to save you from either a terrible mistake that your run-a-way and selfish desires just can’t accept, or perhaps you’re being saved from His discipline (that some of us would rather not believe He even uses).
In verse 32 the Lord repeats that He finds what Balaam is doing by going to Balak is obnoxious and Balaam replies, but he still doesn’t get it: he says,
“Oh, Lord, I was so wrong not to see you on the path! I was wrong to beat my donkey so terribly! I just don’t know what came over me. And, if you STILL disapprove of my going to Balak, I won’t go”.
The Lord just told him that He found his going to Balak obnoxious. Balaam is pandering. He is groveling and trying to manipulate.
Gee, Lord, maybe it’s not that you don’t want me to get a new SUV, it’s that you don’t desire for me to get a new RED Toyota SUV. Would blue be better or maybe a Ford? Oh, this starts to meddle in our lives, doesn’t it?
The Lord, the Creator of free will, allows Balaam to continue to exercise his and says that Balaam may continue to Moab. But remember; don’t say one thing to Balak that I don’t tell you to say. Balaam is ecstatic, and off he goes to meet King Balak.
Let’s read a little more. Go to Numbers 22:36-41
Well, King Balak hears that Balaam is coming, and he’s so anxious to get him going in his task of cursing Israel that he travels to the northern border of Moab to greet Balaam.
And as one of such regal importance would do, Balak chides Balaam and wants to know why he took so long to accept his offer? Don’t you believe that I’ll pay you? Balaam, being cautious because of the donkey incident, says that while he is here, he really can’t do anything other than to speak what God tells him to speak.
King Balak is undeterred; he prepares a grand feast in honor of this sorcerer that is going to help him fend off the Israelites.
Let me point out that it was the ancient belief that if a seer and diviner agreed to curse someone, and did so, that there was no question but that the curse was efficacious. Both the cursor and the curs-ee believed it.
So Balak’s concern was NOT whether this curse would work; but rather would Balaam do it considering his (up to this point, anyway) reluctant attitude. No doubt the Middle Eastern mind of Balak figured that this was all simply Balaam’s way of upping the price.
After the proper protocol of wining and dining this famous Mesopotamian Magician, Balak escorts Balaam up into a high hill from which they could see some of the people of Israel at their encampment. The place they went was called “Bamoth-Ba’al”; this means the altar, or high place, of the god Ba’al.
Now they didn’t do this out of curiosity to get a gander at all those Hebrews: a curse was only useful when the cursed person or object was in view of the one doing the cursing. That is why it was necessary for Balaam to come to Moab in the first place. Otherwise, Balak’s emissaries could simply have been loaded up with gold and silver, taken it up to Carchemish where Balaam lived, and Balaam performs his ritual right from home.