Balaam’s Donkey. Numbers 22:21-39 (NIV)
“Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 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. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again. Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” “No,” he said. Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”
Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.” The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials. When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?” “Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth.
Greed, compromise, betrayal, and corruption. These are the lessons from a donkey-riding prophet that caution us to be more like the donkey than the prophet! One of the most interesting characters you’ll ever find in the Bible is Balaam. He starts out and you think he’s a man following God. He says and does all the right things when you first encounter him in the book of Numbers. He even looks pious at times. He’s a man who dines with a king, is well known among his own people and is a legend in neighboring lands. Except for Eve, I think he’s the only person recorded in scripture to talk with an animal.
The story of Balaam is recorded of in the Book of Numbers, but Peter and Jude mention him by name in the New Testament and John lists his name in Revelation.
The account is recorded in Numbers chapters 22-24. Israel was there, camped out in the plain of Moab near the end of their 40 years of wandering in the desert and getting ready to attack the kingdom Moab.
Balak was the king of Moab and saw what happened to the other nations in the neighborhood that stood against the Israelites. The king was scared, so he hired a well known prophet. Balak wanted him to issue a curse against Israel so that the Moabites could defeat them and get them out of their back yard. This king was desperate—-and people often do dumb things when they get desperate.
This is where Balaam looked like a real man of God. He took the time to ask God what to do, and he listened when God instructed him not to go with Balak’s men. The king sent his men back a second time with more money to persuade this seer to come curse Israel, and again he refused. Looks like obedience, right? But look at verse 19 where Balaam tells the visitors: “But stay here one more night, and I will see if the LORD has anything else to say to me.” Numbers 22:19 (NLT)
What’s going on here is that Balaam wants to do what God has told him not to do. We all do that now and then and it’s never a good thing, but God often allows ous to do what we want to do. That’s something called the permissive will of God. It means that He will sometimes allow us to do things that we insist on doing, even when what we want directly opposes His will. When we pray, and He says, “no”, that’s the end of the matter—-or it should be. But if we beg and beg, not seeking His will, but rather our will, sometimes He says, “Ok, your will be done, but don’t come running to me when you get what you asked for and regret it.”
What happens next is God says, “You want to go? So then go.” God sees something in his heart that’s easy to miss. You’ll find that by backing up 2 verses. “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the LORD my God.” Numbers 22:18 (NLT). His thoughts were on that increased bounty Balak’s men had brought. Peter wrote about that and pointed out that Balaam’s way was greed. Sadly, we could all probably name at least one modern a Christian pastor whose measure of success is how many folks flock to his church rather than how many lives are brought to Jesus Christ.
“They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. But Balaam was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice.” 2 Peter 2:15-16 (NLT)
The donkey makes Balaam mad because it disobeys Balaam’s lead and wanders off of the road. Some gifted, spiritual leaders can lead us off the road. We need donkeys to speak to us sometimes! But God allowed the animal to see the “angel of the LORD standing in the way” (Numbers 22:21-23). Even a jackass has the discernment to not stand against an angel with a sword in hand! And apparently, the donkey has more spiritual discernment than Balaam here. Balaam’s focus was on that reward, no doubt, and the response was to beat the poor thing; his imagination was not stayed upon God, but upon gold. Where is our imagination and dreams as we do His work??
The “angel of the LORD” that appears in these verses is astonishing because all evidence points to this being none other than a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, in the flesh. We know this because in verse 31, Balaam sees the angel. He did what most folks would do and fell on his face. If it were not Jesus, the angel would have commanded him to get off of the ground. Angels in scripture do that because they don’t want to be worshiped, but this messenger from God allowed Balaam to bow before Him…it’s similar to the time Abraham meet Melchizedek.
So the prophet for hire finally meets up with the king and gives the first 2 of 4 prophecies. Don’t forget, Balak is offering a reward to curse Israel, but the prophet is only allowed to speak as God leads. Balaam does not curse Isareal, instead he blesses Israel. Twice! The first blessing is a prophecy that Israel will be multiplied (Numbers 23:7-10) and in the second, he proclaims that with God on their side, Israel is indestructible and that God will not change His promises (Numbers 23:18-24).
But meanwhile, in Israel’s camp, there is sin. Some of the men had brought prostitutes of the pagan deity Baal into the camp and Balaam not only knew it, but may have instigated it. That could be why the prophet presumes that God will change His mind and condemn Israel and he in turn would collect the reward from Balak. But what Balaam didn’t understand was that God had already dealt with Israel’s sin and had forgiven them.
The second error of Balaam is twofold. First, he didn’t understand God’s righteousness and how He imparts that to those who put their faith in Him. He was guilty of compromising his own morality in order to appease a pagan king. If you think that sounds familiar, it should. Christians today are full of compromise. We compromise by the kind of words we allow to come out of our mouths. We compromise by who we listen to, the athletes we idolized, the politicians we elect, by the books we read, the music we listen to, and even by who we hang out with and what we do while we’re hanging out. Some even compromise by what verses in the Bible they choose to overlook so as not to be socially offensive.
“Woe to them! For they have traveled in the way of Cain, and have given themselves up to the error of Balaam for gain, and have perished in the rebellion of Korah.” Jude 11 (LEB)
There’s one more lesson the New Testament writers teach us about this Old Testament character, and that’s his dishonesty and the perversion of the faith. The hired help couldn’t curse Israel for Balak, so he taught the pagan Moabites to seduce Israel instead. He showed Israel’s enemy their weakness—-beautiful women and sex. That happened in Numbers chapter 25. Because Israel fell into that trap, 24,000 Israelites died (Numbers 25:9). God did discipline them , but He did not remove His promise.
Balaam was sneaky—we was no hero. “ Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” (Rev. 2:14, NIV).
So did animals talk at one time? Evidently they did—-if you believe the first five books of the Bible represent truth and not just allegory. When the serpent spoke to Eve there’s no reference to her being surprised or frightened. Perhaps with the fall of mankind and the associated corruption of all the created order animals ceased to be able to speak. But oh, my goodness, if they could speak today!!!
And will animals will talk again? If they did before the fall, it would come to reason that they will in the re-created world. This is just my opinion, but it makes sense to me.
And I am convinced that God still communicates to us through stupid donkeys (he’s doing it right from this very pulpit) and other animals…….and through sunsets, and moon rises and the changes in nature and in what we’re discovering on Mars and from black holes and super-novas. He is showing us His glory and His incredible power!
God’s divine intervention of letting that donkey see His messenger with a sword and then allowing that animal to speak saved Balaam’s life. Isn’t it funny how prominently a little donkey often fits into God’s stories in the Bible? 2000 years late Jesus sat on a donkey and rode into Jerusalem to save the life of every Balaam, Balak, Peter, John, Mary, etc in the world.
God uses humble creatures—-and humble men and women—to do great things. He opposes the proud but lifts up the humble.
1. God might be asking you today: “Why have you beaten your donkey—or the other ones- I have sent to speak to you.”
2. If God calls anyone hearing me today to full-time ministry you are not at liberty to go where you want, choose your audience of say whatever you want! Just as Balaam, we can’t say whatever we please. We must speak only what God puts in our mouths—and then we should shut our mouths.”
3. With God on their side, Israel wass indestructible and that God would not change His promises. We can claim that same promise in the USA, or France, or Mexico, or South Africa! If God is on our side, we are indestructible——but are we on HIS side?
4. I have a greater appreciation for little donkeys than I used to…..