Warning: donkeys were definitely harmed in the making of this story.
Although Joshua would later lead Israel in Capturing Canaan, there were some wild encounters and adventures back in their time of wilderness wandering. Numbers 21 records several great victories by the hand of the Lord. Today we pick up in Numbers 22 with the trembling king of Moab. He wondered if he would be the next enemy to be trampled by these wandering worshippers of the Almighty God.
Just up the river from Moab lived a man named Balaam. Just in my brief studies I ran into ten scriptures that discuss Balaam’s story (not even counting Numbers 22-25)! He is discussed by Joshua, Nehemiah, and even in the prophetic books of Micah, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation.
Almost every radio station has some form of “top charts” or “hits countdown”. It may take some digging to see just why Balaam seems to show up on everybody’s “Biggest Baddest Badguys of the Bible” list.
In our devotion on Ehud we discussed Moab, one of many thorns in the side of Israel. Back in the time of Moses, Balak (king of Moab) was too afraid to even face Israel in battle. But he also wasn’t willing to let them pass through his land and consume all his resources. So Balak summoned Balaam. Apparently this smooth talking soothsayer had a strong reputation for being able to bless and curse people.
“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.” (Numbers 22:5-6)
Although your first reaction may be to assume this was some kind of superstitious rumor, you may be surprised to find out that this free lancing fortune teller spoke by the hand of God! In fact, scripture records that when the elders of Moab brought Balaam the fee for divination, he basically told them “Sorry, God says I can’t come out and play today guys”. We don’t know what God had allowed or used him to do in the past, but God would not allow Israel to be cursed.
So end of story right? Timmy asked if Billy could come out and play some baseball but gee-willickers… Papa said no! Whether as a child or a parent, you know it doesn’t usually end there does it? So Moab prepared to beg a second time for Billy… er, Balaam.. to come. Interestingly enough, this time God actually allows him to go, but offers this one warning: “do only what I tell you” (22:20).
So the next morning he saddled up his donkey, brought two servants, and hit the highway to Moab. But as he traveled, an angel in the path blocked the way. The angel’s sword was drawn, but only Balaam’s donkey could see him. This created quite the comical scene. The first time the angel blocked her, she ran into a field (heehaw, hold on Balaam!) So he beat her. The second time the angel blocked her path, she squished her master against a vineyard wall. He beats her again. Finally, the angel completely blocked the way, causing the donkey to simply stop and squat. By this point Balaam is furious. As he begins to beat her the third time, God opened her mouth to speak.
Something you should know about donkeys, in case Shrek is your only frame of reference: they don’t talk!
As if this scene hadn’t gotten cartoonish enough, Balaam sparks up an argument with his donkey! He tells her if “If I had a sword I would have killed you!” Speaking of swords, the Lord then opened Balaam’s spiritual eyes to see the armed angel standing before him.
“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.” (22:32)
Balaam must have been terrified! What’s interesting is that God had allowed him to go on this journey in the first place. From our perspective as the reader it seemed he was safely inside of God’s will. But only God knew what was in his heart. God knew the greed that drove Balaam (2 Peter 2:15) and his desire to find a way around God’s will. Let’s just say this encounter was only a pre-curser (terrible pun intended) to Balaam’s disobedience.
Application: Don’t put a “comma” where God puts a “period”. Let God’s truth be the final word.
Tune in next time on our journey to uncover just how this bray-beating Balaam finds his way onto the “Biggest Baddest Badguys of the Bible”
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