In Numbers 22 we are introduced to a prophet named Balaam. Most who have heard of Balaam remember him because he had a donkey that spoke. What is significant is not so much the fact that the donkey talked but why the donkey was given the ability to speak.
The Israelites were now at the end of their forty year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. They were travelling up the east side of the Jordan and encountering various struggles as they travelled. They finally were encamped in the plains of Moab. How would we feel if several million people camped just outside the city where we live?
“The Israelites traveled on and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan River across from Jericho. Balak son of Zippor saw all that the Israelites had done to the Amorites. And the Moabites were greatly afraid of the people, because they were so numerous. The Moabites were sick with fear because of the Israelites” (Numbers 22:1-3 NET).
The Moabites decided they needed help – supernatural help. So the king sent for Balaam, a prophet of God, to come and curse the Israelites (Numbers 22:4-6). We often forget that God had followers who were not Israelites. It was known that whomever Balaam cursed was cursed and whomever he blessed was blessed. God was with this Gentile prophet.
We can see that Balaam was a faithful follower of the one true God. When asked if he would come and curse the invading nation, Balaam replied, “Stay here tonight, and I will bring back to you whatever word the Lord may speak to me” (Numbers 22:8). And God said “no.” Balaam was happy with that response and sent the men back to Moab.
Balak needed the Israelites cursed, so he sent a more prestigious entourage with greater rewards. It would seem that Balaam really wanted the rewards and the honor that came with it. But he knew what God had said. So he told them he would inquire again of the Lord.
God’s reply this time was, “If the men have come to call you, get up and go with them; but the word that I will say to you, that you must do” (Numbers 22:20). So Balaam went. And this is where we read about the donkey.
Although he had permitted Balaam to go, God was angry with him because he knew that Balaam really wanted to disobey him. God sent “the angel of the Lord” to block Balaam’s way with a drawn sword. This happened three times and each time the donkey avoided the armed angel. The donkey could see the angel even though Balaam couldn’t. Each time Balaam became angry and beat the donkey with his staff.
After the third beating, God allowed the donkey to speak (Numbers 22:28-30). If it were not so serious, this would be quite comical, as Balaam was so angry that it did not seem to surprise him that his donkey was talking back to him!
This was when Balaam’s eyes were opened and he saw the angel for himself. The angel told him: “If she had not turned from me, I would have killed you but saved her alive” (Numbers 22:31-35).
What is the lesson for us? When God reveals what he wants, which he has done in the pages of scripture, then we need to do what God says. If we don’t like it we shouldn’t try to change what he said, as Balaam seems to have been doing. Instead we must speak and obey God’s word as he has revealed it to us.
“Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11 NET).
Readings for next week:
13 March – Numbers 21
14 March – Numbers 22
15 March – Numbers 23
16 March – Numbers 24
17 March – Numbers 25