22 Then God became angry because he went. So while he was riding on his donkey accompanied by his two servants, the Lord’s messenger stood in the road as his adversary. 23 The donkey saw the Lord’s messenger standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand, so the donkey turned from the road and went into the field. Balaam struck the donkey in order to turn him back onto the road. 24 Then the Lord’s messenger stood in the narrow path between vineyards with a stone wall on each side. 25 When the donkey saw the Lord’s messenger, it leaned against the wall and squeezed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he continued to beat it. 26 The Lord’s messenger persisted and crossed over and stood in a narrow place, where it wasn’t possible to turn either right or left. 27 The donkey saw the Lord’s messenger and lay down underneath Balaam. Balaam became angry and beat the donkey with the rod. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you’ve beaten me these three times?”
29 Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you’ve tormented me. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now.”
30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on whom you’ve often ridden to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
Balaam said, “No.”
31 Then the Lord uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and Balaam saw the Lord’s messenger standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand. Then he bowed low and worshipped. 32 The Lord’s messenger said to him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I’ve come out here as an adversary, because you took the road recklessly in front of me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it hadn’t turned away from me, I would just now have killed you and let it live.”
34 Balaam said to the Lord’s messenger, “I’ve sinned, because I didn’t know that you were standing against me in the road. Now, if you think it’s wrong, I’ll go back.”
35 The Lord’s messenger said to Balaam, “Go with the men. But don’t say anything. Say only that which I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials (Numbers 22:22-35, Common English Bible).
Friends, I am not a very nice person. I did a lot that was bad in my life. I did my absolute best to offer a curse over Israel. I angered the king of Moab. I told him he could defeat Israel by offering opportunities for sexual immorality between Israel and the women of Moab. Beyond all of that, I severely beat my donkey. I was inconvenienced but the donkey was actually protecting me. For his trouble, I gave the donkey a beating such that he had never seen before. It is a good thing your SPCA wasn’t around in my day. Surely I would have gone to jail for animal cruelty. Israel considered me one of the most wicked of men.
When the Israelites came across the Jordan things went well for them. Things didn’t go well for those who already lived there. Such is the nature of battle and forced land acquisition. For someone to do well, someone else will almost always lose in the process.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan they immediately beat two strong armies. They fought Sihon, king of the Amorites and Og, king of Bashan. The Israelites won handily. That got the attention of Balak, king of Moab. It would only make sense that after seeing two of his fellow kings lose to the Israelites that he wouldn’t want to face them. Though I know Balak would never admit as much, he feared the Israelites and would rather find a peaceful way not to lose.
Balak thought he had a plan so he sent messengers to Midian to find me and bring me back to him. I knew they were coming YHWH had told me as much in a dream. In that same dream, I was told not to go back with the messengers. I sent word back to Balak through his messengers that I was not able to do something YHWH would not allow me to do. I told him about the dream and YHWH’s instructions not to travel to Balak.
So, what did the king of Moab do next? Balak sent more messengers. These were people of higher rank. These were people of greater means. They were more important than the first set of messengers. They also brought the promise of payment. All I had to do was go to Moab and meet with the king and then pronounce a curse on Israel.
I wanted to go. Israel meant nothing to me. What is one little curse in return for the riches that would come my way from King Balak? When these guys showed up I told them I must inquire of YHWH before I could either go with them to Moab or even given them an answer. God came to me in the night and said I could go but I was only to say what God told me to say. I was really happy about going and I was really hoping YHWH would allow me to say something to satisfy Balak enough that I could get a nice payday.
And that is when the weirdness started to happen. The next morning I got up, saddled my donkey and along with my two servants I started making my way to Moab. I say it started getting weird because YHWH became angry with me for going to Moab. Now excuse me, folks. God said I could go. Why would God become angry with me for me doing the very thing God said I could do? Can someone please explain this to me? I do not understand, at all.
Anyway, not knowing YHWH was angry at this time, I start making my way toward Moab on my donkey when suddenly my donkey starts acting like, well a donkey. He becomes stubborn and does things like refusing to go forward. First, instead of going down the road we were traveling, the donkey suddenly decides to take the scenic route. He turns off the road and walks out into a field.
I am not happy. I am not happy at all. I am angry. There is a payday waiting for me in Moab and this stupid donkey decides to take a detour. I started beating the donkey. The dumb animal couldn’t understand he was now messing with my money and nobody messes with Balaam’s money. No, I guess he didn’t understand how could he? At that point, it didn’t matter. In the donkey-human relationship, I am the boss and the animal was defying my authority. I started beating the donkey. I was trying to force it into submission.
Now as we travel we are going down a narrow path through some vineyards. There were stone walls on both sides of the path. We were making progress down the path, trying to get back to the road when all the sudden, for no apparent reason the donkey starts acting like a donkey again. This time he stops in the path, leaned against a stone wall, pinning my foot between him and the wall. I was anything but happy. I was fuming mad. I didn’t have time for all of this. So, once again I start beating on this stubborn animal, trying to get him to move and release my foot. It wasn’t an easy pop on his haunches. I was really beating on him.
I didn’t understand it. While he was a donkey, never before had my animal acted stubborn and unwilling to go on. He actually seemed frightened, frightened of something else, someone else more than he was afraid of me.
Then, right there in the middle of the path, the donkey decided it was time for a nap or a siesta or something. He decides to lay down right there in the path. Even though he was to one side, it would have been difficult for someone to pass by him because he was taking so much of the narrow pathway. This pushed me over the top. I just started whaling on the donkey. I actually broke my riding crop across him so I reached out and picked up a nearby stick and started beating him with it. Did I mention that I was a little mad? And, like I said before, it is a good thing there was no SPCA around. I might have been in big trouble.
And I said this is when things got weird. Though it was already slightly weird with my donkey suddenly becoming so stubborn, it was about to get even weirder. Something was about to happen that I had never seen before. My donkey started talking!!!
Oh, so you don’t believe me? You can ask my two servants. Or, better yet, read your Bible, you can find this part of my story in Numbers 22.
My donkey says to me, “Why are you beating the daylights out of me these three times? What have I done to deserve this?
I have to tell you, friends, as hard as it may be for you to believe, I Balaam, son of Beor, was at a total loss of words. I was speechless, at least for a couple of minutes. Really, do you think you would be talking at this point in the story? I think you also would be speechless. It is not every day one encounters a talking donkey. Such would be an unbelievable occurrence.
I had to respond. I had to say something. Besides, I was still angry and the donkey needed to know I was mad. I answered his “Why are you beating on me question by saying, “Because you’ve tormented me. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now.” I thought I was losing my mind. I was having a conversation with a donkey.
The donkey then continued the dialogue. “Am I not your donkey, on whom you’ve often ridden to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” I said “No.” Like I told you, it was out of character for this donkey to act like a donkey and stubbornly refuse to go in the direction I wanted him to go. Right now it was even more out of character for us both to be carrying on a conversation.
It was time for one more level of weird. This man, this messenger of God as he called himself, this angel, was nowhere to be seen one minute and then stood in front of me, sword drawn in hand, looking at me with a pretty angry stare the next minute.
I was all ears at this point. How much more could happen to make me think things just can’t get any weirder? The messenger of God began to speak. “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I’ve come out here as an adversary because you took the road recklessly in front of me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it hadn’t turned away from me, I would just now have killed you and let it live.”
I have to tell you, I was at a loss as to why this messenger of God or even God himself would want to kill me. I didn’t think I had done anything wrong to this point in the story. I finally decided that for whatever the reason YHWY was angry because I traveled with these men, these emissaries of King Balak. It still didn’t make a lot of sense to me. God had told me I could go. Still, it was the only conclusion that came even close to making sense. “I have sinned,” I said. “Now if you think it is wrong I will go back.”
God’s messenger told me to go ahead with the men but to say only what he told me to say. I thought that was what I was doing when I left in the first place.
When we finally arrived in Moab and met up with King Balak he wasn’t pleased it had taken us so long to arrive. He felt his problem was urgent and he wanted me to be there before he even sent the first messengers.
I told Balak once again that while I was there and present with him, I could only speak the words God gave me to speak.
The next morning Balak took me to one of the battle fields. He wanted me to curse the Israelites right then and there. I had him build seven altars and then sacrifice a bull and a ram on each altar. Next, I instructed Balak to wait by his burnt offerings while I went and inquired of YHWH.
And, God did give me a word to say to Balak. In essence, I said, “How can I curse that which God hasn’t cursed or denounced what God hasn’t denounced.” Then I gave the Israelites a blessing.
To say Balak was mad would be an understatement. He called me to Moab to curse his enemy Israel but instead, I blessed them. Balak could hardly call it a successful day.
Balak then took me to a second place in the conflict with Israel. Again, he wanted me to curse Israel. But, if I was unable to do that he said I should neither curse them nor bless them. Once again I told him I must do as YHWH instructed. Again Israel, despite the wishes of Balak received a blessing.
Once more Balak took me to a battle site. Once more he asked me to curse his enemy Israel. Once more Israel got a blessing instead. Balak was livid. He told me to get out and go home. He refused to pay me. It was a disastrous scene.
I was prepared to go but before I went I had one more little speech to give to Balak. In that speech, I told him that Israel through the power of YHWH would destroy Moab and all the other kingdoms around. Go would win. And, with that, Balak and I parted ways. I am not sure where Balak went from there but I returned home.
Balaam did the right thing but for the wrong reasons. God had made Balaam a prophet but all Balaam wanted to do was use the gifts God had given him for his own gain. Balaam was first and foremost about Balaam. That isn’t all that unusual. To varying degrees, we all have times when we are first and foremost about ourselves. We often use divine gifts for personal gain.
I titled this series, “Averages Joes with an Extraordinary Story.” Balaam is an average Joe. Sure he was a prophet but there were prophets throughout the Old Testament. What make’s Balaam’s story extraordinary isn’t that he was a sinful man that God worked through to accomplish something important. It isn’t even that Balaam had an angel talk with him. That happens often in the Bible. It isn’t even that a donkey talked to him though that is pretty extraordinary. The thing that makes Balaam’s story so extraordinary is, even though Balaam was a wicked and sinful man, God made things where Balaam had no choice but to follow God’s will. God used this man, in spite of himself, to do work in the world. And, God did great things through an uncooperative Balaam.
I would challenge you to consider this. If God can accomplish great things through someone as uncooperative and wicked as Balaam, how much more can God do with people who seek after God’s own heart?
God calls us to be at work in the world around us. We can make a difference. The question is, will we do as God calls us.