Monday, June 25, 2012

Conversing With A Donkey

Numbers 22:1-35

“And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.” (Numbers 22:1)

God had told Israel not to attack Moab as Moses informed the people in Deuteronomy 2:9.  “And the LORD said unto me, Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle: for I will not give thee of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession.”  However, when they asked permission to cross their land, the Moabites were quite aggressive in refusing permission, and Israel had gone out of their way to avoid conflict.  After defeating the Amorites and the giant king, Og of Bashan, Israel no longer feared conflict, although they had no intention of attacking the Moabites.  They camped in an uninhabited part of Moab just across the Jordan river from Jericho.

“And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.  And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.  And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.” (Numbers 22:2-4) 

The Moabites had been quite threatening when Israel asked permission to cross their land, but after the defeat of Sihon, they were afraid to engage them in battle without help and enlisted the aid of the Midianites, who had previously offered no opposition..

“He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me: Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.

And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the rewards of divination in their hand; and they came unto Balaam, and spake unto him the words of Balak.” (Numbers 22:5-7) 

Balaam was a prophet of God, much like Moses father-in-law, Jethro.  Knowing that he had the power of God, Balac sought to get Balaam to side with him so he could use that power to accomplish his goals.  If Balaam would curse those people, he believed he could then defeat them despite their superior numbers.  He offered what he would have given his own prophets as an enticement.

“And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the LORD shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.” (Numbers 22:8) 

His emissaries probably assumed Balaam was preparing his potions and curses, and did not consider his request unreasonable, having no understanding of God.

“And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee? 

And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying, Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out. 

And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:9-12)

God was very specific.  Balaam was not to go with them or curse those people because they were blessed of God.

“And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.  And the princes of Moab rose up, and they went unto Balak, and said, Balaam refuseth to come with us. 

And Balak sent yet again princes, more, and more honourable than they.  And they came to Balaam, and said to him, Thus saith Balak the son of Zippor, Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me: For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me: come therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people.” (Numbers 22:13-17) 

Balak assumed that Balaam’s refusal was just a negotiating tactic to get more money, and increased his offer, because he was desperate.  He would pay whatever Balaam asked if he’d just come.  Satan will often up the ante if we reject his initial offer.

“And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.  Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD will say unto me more.” (Numbers 22:18-19)

Balaam knew God had said he was not to go or curse the people, but he wanted the money, so he offered to try again to see if God would change his mind.  He still wasn’t willing to go directly against God.  It is rather typical of human nature to try to convince God to allow us to do what we want.

“And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.” (Numbers 22:20)

Because of Balaam’s insistence, God agreed to allow him to go if the men came and woke him up the next morning, even though it was not what God wanted.  This is what is known as the permissive will of God.  He may allow us to do what is not pleasing to him because we insist.

“And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.” (Numbers 22:21) 

Balaam didn’t wait for them to come for him, hurrying down to tell them he could go.  He knew that they wanted him to curse Israel, and that God had told him not to, but he was still going to go with them.  His desire for the money makes him willing to ignore even the fact that God had told him he could only go if they came for him.  Like most people, he went even beyond the permissive will of God.

“And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him. 

And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.”  

But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.  And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall: and he smote her again. 

And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.  And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.” (Numbers 22:22-27)

God was angered by Balaam’s deliberate disobedience and sent his angel to stop him.  Like most people, Balaam became quite angry about the obstacles to accomplishing his goals and more determined to have his way.  It’s bad when a donkey or an unsaved person is more spiritual than a Christian, but it frequently happens when we are determined to have our own way.

“And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times? 

And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee. 

And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.” (Numbers 22:28-30)

This astounds me!  Balaam was so consumed with his anger over being thwarted in his purpose he never even realized what was happening.  His donkey was carrying on a conversation with him and all he could think about was his desire to kill her for interfering with his plans.  He had allowed Satan to control his mind.

“Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.” (Numbers 22:31)

It took an act of God to regain control of Balaam’s mind.  When he finally regained control, he fell to the ground in fear.

“And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me: And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.” (Numbers 22:32-33) 

The very thing Balaam was so upset about had saved his life three times.  How often the things we see as frustrations may be protecting us, but because we are so concerned with our own goals we get angry.

“And Balaam said unto the angel of the LORD, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.” (Numbers 22:34) 

Finally Balaam recognized his sin and offered to go back, if God wanted him to.  He still excused himself as not having known he was going against God, ignoring the fact God had told him not to go and not to curse Israel.  Balaam is typical of a great many Christians today.

“And the angel of the LORD said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.” (Numbers 22:35) 

At this point, Balaam was committed to go and God permitted him to go on, but not to say anything except what God told him to say.  He was to add nothing.


  1. The story of Balaam's ass had fascinated me as well. How could a dumb animal suddenly start talking, and Balaam treating the situation as an ordinary incident withour feeling any amazement?
    Thank you for your explanation. It certainly makes sense.
    Unfortunately, it is stories like this one which causes many an atheist to mock the Bible as a silly book of fables.

    1. My Dad used to tell us that in a boxing match, if you could make your opponent mad, you could always beat him, because people quit thinking when they are angry. Satan can use that anger to gain control our minds if we allow him to.

      The atheist mocks the idea of God, these stories just make an easy target.

  2. I love this Bible account, because it seems to indicate that God has a sense of humor (or of irony), that we can't put Him in a box, and that He can and will use any and all means to get our attention! Thanks for the great post.
    God bless,

    1. It fascinates me that we can get so caught up in our own plans that even such an event doesn't get much attention. You are right, God will use whatever it takes to get our attention, but it took three times of the donkey's actions and even his talking to finally get enough of Balaam's attention so he even saw the angel.

  3. Balaam, is an interesting character. You and I are of the minority view that he was truly a prophet of God. I was at a house church where this became a topic of conversation, and it was a very fruitful time as we reasoned from Scripture about this prophet, his purpose and relationship to the Lord. The majority of those whom I speak with or read cast Balaam as a false professor who was never really God's prophet. But the language is quite clear; Balaam knew God. He is a tragic character like Lot, King Saul, or Demas. Few I have spoken with believe these men to have been truly God's, either.
    Excellent post; thank you.

  4. If he hadn't been a prophet of God, I don't think God would have given him those three warnings. The donkey would have just carried him up to the angel and let him kill him.

    Too many believe in the idea of sinless perfection, that a real Christian cannot do anything wrong. As you stated in your blog, Christians can sin, but the Holy Spirit will not let it become a way of life.

  5. That he was a prophet of God is especially important in the message to the church at Smyrna in Revelation 2. He knows the truth, but goes beyond and distorts what God has said, as we see in the next passage, in an effort to benefit himself.