Rebuked by a Donkey
Numbers 22 and 2 Peter 2:15-16
AUDIO: Listen to the audio version of this post HERE (Note: uploaded as YouTube video file).
As Christians, we know that temptations will come. However, it is how we handle these temptations that defines not only our own personal testimony, but also reflects on the authenticity of our Christian faith to those around us and to those who come after us.
As an example, we can look at Balaam in the Bible. The time period of Balaam’s life defining event comes when the Israelites were in-between homes. They had left Egypt, but were not yet fully settled into their new homeland of Israel. In Numbers 22, the Moabites have taken notice of how the God of the Israelites has given them favor and victory in exiting Egypt and conquering the Amorites.
2 Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, 3 and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.
4 The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” (NIV)
The leader of Moab, Balak, was terrified of the Israelites and their God, so he hatched a plan to undermine the favor from their God.
So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, 5 sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak said:
“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. 6 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.”
In verse 6, notice how Balak perceived the Source of power and authority in Balaam’s prophecies. He gives Balaam credit for God’s power.
Bible News, found at BibleNews1.com, gives a little detail into who Balaam is:
Balaam was a Gentile prophet, whose prophesies are recorded in scripture. He even predicted the Star of Bethlehem. However, his love of the world became the source of his infamy. Balaam loved money, prostitution, and worldly fame. He was famous as a soothsayer, who would pronounce a curse for money. The Mosaic Law strictly prohibited these practices, but then, Balaam wasn't a Jew. He was a Gentile. Balaam was a dichotomy who spoke with the authority of God at times... [a]
In verses 7-11, we read how Balaam takes Balak’s request to God. In verse 12, God answers:
12 But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”
Verses 13-14 tell how Balaam initially follows God’s instruction and rejects Balak’s request. Not to be dissuaded, Balak replies in verse 15-17:
15 Then Balak sent other officials, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. 16 They came to Balaam and said:
“This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, 17 because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.”
Balaam, true to the description given by Bible News above, allows his greed to overshadow his Heavenly calling. Instead of staying true to the Word God had already provided, Balaam goes back to God again. God allows Balaam to go with the messengers this time, but God is very displeased with Balaam’s lack of resolve. In verses 20-22, we read:
20 That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.”
21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.
God displays his obvious anger with Balaam. Some will say, “Why is God angry with Balaam if He told Balaam he could go with the men?” God is angry that Balaam did not immediately turn away Balak’s messengers by asserting God’s original decision. God is angry that Balaam is allowing the temptation of wealth and Balak’s favor to influence his decision-making. So, God placed an angel in Balaam’s path. In verses 22-27, we see that Balaam, unlike his donkey, could not see the angel of the Lord:
Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 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.
24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 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.
26 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. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff.
God uses the donkey in an attempt to get Balaam to reconsider his situation and mission. Unfortunately, Balaam does not get the message until God brings a supernatural message to him through his own donkey in verses 28 and 31-34:
28 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?”
…31 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.
32 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. 33 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.”
34 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 story goes on, but the point I am driving at is already coming into focus. Balaam already knew what God wanted, but we can summarize his motivations this way… Balaam basically tried to give God time to change His mind… for Balaam’s profit and glory, not God’s Glory.
Bible News, also has this to say about Balaam:
Balaam was the classic case of the worldly prophet. He was so overcome by worldliness that his values reflected not the Righteousness of God but the corruption of the lusts of the flesh. When the lusts of the flesh replace the love of God, the believer travels down the path of reversionism. Balaam was the epitome of the reversionist. He is the classic example of a person who knew the right way, but rejected it to pursue the Frantic Search for Happiness of worldly lusts. [a]
Although Balaam had obviously been used by God for great things to draw Balak’s attention and respect, Balaam is now best known for this, his life’s defining event, where a donkey had to speak to him to get Balaam to realize his own stubbornness.
2 Peter 2:15-16 (NIV) reads:
15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
Where do your actions and motivations fall on the stubbornness meter? Would God need to go to such extraordinary lengths to get your attention and draw you back from your own selfish ambition and desires into what God originally intended for you? Don’t be a Balaam!
[a] Bible News – Balaam and His Talking Donkey