46. THE DONKEY SPEAKS TO BAALAM
We are great sinners in the eyes of God. We all would like to enjoy the benefits of heaven for eternity. We would all like to enjoy the happiness and security of heaven for ever.
But because of our selfish fallen nature, we want all the riches and honour this world can offer. But we cannot have the best of two worlds at one time. Now is the time for us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.
If we do it, we will soon enjoy all the pleasures of heaven for ever. Lets pick the story of the Balaam who wanted the joys of both worlds at one time.
Verse 21 So Balaam rose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.
Verse 22 Then God’s anger was aroused because he went, and the Angel of the LORD took His stand in the way as an adversary against him. And he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.
In verse 12 God had made known His mind to Balaam. In v. 20 the Lord allowed him to go. This was merely a permissive directive, based not on God’s will but on Balaam’s self-will.
Had the prophet desired God’s will the words recorded in v. 12 would have settled the matter. But when a man is rebellious at heart God may permit him to follow his desires and suffer the consequences (see Ps. 81:11, 12; Hosea 4:17).
Balaam is an example of a prophet who prostitutes his calling, seeking to make gain of his divine gift. Accordingly, we read of the “doctrine of Balaam” (Rev. 2:14), the “error of Balaam” (Jude 11), and the “way of Balaam” (2 Peter 2:15).
The angel of the Lord. Who could this be? This phrase often refers to Christ (Ex. 3:2, 14; 23:20, 23; 32:34)
God stood in Balaam’s path as an adversary, not so much because the prophet was determined to follow his own path to destruction, but rather because he was setting himself up as an opponent of God’s chosen people.
Balak’s men of rank with large gifts in their hands and the promise of more (15–17), were upset because Balaam had not immediately agreed to accompany them.
Anticipating another refusal, they had already set out on their journey back home. Balaam was seeking to catch up with them, and thus particularly annoyed at any delay.
Verse 23 Now the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand, and the donkey turned aside out of the way and went into the field. So Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back onto the road.
The two servants of Balaam were apparently as blind as their master. The Lord opened the eyes of the donkey as He did her mouth shortly after.
Verse 24 Then the Angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side.
On his journey through the cultivated countryside, the prophet arrives at an enclosed place between two vineyards, a wall on each side with a part between.
Verse 25 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD, she pushed herself against the wall and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck her again.
By forcibly pressing her body close to the wall the ass is able to get past the angel, who again takes up another position ahead.
In seeking to brush past the angel the ass violently scrapes Balaam’s foot between her body and the wall.
Verse 26 Then the Angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.
Can you see the poor donkey?
Verse 27 And when the donkey saw the Angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam’s anger was aroused, and he struck the donkey with his staff.
The donkey realized the hopelessness of the situation. The prophet, blinded by avarice and anger, could only see stubbornness in her conduct.
Verse 28 Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Can you think of another instance recorded in the Bible of a creature speaking?
Verse 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have me. I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you!”
Because you have me. Literally, “played with me like a child,” that is, treated me capriciously and made a plaything of me.
Now I would kill you. The insincerity of the prophet was exposed. He was setting himself forth as able to destroy a nation by his incantations, yet was helpless to kill his ass.
A man could scarcely be more blind than not to feel surprised that an ass should converse with him.
Verse 30 So the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?” And he said, “No.”
Was I ever disposed? “Is this the way I usually act?” The peculiar behavior of the donkey should have been enough to impress Balaam that something was wrong, for she had never behaved perversely before.
Verse 31 Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of the LORD standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face.
Compare the experience of Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 6:17).
He saw the angel. Balaam lacked spiritual sight. His two servants apparently saw nothing. Compare the experience of Paul’s companions (Acts 9:7).
Bowed down his head. Was this true repentance? Abject fear?
Is God going to speak to Balaam at this stage?
Verse 32 And the Angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to stand against you, because your way is perverse before Me.
Perverse. Literally, “reckless.” The idea is that Balaam was undertaking a journey on the basis of his stubbornness, and not in harmony with God’s will.
Verse 33 The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.”
Compare the experience of another disobedient prophet’s donkey (1 Kings 13:24).
Verse 34 And Balaam said to the Angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know You stood in the way against me. Now therefore, if it displeases You, I will turn back.”
I have sinned. Perhaps he had in mind his senseless beating of the ass as much as his determined pursuit of the gifts of Balak.
If it displease thee. He knew that the journey was permitted only because of his stubbornness.
Verse 35 Then the Angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but only the word that I speak to you, that you shall speak.” So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.
Compare verse 20, where the same permission was first given, and where God again is identified with the speaker.
Verse 36 Now when Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the border at the Arnon, the boundary of the territory.
Balak went out with a large retinue of chiefs and dignitaries to honor the prophet who, it was hoped, would free the country from fears of invasion.
Verse 37 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not earnestly send to you, calling for you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?”
A compliment to Balaam, in that Balak did not seek to hide or minimize his anxiety.
Verse 38 And Balaam said to Balak, “Look, I have come to you! Now, have I any power at all to say anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I must speak.”
Balaam intimates to Balak that he is under restrictions however much he may regret it
Verse 39,40 So Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kirjath Huzoth. 40 Then Balak offered oxen and sheep, and he sent some to Balaam and to the princes who were with him.
Balak offered. In all probability a sacrificial feast to honor Balaam and make for a propitious beginning of operations. Balak thus demonstrated his joy that the prophet had arrived in safety (1 Sam. 9:23, 24).
Verse 41 So it was, the next day, that Balak took Balaam and brought him up to the high places of Baal, that from there he might observe the extent of the people.
Literally, “in the morning.”
The high places of Baal. Literally, “Bamoth-baal,” probably identical with Bamoth in ch. 21:19. The name indicates that it was a heathen sanctuary. It is possible that Balak had the idea that Balaam’s curse would be more effective if he saw the Israelites as he cursed them.
Numbers 24:1 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.”
That is, on the high place, the sanctuary of Baal, where sacrifices were wont to be held and from which the camp of the Israelites was visible.
Seven oxen and seven rams. By multiplying the number of sacrifices Balaam thought to placate God. His mind was now thoroughly controlled by heathen concepts of God, that quantity is more important than quality and material offerings more effective than a sincerely obedient heart.
Do we also at times think that we can earn God’s favour religious extravagance?
Verse 2 And Balak did just as Balaam had spoken, and Balak and Balaam offered a bull and a ram on each altar.
As a heathen king Balak would perform priestly offices, assisting Balaam. The mockery of it all was not apparent to the prophet—a wicked prophet of God cooperating with a heathen king officiating at a sacrifice to Baal, thinking at the same time that his own God could be placated by that sacrifice.
Verse 3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stand by your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the LORD will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.” So he went to a desolate height.
Balaam could only hope the Lord would condescend to meet him, for he knew that what was in his heart was contrary to God’s mind.
Desolate height. Literally, “bare,” “smooth,” “level.” The verb root means “to make level,” “to smooth,” “to plane off,” “to make bare.” Balaam desired to be alone; he was already on a “high place,” where the altars were built.
Verse 4 And God met Balaam, and he said to Him, “I have prepared the seven altars, and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.”
God met Balaam. The infinite patience of God!
To think he meets you and me when were are on wrong errants. To think that he still cares about you and me in spite of the fact that we are back sliding.
Seven altars. Balaam implies that the sacrifices were made to God, and that He should therefore feel reconciled to Balaam’s plans and be willing to cooperate with him.
Compare 1 Sam. 13:12 for sacrifice as a form of supplication and Hosea 12:11 for God’s attitude toward a multiplicity of altars and sacrifices.
Verse 5 Then the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.”
It is a mark of a true prophet to carry the word, or message, of Jehovah (Deut. 18:18; Jer. 1:9).
It has been remarked that as God put words into the donkey’s mouth contrary to nature, He also put words into Balaam’s mouth contrary to that prophet’s stubborn will.
Verses 6,7 So he returned to him, and there he was, standing by his burnt offering, he and all the princes of Moab. And he took up his oracle and said: “Balak the king of Moab has brought me from Aram, From the mountains of the east. ‘Come, curse Jacob for me, And come, denounce Israel!’
The Hebrew word for oracle refers to a statement given in figurative rather than in plain language.
The king of Moab. A pretense that Balaam had come against his will.
The mountains of the east. Probably a reference to the barren, stony, and mountainous part of Mesopotamia.
Verse 8 “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?
How shall I curse? This suggests that Balak was asking Balaam to do the impossible. The blessing of God rested upon His people and the curse of man could not prevail against them.
Verse 9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, And from the hills I behold him; There! A people dwelling alone, Not reckoning itself among the nations.
Balaam was standing on the mountaintop gazing down upon the camp of Israel (22:41; 23:3)
Dwelling alone. To dwell apart was a symbol of security (Deut. 33:28; Micah 7:14). Furthermore, the people of God were to be separate from the habits and customs of the surrounding nations.
Not reckoning itself among the nations. Chosen of God, they were to be a people apart (see Ex. 33:16; 1 Kings 8:53).
The Jews came to regard themselves as altogether superior to all other nations.
Verse 10 “Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, And let my end be like his!”
Who can count. The Hebrew construction is such as to express great surprise that one would even think to do such a thing. Compare the promise to Abraham (Gen. 13:16) and to Israel (Gen. 28:14).
One fourth of Israel. Jewish commentators see a reference here to the camp of Israel divided into four parts.
The death of the righteous. Unfortunately Balaam’s sinful avarice prevented him for dying a righteous man. How sad. He won the world but lost his soul.
Is it your wish to die the death of the righteous? It is also God’s wish for you. Please allow Him to restore His character in you.
The children of Israel were “righteous” because Jehovah had made them so, and had chosen them to be His people (Deut. 7:6–8).
What a beautiful prayer. While the wicked prophet Balaam looked down on Israel, the redeemed of God, he realized that God was with His people.
He knew that when they die, they would die in the hope of the resurrection.
And then he uttered this beautiful prayer:
Let me die the death of the righteous, And let my end be like his.
After the break will be looking at the response of Balak the Moabite king. Would you have sacked Balaam after he was paid to curse Israel but instead he blessed them?
While I was standing at the place where Balaam prayed this beautiful prayer my thoughts went out to Daniel 12:13 “But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.
My prayer is that I too will be resurrected when Jesus comes again. What about you my dear friend?