I’m pretty sure Balaam and the donkey was the Beetle’s favorite story because of the talking donkey. I mean, really, who doesn’t love a talking donkey? That’s not something you see everyday, although a certain movie maker has now borrowed the idea for a series of movies about a green ogre.
The story of Balaam and his donkey can be found in Numbers 22-24. I like to read it from “The Message” version of the Bible, because it is easy to understand.
The basic story is that Balak, the king of Moab, wanted to hire Balaam to go and curse the Israelites. Balaam was a diviner, and what he said happened. If he cursed someone, they were cursed. If he blessed them, they were blessed. Balaam checked with God about cursing the Israelites, and God said no. Then, Balak offered Balaam more money, so Balaam went. The highlight of the story is Numbers 22:21-35. That’s the part with the talking donkey, and it says:
21-23 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went off with the noblemen from Moab. As he was going, though, God’s anger flared. The angel of God stood in the road to block his way. Balaam was riding his donkey, accompanied by his two servants. When the donkey saw the angel blocking the road and brandishing a sword, she veered off the road into the ditch. Balaam beat the donkey and got her back on the road.
24-25 But as they were going through a vineyard, with a fence on either side, the donkey again saw God’s angel blocking the way and veered into the fence, crushing Balaam’s foot against the fence. Balaam hit her again.
26-27 God’s angel blocked the way yet again—a very narrow passage this time; there was no getting through on the right or left. Seeing the angel, Balaam’s donkey sat down under him. Balaam lost his temper; he beat the donkey with his stick.
28 Then God gave speech to the donkey. She said to Balaam: “What have I ever done to you that you have beat me these three times?”
29 Balaam said, “Because you’ve been playing games with me! If I had a sword I would have killed you by now.”
30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your trusty donkey on whom you’ve ridden for years right up until now? Have I ever done anything like this to you before? Have I?”
He said, “No.”
31 Then God helped Balaam see what was going on: He saw God’s angel blocking the way, brandishing a sword. Balaam fell to the ground, his face in the dirt.
32-33 God’s angel said to him: “Why have you beaten your poor donkey these three times? I have come here to block your way because you’re getting way ahead of yourself. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she hadn’t, I would have killed you by this time, but not the donkey. I would have let her off.”
34 Balaam said to God’s angel, “I have sinned. I had no idea you were standing in the road blocking my way. If you don’t like what I’m doing, I’ll head back.”
35 But God’s angel said to Balaam, “Go ahead and go with them. But only say what I tell you to say—absolutely no other word.”
And so Balaam continued to go with Balak’s nobles.
The story of Balaam is continued in the rest of Numbers 22 and into 23. There, he follows God’s instruction and only says what God tells him to say. Balak questions why he won’t curse the Israelites, and Balaam pretty much tells him off (while saying what God tells him to say). The story goes from there into Numbers 24. It’s a pretty good story if you want to finish reading it. Balaam ends up blessing the Israelites three times under God’s direction, and he predicts the destruction of the Moabites and Kenites. In your face, Balak, God is in control!
As I was recently reading the story, I realized there are some great lessons to be gathered from Balaam and his talking donkey.
First, even when we mess up, God can turn it around to His glory. Balaam directly disobeyed God. This was a bad situation. (You know it’s bad when the animals start talking!) However, God used Balaam’s sin to turn the situation to His glory. In the end, Balaam blessed the Israelites and told of the end for the two other kingdoms. God showed that He was in control. If Balaam had not gone to sin, God could not have used this situation to His glory. Does that mean God caused Balaam to sin? Of course not. Balaam made his own choices. If Balaam had stayed home, God would have been glorified in a different way. However, God used Balaam’s sin in a good way. In the same way, even if we sin, God will be glorified. He is God, and while He wants us to obey him and worship Him, He will still be God if we don't.
God uses angels in our lives. He sent one to stand in the middle of the road and scare the donkey! Many people are gaga over angels. They have angel statues and angel bookmarks and angel wind chimes. They talk to their angels and thank their angels for protecting them. Then, there are the rest of us who avoid acknowledging angels because we don’t want to seem as though we are worshipping them. I don’t believe angels should be worshipped, but I know they are around us. A favorite verse of mine is Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them.” I love that image. When I am praying for my kids, especially when they are facing trials, I visualize angels around them. That gives me peace and comfort. Another verse, Psalm 91:11, says, “For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.” It is God who should be worshipped because He commands the angels, but the angels are certainly there! That’s amazing to me.
If an animal speaks to you, you should listen. I’m not sure how useful that lesson is for us, but it’s still a good tidbit. What has always amazed me about this story is that Balaam doesn’t even seem surprised that the donkey is talking to him! He just talks back to it like it’s an every day occurrence!
Actually, the talking animal is a lesson. God loves us so much that He will use any means, including a conversation with a donkey, to get our attention. Are you listening to God? Are you reading His word? Are you following His will? Are you looking for Him around you? If not, you might want to get started before your cat starts talking to you. And if your cat is talking to you, you might just want to get that checked out with a psychiatrist just in case it isn't God trying to get your attention. -Al