Who is Balaam?
Some may know him as “The guy the donkey talked to in the Bible!
However, his story is in Numbers and not many individuals or Bible Study groups spend a ton of time in Numbers. Balaam makes the list of our “Small Matters” lineup because he wasn’t even an Israelite prophet, yet God used him and in so doing, he learned an important lesson – even if the lesson came via some amazing communication from a donkey!
Here is the situation:
In Numbers 21, the Israelites were expanding their territories and with God’s blessing, conquering many powerful foes. King Balak of the Moabites, as he saw this unfold, was probably expecting his Kingdom to be next. So, fearing the worst, King Balak sought help from a certain someone named Balaam who was a proven expert in accessing the supernatural, and was willing to pay Balaam big money for his expertise.
A look at Balaam and his abilities:
Let’s pick up the story:
Balak son of Zippor, the Moabite king, had seen everything the Israelites did to the Amorites. 3 And when the people of Moab saw how many Israelites there were, they were terrified. 4 The king of Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This mob will devour everything in sight, like an ox devours grass in the field!” So Balak, king of Moab, 5 sent messengers to call Balaam son of Beor, who was living in his native land of Pethor[a] near the Euphrates River.[b]His message said: “Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. 6 Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.”
7 Balak’s messengers, who were elders of Moab and Midian, set out with money to pay Balaam to place a curse upon Israel.[c] They went to Balaam and delivered Balak’s message to him. 8 “Stay here overnight,” Balaam said. “In the morning I will tell you whatever the Lord directs me to say.” So, the officials from Moab stayed there with Balaam.
9 That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men visiting you?” 0 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent me this message: 11 ‘Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come and curse these people for me. Then perhaps I will be able to stand up to them and drive them from the land.’” 12 But God told Balaam, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!”
13 The next morning Balaam got up and told Balak’s officials, “Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.” 14 So the Moabite officials returned to King Balak and reported, “Balaam refused to come with us.” 15 Then Balak tried again. This time he sent a larger number of even more distinguished officials than those he had sent the first time. 16 They went to Balaam and delivered this message to him: “This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Please don’t let anything stop you from coming to help me. 17 I will pay you very well and do whatever you tell me. Just come and curse these people for me!”
18 But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God. 19 But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” 20 That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”
21 So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along, 23 Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So, Balaam beat the donkey again.26 Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. 27 This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff.
28 Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam. 29 “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!” 30 “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” Balaam admitted. 31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him. 32 “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. 33 Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” 34 Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.” 35 But the angel of the Lord told Balaam, “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.” So, Balaam went on with Balak’s officials.36 When King Balak heard that Balaam was on the way, he went out to meet him at a Moabite town on the Arnon River at the farthest border of his land.
37 “Didn’t I send you an urgent invitation? Why didn’t you come right away?” Balak asked Balaam. “Didn’t you believe me when I said I would reward you richly?” 38 Balaam replied, “Look, now I have come, but I have no power to say whatever I want. I will speak only the message that God puts in my mouth.”
Before we go any further, let’s look at this from God’s perspective.
Why would God speak through a pagan sorcerer like Balaam? It is important to realize that God can use whatever means He chooses, including a pagan sorcerer. God wanted to get a message to the Moabites & King Balak. Balak had already employed the services of Balaam, so Balaam was available for God’s use (much like God using wicked Pharaoh to accomplish his will in Egypt).
God, came to Balaam at night in verses 9-12. God asked Balaam what he was doing and who he was doing it with? Balaam answered with the situation described to him by King Balak and what the King wanted from Balaam.
God told him not to go with the messengers from Balak sent to bring Balaam back, i.e., to leave the Israelites alone – don’t curse them, because they’d been blessed by God Himself.
So, what happens?
But Balaam had a fateful flaw – he made one very significant error – he said “but!” When it comes to obedience to God, you never, ever, ever say “but”! Let’s look at verses 19 & 20 again: “But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.” That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”
Now, one might say, did the Lord change His mind? God saw that Balaam was waffling – the lure of the money was great, so yes, God did come to Balaam that night, and He did allow him to go, but - with one very important caveat – “don’t say anything don’t tell you to say.”
Balaam had originally intended not to go against the will of God. However, the next morning, God saw through Balaam’s attitude, that he was going for the money and not to just give the Moabites a message from God. So, God became angry and sent an angel to stand in the road Balaam was traveling on his donkey.
5 questions that would be beneficial for us to consider our answers to today:
Arabian horses go through rigorous training in the deserts of the Middle East. The trainers require absolute obedience from the horses and test them to see if they are completely trained. The final test is almost beyond the endurance of any living thing. The trainers force the horses to do without water for many days. Then he turns them loose and of course they start running toward the water, but just as they get to the edge, ready to plunge in and drink, the trainer blows his whistle. The horses who have been completely trained and who have learned perfect obedience, stop. They turn around and come pacing back to the trainer. They stand there quivering, wanting water, but they wait in perfect obedience. When the trainer is sure that he has their obedience, he gives them a signal to go back to drink.
Now this may be severe but when you are on the trackless desert of Arabia and your life is entrusted to a horse, you had better have a trained obedient horse. We must accept God's training and obey Him.