The Ass, The Fool And The Stubborn Mule!

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The Book Of Numbers Chapters 22 to 23

NUMBERS 22

Balak Summons Balaam

 1 Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.

 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.”

   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.”

 7 The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.

 8 “Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will report back to you with the answer the LORD gives me.” So the Moabite officials stayed with him.

 9 God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”

 10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: 11 ‘A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.’”

 12 But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.”

 13 The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s officials, “Go back to your own country, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.”

 14 So the Moabite officials returned to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”

 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.”

 18 But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God. 19 Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the LORD will tell me.”

 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.”

Balaam’s Donkey

 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. 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. 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?”

 29 Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

   “No,” he said.

 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.”

 35 The angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.

 36 When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. 37 Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?”

 38 “Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.”

 39 Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. 40 Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep, and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp.


NUMBERS 23

Balaam’s First Message

 1 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 2 Balak did as Balaam said, and the two of them offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

 3 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the LORD will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you.” Then he went off to a barren height.

 4 God met with him, and Balaam said, “I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram.”

 5 The LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

 6 So he went back to him and found him standing beside his offering, with all the Moabite officials. 7 Then Balaam spoke his message:

   “Balak brought me from Aram,
   the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;
   come, denounce Israel.’
8 How can I curse
   those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
   those whom the LORD has not denounced?
9 From the rocky peaks I see them,
   from the heights I view them.
I see a people who live apart
   and do not consider themselves one of the nations.
10 Who can count the dust of Jacob
   or number even a fourth of Israel?
Let me die the death of the righteous,
   and may my final end be like theirs!”

 11 Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!”

 12 He answered, “Must I not speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?”

Balaam’s Second Message

 13 Then Balak said to him, “Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will not see them all but only the outskirts of their camp. And from there, curse them for me.” 14 So he took him to the field of Zophim on the top of Pisgah, and there he built seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

 15 Balaam said to Balak, “Stay here beside your offering while I meet with him over there.”

 16 The LORD met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

 17 So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the Moabite officials. Balak asked him, “What did the LORD say?”

 18 Then he spoke his message:

   “Arise, Balak, and listen;
   hear me, son of Zippor.
19 God is not human, that he should lie,
   not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
   Does he promise and not fulfill?
20 I have received a command to bless;
   he has blessed, and I cannot change it.

 21 “No misfortune is seen in Jacob,
   no misery observed in Israel.
The LORD their God is with them;
   the shout of the King is among them.
22 God brought them out of Egypt;
   they have the strength of a wild ox.
23 There is no divination against Jacob,
   no evil omens against Israel.
It will now be said of Jacob
   and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’
24 The people rise like a lioness;
   they rouse themselves like a lion
that does not rest till it devours its prey
   and drinks the blood of its victims.”

 25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!”

 26 Balaam answered, “Did I not tell you I must do whatever the LORD says?”

Balaam’s Third Message

 27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.” 28 And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland.

 29 Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 30 Balak did as Balaam had said, and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

Commentary:

This ‘story’ about Balaam is one of the most fascinating ones in the bible. A ‘diviner’ hired by a pagan king to curse God’s people because he was afraid of them! The king had heard of all the exploits and battles won by the Israelites as they journeyed towards his ‘kingdom’. Was he next in line? Did he have a chance? These must have been thoughts reverberating in his head. He must also have heard that there was a mighty ‘God’ with the Israelites. The chap and his people were ‘sick with fear`. He felt he had to do something but he knew he couldn’t just go out and fight these people. Surely he and his army would be destroyed. However, the problem, it seemed was really that the Moabites didn’t want the Israelites settling near them (and sharing their resources, more than the fear of being destroyed in a war (vs. 4 – 6). They may even have been aware that the Israelites were not supposed to war against them (Deuteronomy 2:9, 17-19). 

Anyhow, Balak the king thought he had a fantastic plan to stop the Israelites from settling next to them and eating them out of house and home! He would attack them, defeat them and drive them out. But could he just go and attack knowing the power behind them? He needed to reverse the blessing i.e. put a curse on them. Once cursed, victory would surely be his. Or so he thought!

Enter Balaam, a man said to be a diviner. A man who seemed to be a top specialist...well known in his profession! Important  men from Balak brought  the important message to come quickly and curse the people of God with enough cash offered to ensure he wouldn’t refuse. And Balaam was tempted.  But he had to make things look right. Knowing what these princes were after, he invited them in telling them that he was going to ask God. Did he actually? We don’t know for sure, but we know God came to Balaam Himself, and was very specific in His instructions. Balaam could not go, and he could certainly not curse the Israelites, because they were blessed. The sneaky man went back to the princes and simply said that God had refused to let him go (and conveniently left out the important fact that he was not allowed to curse them). He was probably protecting his reputation.

One of the things that struck me here was the incredible nature of God – unfathomable. God knew Balaam’s intentions. Was he really trying to obey God, or was he trying to negotiate with God (or manipulateHim). Yet in spite of his thoughts (that God would somehow change his mind and tell him what he wanted to hear – which other way could God have said ‘don’t go, you cannot curse’?) and actions, God was very patient with him. In the end, God said, okay go, but only do as you are told. This shows that sometimes, God allows His permissive will even though He had expressly said no. God had something else up His sleeve. Balaam needed to learn a thing or two.

It always makes me laugh reading about how a man argues with his donkey – and loses! And in spite of his probably successful career as a prophet (or seer), the donkey was a better prophet. He saw the angel, when the ‘prophet’ couldn’t. The donkey was also wiser – in response to the beatings he received from his master, he had to say, ‘Man, I have served you for a very long time, and never behaved like this. Can you not tell/see that there must be a good reason for my strange behaviour today? ` God then opens Balaam’s eyes and he saw and understood that the donkey had actually been saving his life while he in fact was the ass.

One lesson to learn from this story is that of the two paths of life – righteousness and sin. It is extremely crucial to be on the right path, and it is safer for us to obey God and do his will (especially when it is very specific), than to try manipulation. Sometimes, God may just allow something He does not approve of to teach us a lesson. In the end, Balaam seemed to have learnt his lesson, and blessed the Israelites, not once, twice or three times, but four times –indeed with the Spirit of God upon him, he understood exactly who the Israelites were, something crucial about God (Chapter 23: 19 -20), and the kind of relationship God had with the Israelites. But (and it’s a huge `but’), Balaam’s disobedience still caught up with him – but wait until later on in Numbers to find out what happened to Balaam).

The entire story points to the sovereignty of God. He is indeed in control! His purposes and promises cannot be thwarted! And knowing that is totally assuring. His purposes, plans, and promises regarding us will come to pass. God has not lost control!

Balak and his persistence in attempting to curse the Israelites is another issue in these two chapters. What do you all think?

Adetola Phillips

JOB 36:11

11 If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment.