Okay, first, God didn’t call a donkey. I confess that was clickbait. Shame on me. God did, of course, cause a donkey to speak to a man and that is our story for today. The full story of Balaam can be found in Numbers 22-24, but we will quickly summarize the story.
Balaam is an odd character in the Bible, to say the least. He was a prophet, and apparently not a false prophet. We can get that by the fact that he did communicate with, and receive instructions from God. He may have had some reputation in the area for being a prophet because this is where King Balak of the Moabites comes in. The Israelites were more or less having their way with the locals and conquering them left and right; Balak was afraid that his turn was coming. His plan was to pay the prophet Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites, and he dispatched a team to propose just that.
It doesn’t talk long to figure out that Balaam’s heart was in a bad place. One would think that when the emissaries of King Balak came to him with their proposal, that he would have immediately said, “Get lost!” He did not. He replied that he could not of himself do this think but would ask the Lord for permission.
“And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.” Numbers 22:8
In other words, even though I know this thing is wrong, I’ll ask Dad. Of course, God refused to grant his request. Balaam delivered the refusal.
“And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you.” Numbers 22:13
In other words, I would go, but my Dad won’t let me. Balaam knew better, and the fact that he didn’t just send Balak’s messengers away says a lot.
This time King Balak sent a team with more power and prestige, and likely money to relay the request again. This time Balaam had the good sense to refuse, but not totally it seems because he replied in this way:
“And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more. Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more.” Numbers 22:18,19
Friends, do you see that? Balaam is clearly fishing for increased monetary consideration. Again, the time was proper to just send those guys packing.
Then this happened.
“And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do. And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.” Numbers 22:20,21
So, off Balaam went to see King Balak. Here is where the story seems incongruous to us a bit.
“And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.” Numbers 22:22
What just happened here? What follows is God sending an angel to kill Balaam, only for a talking donkey to save his life. Read it, it’s great. The question that arises is why did God get mad at Balaam for something He told him he could do? Isn’t that wavering and capricious of the Lord? Let’s talk about that a bit.
The first thing of note is that God didn’t just kill Balaam outright; he sent a messenger in the form of that donkey to give him one last chance to think about what he was doing.
Still, though, why did God get angry? Well, there are a couple of schools of thought regarding that.
Some attach great emphasis on the phrase in verse 20, “If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them;” Some point out that the “if,” condition was not fulfilled and that Balaam jumped ahead and went anyway. That seems valid enough to me.
Another thought is that God clearly understood Balaam’s heart and his desires, and basically said, “Okay fine: do it your way and let things unfurl as they will.” I rather like that one myself.
God can, of course, turn any heart and person to do as He wishes; He can also allow, through His permissive will, us to do exactly what we want and then suffer the natural and/or God-given consequences of our actions.
I again think it is worth noting that God didn’t just kill Balaam, even though clearly this man was operating counter to God’s will; God’s just that way. He is patient and longsuffering even in the face of stubborn resistance and is slow to anger and quick to forgive. Aren’t we glad about that? I surely am!
It didn’t end well for Balaam, and his legacy is a sad one for the people of Israel. Read of this in 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1:11 and Revelation 2:14. If satan can’t succeed in a direct assault, he is sure pretty good at a sideways one!