- The Explore the Bible lesson for Dec. 29 focuses on Numbers 22:22-35.
While preparing to write this week’s lesson, I asked my children and their friend: “Do you think animals can talk?”
Perplexed, they replied, “No, animals can’t talk.”
“What about a donkey?” I asked again.
“No,” they answered.
“What about a snake?”
Then my 4-year-old daughter replied: “Snakes don’t talk. They go ‘ssss sssss,’ silly dad!”
So, I read to them the story of Balaam, eager to ignite a crucial conversation with them. As I read the story, I intentionally accentuated the conversation between Balaam and his donkey, but my kids were not interested in talking donkeys. I felt disappointed.
The story of Balaam is eccentric. People have been debating whether Balaam was a prophet from God or a foreteller, because when the Moabites came to Balaam, he asked them to stay the night and then he would report whatever the Lord answered.
When the first group came to summon Balaam, he sent them back, arguing that the Lord refused to let him go with them. Then king Balak sent other officials, more distinguished than the previous ones. This time, God ordered Balaam to go with them. “But only do what I tell you,” God said. Balaam got up the next morning, saddled his donkey and went with the officials. Everything was going smoothly until the writer introduces God into the story again. The author tells us God was furious when Balaam went with them.
Why was God angry at Balaam? Didn’t God tell him the night before that it was OK for him to go? Why did God change his mind overnight? There are a few points worth our time. First, when the second group of officials came, they offered the prophet a bigger reward. Second, Balaam followed his previous protocol and consulted God before deciding. Last, when God agreed that he could go, the author described a minor detail; he saddled his donkey. The saddling of a donkey was used for several purposes in ancient times, but the most prominent were transportation and carrying supplies. Perhaps, by saddling his donkey, Balaam intentions were to bring as many goodies as possible back with him, and this change of attitude made God angry.
Three Strikes (Numbers 22:22-27)
On his way to meet Balak, Balaam encountered the unexpected. An angel of the Lord appeared to Balaam’s donkey three times. The first time, the donkey went off the road into a field, and the prophet hit the donkey. The second time, the angel stood in a narrow pathway with walls on both sides crushing Balaam’s foot against it. Balaam hit the donkey a second time. The last time, the angel stood in in a narrower place with no room to turn around. So, the donkey laid down under Balaam, and Balaam beat it a third time.
In baseball, three strikes mean you are out. In this situation, we can see the three strikes as three opportunities God gave Balaam to see his error. His heart was blind to spiritual things. It’s interesting to note that a prophet, a foreteller, a messenger from God, could not receive this message.
Two Questions (Numbers 22:28-30)
When I read the story to my children and their friend. I felt disappointed because my expectation from them was a loud: “Wow! A talking donkey!” However, they did not react this way. This passage undoubtedly is bizarre to explain. After the third hit, God enabled the donkey to question his owner. The donkey asked him two questions. 1) What have I done to you to make you beat me three times? 2) 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?
Note Balaam’s inability to see beyond the obvious. Despite being considered a prophet, Balaam could not see what was happening. God gave him a message but he could not see it. The donkey, on the other hand, saw the angel and tried to communicate with the prophet by getting off the road, crushing his foot against the wall, and finally, by laying down under him. Realizing the prophet’s incompetence to recognize the signs, God used a different way to communicate with him, using Balaam’s own donkey.
One View (Numbers 22:31-35)
Finally, the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes and five things occurred: (1) he saw the angel; (2) he bowed low; (3) he fell face down; (4) he confessed his sin; and (5) he obeyed. Balaam finally understood that God’s ways were the only true ways.
When God calls us to do something he expects us to follow his plan and purpose. For Balaam, this would have cost him his life had it not been for his donkey. The consequences of not following God’s plan may be different for us, but the point is that he calls us to be truly obedient to his commands.
Jaime Cortez is discipleship pastor at First Baptist Church in Athens, Texas.