Of all of the stories I thought might inspire me in my Bible journaling, the story of Balaam’s Donkey wasn’t even on my radar. In fact, I read that story several days back and didn’t really give it too much thought. While I was inspired by Balaam’s oracles, I never stopped to consider Balaam’s actions. Then I got to Numbers 31:8 when we find out that Balaam died by the sword at the hand of the Israelites. Any time the Bible intentionally tells whether a specific person was killed or spared, there is a good reason. I knew when I read this verse that the writer was basically saying, “Balaam got his.”
Any time the Bible intentionally tells whether a specific person was killed or spared, there is a good reason.
Wait. I thought Balaam blessed the Israelites. I thought he did what God told him to do. Really confused, I went back and read the story again (Numbers 22-24). I’d like to tell you that a second reading cleared everything up, but I was actually a little more confused than when I started. In the story it seems that God gives Balaam permission to go with the Moabite princes to meet King Balak, but then gets angry when he does as he’s told. And, the text calls Balaam a priest. Isn’t that a good thing? I mean, he is talking to God and he calls him by the name Yahweh. The entire scenario did not line up with God’s character as He has revealed it in His Word. Here’s the thing: when what I know of God from His Word does not match up with my understanding of His actions in a particular story, then I automatically assume that there is something I’m not getting. In other words, a cursory reading of this story makes God look a little wishy-washy about whether he wants Balaam to go to Moab. However, we know that our God is wise, all-knowing, and steadfast. Therefore, the problem must be with my understanding of the text and its nuances rather than with God or His Word. So, I pulled out my Matthew Henry Commentary, and followed that up with my Broadman Bible Commentary. (I am a certified Bible nerd.) I discovered that the Bible has quite a lot to say about Balaam, so much so that I think he could easily make the list of top ten bad guys in the Bible.
What scripture reveals is that God had a serious ax to grind with Balaam. He wasn’t so much a priest as he was a sorcerer for hire. Balak, the king of the Moabites, wanted to hire Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites, who were camping near his borders. What a cursory reading of Numbers 22-24 might overlook is the grand show that Balaam puts on for the Moabite messengers. He has them spend the night, and wait while he “confers with the spirits.” This is a man that thinks he has the spiritual world wrapped around his finger, and he shows no sincere reverence for Yahweh. Throughout the story he attempts to play God and the Moabites against one another. When God instructs him not to go to Moab and not to curse the Israelites, Balaam sees an opportunity to manipulate the Moabites into offering him more money for his services. When God finally gives Balaam leave to go to the Moabites, He then becomes angry when he sets out on his donkey. God is so angry that he personally hinders Balaam’s progress. In the Old Testament the phrase, “the angel of the Lord” seems to refer to a pre-incarnation appearance of God in human form (as when Jacob wrestled with God). The ESV says that he “took his stand in the way as Balaam’s adversary.” But WHY!? Because God knew what was in Balaam’s heart. God was standing right there in his way and, even though the donkey could see it, Balaam was blind to the folly of his own way. When the faithful animal would not pass by the LORD, in his wickedness Balaam proceeded to beat her. So God opened the Donkey’s mouth so that she could speak, and in the process He opened Balaam’s eyes. Still, even after seeing God with his own eyes standing in the road opposing him, the sorcerer’s heart was unchanged. Though he knew that God had blessed the Israelites, he was still determined in his heart to curse them. Knowing this, God instructs Balaam to continue on his journey to Moab. Little did Balaam know that he was traveling toward his own downfall. Once in Moab, he tried repeatedly to flatter and manipulate Yahweh with sacrifices, but each time Balaam opened his mouth to curse the Israelites, he blessed them instead “again and again” (Joshua 24:9-10). Embarassed by his failure and chastized by King Balak, Balaam declares war on the God of the Israelites. We read in Numbers 25 that he encouraged the Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men and lead them into Baal worship. In Numbers 31 the two nations go to war against each other, and we are told that Balaam is killed by the Israelites. In the New Testament, hundreds and hundreds of years later, Balaam stands as an example of what happens to the man that dares to stand opposed to the one true God. Both Peter and Jude reference his story as an example of what happens when we wander off, chasing the wages of wickeness (2 Peter 2:12-16, Jude 1:11).
What scripture reveals is that God had a serious ax to grind with Balaam.
So, there you have it, the story of a man who decided to wage war on God himself. There are so many practical applications for this story. Before we go thinking ourselves above such things, we have to ask whether we have ever attempted to manipulate God into letting us do what we want to do rather than what He has ordained. Have we ever failed to fully recognize exactly Who we are dealing with when we try to oppose Yahweh. When we pray, when we ask, when we seek, are we ready to fully accept the answer that we get? I was very humbled by Balaam’s story because I found a little more of his attitude within myself than I expected. I don’t want to be like Balaam. I want to be like the little donkey that recognized the Angel of the Lord standing in her way! So, I drew Balaam’s donkey smiling out from the corner of her page, surrounded by brightly colored thistles as a treat. My prayer is that I would be more like that little donkey, ready to see God for who He really is and to obey no matter the cost. I hope that she inspires you too.
If you’d like to draw some folksy thistles like mine, here is a quick video to show you how I draw them. Enjoy!
Thanks for reading!