A Donkey Demonstrates Obedience
Balaam stands in disgrace as the model of apostasy. His desire for lust, power and wealth lured him to act in opposition to the will of the Almighty God. God admonished Balaam through an obedient, talking donkey. Peter wrote of the story of Balaam in 2 Peter 2:15-16. He wrote, "Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet." The story of Balaam is a very strange story, but it is true. It occupies three chapters (Numbers 22-24) and a number of other Bible mentions. Balak, king of Moab called upon the services of Balaam to put a curse upon the Israelites so as to stop their progress.
Let us observe some of the facts of this bizarre account:
Getting to know Balaam: The children of Israel pitched their tents in the plains of Moab near Jericho. Balak was King of Moab. His people heard how many Israelites there were and what they had done to the Amorites. They were afraid. So King Balak sent a message to Balaam son of Beor to come and place a curse on Israelites? Balak told Balaam that "anyone you bless will be successful, but anyone you curse will fail." The leaders of Moab and Midian went to Balaam with the message and they took money to pay him for his work. God's message to Balaam was "Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed."
At first Balaam refused to go with these people. The second time they came, Balaam said he could not go even for a house full of silver and gold. It sounds like he was naming his price. God told him to go but to do only what He said to do. So Balaam got up the next morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. God was angry that Balaam had gone, so one of the Lord's angels stood in the road to block his way. The donkey saw the anger standing there with the sword, but Balaam did not see it. So the donkey went off the road into an open field. Balaam beat the donkey to get it back on the road. Next the angel stood in a path of the vineyards between two walls. When the donkey saw the angel, it walked so close to one of the walls that it crushed Balaam's foot against the wall and he smote her again. The angel then moved once more and stood in a spot so narrow that there was no room for the donkey to go around. So she just lay down. Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.
In a most amazing moment God caused Balaam's donkey to talk and it did not seem to shake the disobedient prophet at all. The donkey asked Balaam, “What have I done to you that made you beat me three times?" Balaam responded "Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee." The donkey told Balaam that he was her owner and that he had ridden upon her many times. They donkey asked Balaam if she had ever done anything like that and Balaam said, "No." Then the Lord allowed Balaam to see the angel standing in the road, holding a sword, and Balaam bowed down, realizing that the donkey had saved his life. Balaam went to Balak and said, "I will say only what God tells me to say."
Through this Biblical account we observe that Balaam did some things right. At first Balaam listened to God. Balaam said to Balak's officials, “Go on back home. The Lord says I cannot go with you." He refused to do or say anything that God did not approve. On Balak's second attempt Balaam said, "Even if Balak offered me a palace full of silver or gold, I wouldn't do anything to disobey the LORD my God." He said, "Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Ram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel. How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied...Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" (Numbers 23:7-10) It is always right to be righteous and to only do and say what God desires.
Through this Biblical account we observe that Balaam did some things wrong. In fact he was so wrong that "God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him..."(Numbers 22:22) Moses said the counsel of Balaam caused Israel to "commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord." (Numbers 31:14-16) The work of Balaam caused the children of Israel to sin and to suffer a terrible plague. Jesus recalled how Balaam "Kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel by causing them to eat food that had been offered to idols and to commit sexual immorality." (Revelation 2:14) Balaam could have helped the Moabites and others to "turn to God from idols, to serve the living and true God." (1Thessalonians 1:9) However Balaam failed miserably as a prophet. He wanted to curse God's people in order to obtain the money offered to him by Balak. "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (1 Timothy 6:10) He loved money more than he love truth and righteousness. He "loved the wages of unrighteousness." (2 Peter 2:15-16) Balaam later conceived of a way to destroy Israel. Beautiful Moabite women were sent into the camp of Israel. They went there to lead Israel into sexual sins and once that was accomplished the women would led the men of Israel to worship Baal. (2 Peter 2:14-16) Balaam knew what pleased the Lord, but obeying the Lord did not please Balaam.
Through this Biblical account we observe how God dealt with Balaam. God was very specific in telling Balaam what to do. "And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed." (Numbers 22:12) God gave Balaam the unmistakable sign of the talking donkey and the angel that he was in serious danger if he disobeyed. (Numbers 22:21-35) Even the donkey had better sense than Balaam. God was patient and longsuffering with Balaam as he kept associating with Balak and trying to get money for cursing God's people. (Numbers 24:10-13) Balaam tired to cure Israel but each time God turned the curse into a blessing. He tried three times from three different locations but he was able only to pronounce blessing on Israel and not a curse. Balak was upset he did not pay him the money that Balaam thought he would receive. Balaam's wicked counsel led to many in Israel being punished with death. (Numbers 31:14-18) Balaam was so overcome by worldliness that his values did not reflect the righteousness of God. He knew what God expected but he tried to find happiness in the world.
Through this Biblical account we observe the end of Balaam's life. Balaam was remembered in Joshua's farewell speech. "Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and warred against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you: But I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he blessed you still: so I delivered you out of his hand. (Joshua 24:8-10) Jude wrote, "Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core." (Jude 1:11) Finally a sad and misdirected life came to an end as Balaam was killed in the days of Joshua. "Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword among them that were slain by them." (Joshua 13:22) Balaam failed to obey God. What a waste!
The importance of obedience cannot be stressed too much. Peter wrote, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:17) Will you accept God's wonderful good news that Jesus died for your sins? Will you be baptized into Christ to put on Christ so that your sins can be forgiven by His blood? (Galatians 3:26-27) Believers contact Christ's saving blood by being baptized into His death. Those that become children of God have reason to rejoice. (Acts 8:39) The obedient can rejoice because Jesus is the “author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him." (Hebrews 5:8-9)
By Charles Box, Walnut Street Church of Christ, P.O. Box 551, Greenville, Alabama 36037 USA.