God told Balaam that he could go with the emissaries but he has to still listen to Him. Balaam gets a GREAT lesson in listening through his donkey.
I have always loved this story because it made me laugh. I especially love the part where Balaam was talking to his donkey and didn’t even think about what he was doing. He was so wrapped up in his anger that it didn’t register on him that he was holding a conversation with an animal. I want to take this old familiar story and see where the Holy Spirit takes us with it today.
The first thing that smacked me in the face is the fact that God was angry with Balaam for going. “But the God’s anger was kindled because he went” (verse 22a). WHY!? God told him to go just a few verses before. “And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, ‘If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you’” (verse 20).
This reminds me of an experience I had just as I was turning 18. I was invited to go on a camping trip that would be co-ed and not include parents. I had never been to such an event before. I asked my parents for permission to go. My dad told me he didn’t feel I should go but being I was now “officially” an adult he would leave the decision up to me. I didn’t WANT to have to make this decision! I wanted my dad to make it for me. But he refused. I wrestled with this decision for what felt like days but was probably only hours. I wanted to go but I didn’t want to disappoint my dad. I knew if I went he would be disappointed even though he said I could go if I so chose to. I eventually decided that my love for him and my desire to please him outweighed my desire to go. I stayed home.
Maybe Balaam should have wrestled with his decision a little longer. When I look back at our previous story I get the impression that Balaam really wanted to go but he wanted God to make that decision for him. Balaam got his answer about going the first time the emissaries came to him. “God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed’” (verse 12). When they came back Balaam could have stuck to the answer God had given him. It was not ambiguous or left open to interpretation. He should have turned them away at the door but he didn’t. He entertained a second invitation more enticing than the last.
God’s instructions that gave Balaam wiggle room to go held the same opportunity for him to also stay. God said “IF” and as anyone who has watched Disney’s Cinderella knows, “IF” is a powerful word. It is not a yes or no. It is a dependent word. It depends on the hearer’s decisions and actions. Balaam was as free to stay as he was to go. And from our reading today we know what choice God really wanted him to make.
God didn’t throw His hands up in exasperation at Balaam going though. He decided that since Balaam was going anyway He was going to make CERTAIN he remembered the final part of His instructions; “only do what I tell you.”
I love how God goes about His task through Balaam’s faithful donkey. God didn’t have to let the donkey see the angel and the danger. He could have let them both be blind but He used Balaam’s trusted and true donkey to bring Balaam a message.
This donkey had served Balaam faithfully for MANY years. The donkey knew how to behave. She had carried him carefully without complaint on many journeys. But today was different. She would refuse to go where Balaam directed her. And rather than wondering why the difference Balaam simply got angry with her and treated her like a rebellious animal.
Balaam’s donkey had no other motive but to save his life and her own. She acted in the only way possible in this situation. She also endured Balaam’s anger and punishment for it. I have no idea what would have become of her if God hadn’t allowed her to speak. Would the angel have moved further down the road or was this the final stand? Balaam HAD to be made to understand what was going on. His life depended on it!
I’m curious what was running through Balaam’s mind as he was on this journey. We know what was going on during the “off track” times but what about during the rest of the journey? Was he thinking about the riches he would be coming into? Was he wondering how he was going to do the things the king wanted? Was he wondering what God was going to have him say? Was he considering God letting him go and what that could mean? Or was he wrapped up in the conversation of the road and not thinking about what lay ahead?
Our gentle donkey and the angel she faced brought Balaam’s mind back to where it needed to be. It brought him face to face with the reality that God didn’t like where this was leading. God’s intervention in this journey told Balaam in NO UNCERTAIN TERMS that he better be listening for direction and following it TO THE LETTER. No matter what God said to do, Balaam BETTER do it. There would be no excuses for disobedience.
Thinking about this journey reminds me of a lesson I heard a long time ago. It was about God’s permissible will and God’s perfect will. God has a perfect plan for each of our lives but because of our own nature we don’t always, or even often, walk in it. We get off track and need redirecting back to where He knows is best for us. God’s permissible will comes into play during those “off track” times. He has boundaries that we are to stay between and within those boundaries are some requirements. Those requirements are usually placed there to direct us back to His perfect path again. But when we ignore those bumpers we wind up outside His will and find ourselves in some DEEP trouble. Fortunately though we aren’t abandoned even outside His will. His Spirit calls to us to draw us back in.
Balaam was in God’s permissible will when he left home but God made certain he moved back into the perfect before meeting up with those who had ill intent for His people. God would NOT let Balaam curse His people. If Balaam had been following some other false god his words wouldn’t have mattered but Balaam was God’s servant. Balaam’s words would represent God and God had already signed His name to the promises for His people. So God would NOT let there be a conflict and contradict Himself. It’s a good thing Balaam was willing to listen after God got his attention. We get to see how God’s bumpers worked next time.
I have two final thoughts. First, I’m curious as to what god Balak was making his sacrifices to. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t to the One and Only true God. And second, what did those traveling with Balaam think about what happened on this journey? Did they hear the conversation between Balaam, the donkey and the angel or were they totally in the dark? I would have liked to be a fly on the donkey’s back to find out.
Father God, thank You for taking a familiar story and showing me something new in it. I hadn’t realized that You gave Balaam a choice about going and You were NOT happy with his answer. I wonder how many times I have faced Balaam like choices and made the wrong ones. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say those were probably the times I struggled the hardest. The times I thought I had it all worked out but things kept falling apart. For each of those times, thank You for bringing me back into line. I don’t know if I can ever claim to be walking in Your perfect will because I am so imperfect but I do appreciate and DEPEND ON Your redirecting my path to make it better line up. I wonder what my life would have looked like if I stayed in Your perfect will.
I want to say that who I am now has a LOT to do with where I have walked and stumbled before. But I trust You would have brought me to where You wanted me to be even if I hadn’t. I trust You to be my director and my map maker. I also know that I can’t get lost as long as I keep my eyes on You. My path may look a bit like Billy from Family Circus but even he got to where he was supposed to be, eventually. I pray I have lost a bit of that wanderlust over our years together. Lead me Lord and I will follow.