Balaam And His Donkey: Lessons From The Story

From Numbers 22-24.

Israel was making its journey to the Promised Land. It had been about 40 years since God used Moses to lead them out of Egypt and they were nearing the end of this great trek.

Having come from Seir (the land of the people of Esau) and reached the valley of Arnon, Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites asking if they could pass through his land. He declined and instead prepared for war. He attacked Israel at Jahaz but they defeated him taking over his territory in the process. Israel also took many other cities, settling in much of the land of the Amorites, in Heshbon and surrounding villages.

At this point, the Israelites moved towards the land of Moab.

Balaam the Seer and King Balak      

They reached the plains of Moab and camped there. Balak was king at the time and he saw the Israelite encampment in the plains—they were in great numbers. He had already heard how the Amorites who lived not far from his own land, had been destroyed by this great people. After talking to the elders of Midian, Balak decided to send messengers to Balaam the diviner (or seer) with precious articles as payment, to curse Israel. The princely men came to Balaam but God advised him not to go with them because the multitude he was meant to curse were already blessed. Balak then sent more honorable messengers this time promising to give him whatever his heart desired. The seer reiterated what God had said (he must not go) BUT told them to wait till he heard from Him again. The Lord later spoke to Balaam advising him to go with the men but only do as he was told. He arose in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.

Wilderness

On the way, his donkey turned away from the road and went into the fields. He struck it to turn back but it ended up between a narrow path in a vineyard with walls on either side. It did not seem to want to go forward. The donkey pressed Balaam’s leg against the wall and he beat it even more. The animal eventually sat down and Balaam was furious. After he had beaten it several times, the Lord opened its mouth and it complained. At this point, his eyes were divinely opened and he saw an angel with a sword drawn standing in the way. He now understood why the donkey would not move forward. The angel then told Balaam his action (going to Moab) was wicked before God and he would have been slain if it were not for his donkey. The seer repented and wanted to turn back, but the angel told him to proceed to Moab but only say what God would reveal to him. Balaam went on to Moab.

King Balak went out to meet him on his arrival at the border of the territory, and asked about his reluctance to respond saying, “Did I not send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?”. He assured the king he would say only what God would reveal to him and nothing more.

In the morning Balak sent for the seer and brought him to a raised ground at Bamoth-baal. From here they could see just a fraction of the people of Israel in the plains of Moab. Balaam was then asked to put a curse on the people.

He requested that seven altars be built and he offered a bull and ram on each. He thereafter went to another height to wait for word from God. After the Lord had spoken, he said: “who can curse what God has not cursed”. Balak being disappointed with the utterance, took him to another place( the field of Zophim), built seven more altars and more sacrifices were made. The seer again waited for the Lord’s word. He came back saying: “God sees no trouble in Jacob (Israel). Behold a people as a lioness”. Moab’s king was frustrated again. Nevertheless, he took the Balaam to yet another place at the top of Peor with a view of the desert. Seven altars were built again and offerings made.

On this occasion, Balaam did not go anywhere to listen for a word, he realized God was pleased to bless Israel, so he looked towards the wilderness and saw Israel camping and the spirit of the Lord came on him. He said, “how lovely the encampments of Israel, the kingdom shall be exalted and consume the nations; all its adversaries.” Balak was incensed and told the man to say nothing more since he was blessing Israel instead of cursing them.

But the Balaam said, “a star shall come out of Israel; a sceptre shall rise out of Israel and destroy Moab”. Balaam and the king both went their ways.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN

The Inclination To Succeed Is Upon Those Who Walk With God

Israel literally walked with God as they journeyed to the Promised Land. He manifested himself as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night. The Lord went before them day by day and He was amongst them always. He gave Israel success whenever they went into battle against their enemies—as long as they heeded Him. The few times they went to war without His approval resulted in defeat. The many victories Israel attained in battle put the fear of them on many kingdoms, Moab being one of them.

Balak the king of the Moabites had heard about Israel and this great God that had enabled them destroy all their enemies and he was fearful for his kingdom.

The success God gives us in our own battles strengthens us, weakens the spirit (power) of the adversary and leads us to more victories in the process. Today we do not have the pillars of cloud and fire to lead us, but we do have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit for guidance us (John 16:13). The only way we can be led by God and be victorious is by keeping His word. Of course we will lose our way once in a while but the important thing is to get back on track always.

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Living Apart From God Will Make Us fearful—Even Over Nothing

As seen above, when we walk with God, we can overcome anything before us and this gives us a sense of assurance and stability. On the other hand if we walk apart from God or out of his will, we tend to be fearful of everything and nothing.

When the people of Moab (who worshiped their own gods) heard that Israel was camping in the plains near their city, they were “overcome with fear” (Numbers 22:3). King Balak was himself terrified of Israel. What the king and his people did not know was that God had instructed Israel not to attack Moab since they were descendants of Lot Abraham’s nephew[i] (Deuteronomy 2:9). Moab therefore, at that time, was afraid of nothing.

If we do not know God at all, we will always find ourselves worrying because it will be our responsibility to come up with a solution for every problem that life brings. And being the human beings we are, we will fall short of solutions several times. We would be much better off letting God handle our problems.

If we do know God but are walking apart from his will, it will not be much different. Living in a way that’s contrary to the will of God brings about feelings of guilt and a conviction that bad things may happen to us as a result of what we may have done. We will therefore live in fear. The solution here is of course to get back on course by re-dedicating our lives to God; asking Him for forgiveness and receiving it. The next step would be to submit to His will and pray for the grace to be faithful in our walk with Him.

God Will Test Our Hearts With Material Benefits

Balaam was a prophet that knew God although it is likely he practiced divination as his trade. He however seemed to have a good level of obedience. When the princes whom King Balak had sent came to him the first time, with their precious articles, he stood firm and said, “Go to your own land for the Lord has refused to let me go with you”(Numbers 22:13). When they came a second time (more honorable and with precious items), Balaam was tempted to go with them and not miss out on the benefits.

Although he well knew that God did not want him go, he said, “So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me”. It is clear he was hoping God would change His mind so he would not miss out on the precious articles.

Like Balaam, we too will find ourselves in situations where a “small” compromise may enable us benefit a great deal. We then try to make sure God is not saying no yet we know deep inside it is not what He wants. Ultimately we choose to have our way. What we acquire outside God’s will not give us much satisfaction and will lead us along a false direction—away from the real abundant favor that He has for us. The Lord will at times “stand in our path” like the angel did for Balaam because He wants what is best for us.

Ultimately, He is willing and able to bless us with even more than what we ask, but it must be within His will, and equally as important, in His time.

God Can Turn Our Mistakes (After We Repent) Into Something Positive

On confirming that God was against his decision to go to Moab with Balak’s Princes, Balaam repented and offered to turn back. God acknowledged his repentance and told him to continue with his journey. The Lord then used him to bless Israel even more.

God will take our mistakes and make something out of them as long as we acknowledge and are willing to allow Him work in us. Because Balaam repented, his utterances became written prophecy about Israel and a part of the Scriptures that has and will continue to benefit countless individuals. There’s a good chance that one of those beneficiaries is you.

No One Can Curse What God Gas Blessed

King Balak wanted the Seer to curse the children of Israel for him. God clearly told Balaam, “You shall not curse the people, for they are [already] blessed” (Numbers 22:12). This shows us that God’s blessing on Israel was in fact indelible or permanent. The Lord was in essence telling the seer not to waste time trying to curse Israel. One thing should be clear though, although this blessing cannot be undone, it can be made redundant by our own disobedience.

As children of the New Covenant of God, we have been blessed by the works of Jesus on the cross. By believing in him and living the way he said we should, we become just as Israel was, blessed by God. Jesus himself said, “Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke: 11:28).

So the blessings of the fruit of the spirit, abundance and good health are already within everyone who walks with God even if they may not seem apparent. We should therefore rejoice in knowing that no one take away what the Lord has already given us.

The Children Of God Posses The Boldness, Strength And Power Of A Lion

In the second revelation Balaam receives, God likens Israel to a Lion. He says, “Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself’”. Israel by themselves could do nothing. The likeness to a Lion they possess is really the Spirit or presence of God. Similarly, as believers we can do nothing on our own (John 15:5).

On the other hand if we let God lead us and walk according to His will, we shall be as a Lion in the wilderness since the Spirit of God dwells in us.

We shall posses the attributes of a lion; boldness, because we have an Almighty God walking with us, strength because when we are weak the Lord is our strength (2 Corinthians 12:8-10) and power because we have been given authority over ALL the power of the devil (Luke 10:19).

[i] Moab was eventually destroyed after they enticed the children of Israel into idol worship.

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