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.


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.


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 (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.

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 it 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 a nation 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 solutions for every problem that life brings. And being the human beings we are, we will fall short 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 certainly 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 often 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 Has 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 like Israel. Christ 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 when they may not seem apparent. We can make them manifest by exercising faith regardless of what our circumstances suggest. We should therefore rejoice in knowing that no one can 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] The Moabites (and Balaam) were eventually destroyed after they enticed Israel into immorality and idol worship.

10 thoughts on “Balaam And His Donkey: Lessons From The Story”

  1. Yes thank you so much we are blessed with the Word. But now, how come for the first time God allowed Balaam to go and after he refused him to go?

    • Thanks for your comment/question Daniel. The first time Balaam asked God what he should do, the Lord said, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12). The second time God said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you” (Numbers 22:20). But afterward God was angry when he went, and the Angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Then the Lord said, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you” (Numbers 22:35).

      So you can see Daniel that God was looking into Balaam’s heart. He knew that the man could not be trusted but He wanted to use him to bless Israel even more. He allowed the seer to go but on the way God could see his hidden intentions of gaining riches for himself and perhaps not doing as he was told. Therefore the Angel of God cautioned him saying, “do only what I tell you.” Thereafter he was allowed to continue. I hope this makes it clear for you.

  2. Question: In our daily situations we get confronted by our dwelling – the king Balak was a personality who had almost every thing: authority, power, riches etc. Yet as a ruler he was visionary as well, but this man looked to be worldly in his acts, he calls Balaam to act on his interest forcefully. So to such people how are we to win them to repent and follow the right path or to receive righteousness?

    • Thanks for your question Francis. From what I read, you’re referring to the difficulties faced by believers under the authority of leaders/employers that have little regard for God. They find it almost impossible to advise those in power because it may impact their own position. And how do you get them on the right path?

      To begin with I will remind you that several people from ancient times in Scripture actually experienced the same. Consider Joseph, Daniel and David (I suggest you revisit the book of Daniel). All worked under kings that did not regard God. They never compromised their values but instead served the kings faithfully. When the king went against what they believed, they were willing to stand for what was right to their own cost. As far as changing people is concerned, we can be a light to them in terms of our character then pray for them. Only God can change someone’s heart.

    • Thank you Joey for your question. It is a subject many wonder about because Balaam as a character is an enigma. At some point he appears to be obedient to God. He certainly could hear the voice of the Lord, yet he is referred to as a ‘seer’ not man of God or priest of God. He is one who claims not to regard riches yet is moved in his heart when offered wealth. He obeys God and delivers the right utterances yet afterward he connived with King Balak to entice Israel to sin. This is what Christ means when he says “Lukewarm” “Neither hot nor cold”. In the Book of Revelation the Lord makes it clear what we should think of Balaam: He says, to the Church in Pergamum, “You have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14). Balaam was killed alongside the Moabites whom he used to make Israel turn from God (Joshua 13:22).

    • Kelly thank you, since you’re asking this question here, I believe it is inspired by the above post. Israel was and still is God’s chosen nation. Of course as Christians we’re grafted in through our faith in Christ (Romans 11). So in that sense, all practicing Christians are God’s chosen. That said, God does not give opportunity to some and leave out others. The famous verse John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Note the word “Whosoever”. So God invites ALL people to know Him. Yet all people do not respond positively to the invitation. Christ says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:24). The Father invites all but only selects and draws those who will accept that invitation.

      In terms of divine purpose, because God knows everyone’s heart, weaknesses and abilities — and if they will be willing to carry out his purpose, He will not insist on a person who will never repent and is therefore unable to perform the task He has in mind. To conclude, God selects those who will accept Him in their lives. If you love the Lord and are willing to let him direct your life, you are chosen.

  3. I really have a desire to repent from my sins, I feel that I have the immoral thoughts in check, and I’m fighting to stop drinking. I really hate having the desires, what can I do? I don’t want to back slide, I want to quit.

    • First of all I commend you Kelly for being open and honest about what you’re struggling with. The Lord never despises a repentant heart (Psalm 51:17). He is pleased when we acknowledge what may not be right. As frustrating as it may be trying to break your habit, do not let it take away your peace. God sees your heart and willingness to change. Now that you’ve acknowledged you need his help, you are under his grace, He will be patient with you. Your role is to trust that He is now working and continue to do your best to quit. It may take time but stay in faith. If you fall back, don’t be discouraged, keep trying. There’s nothing too hard for God, He will give you victory. You can also read this, there’s a bit more detail there. God bless


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