Balaam And His Donkey: Lessons From The Story

Wilderness 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 and attacked Israel at Jahaz. Israel defeated king Sihon and took his land. Israel also took many cities, settling in much of the land of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages.

King Og of Bashan was also defeated by Israel in Battle. At this point, the Israelites moved towards the land of Moab.

Balaam the Seer and King Balak

Bible Reference: Numbers 22-24

Israel reached the plains of Moab and camped there. Balak was King of Moab at the time and he saw the Israelites camping in the plains and they were numerous. Balak 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 (seer) with precious articles as payment, to curse Israel. The messengers (Princes) came to Balaam but God advised him not to go with them because the people he was meant to curse were already blessed. Balak then sent more honourable Princes to Balaam this time promising to give him whatever his heart desired. He reiterated what God had said (he must not go) BUT told them to wait till he heard from Him again. The Lord spoke to Balaam telling 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 to Moab, Balaam’s donkey turned away from the road and went into the fields. He struck it to turn it 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 and to only say what God would reveal to him. Balak went on to Moab with the delegation that had been sent to him.

King Balak went out to meet Balaam on his arrival at the city of Moab, on 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 what God would reveal to him and nothing more.

In the morning King Balak sent for Balaam 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. The Seer was then asked to put a curse on the people.

Balaam requested that seven altars be built and he offered a bull and ram on each. He thereafter went to another height to wait for the 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. Balaam again waited for the Lord’s word. He came back saying: ‘God sees no trouble in Jacob (Israel). Behold a people as a lioness’. Balak was frustrated again. Nevertheless, he took the Seer 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, Balak 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 are shall be exalted and consume the nations; all its adversaries’. Balak the king of Moab was incensed and told Balaam to say nothing more since he was blessing Israel instead of cursing them.

But the Seer said: ‘a star shall come out of Israel; a sceptre shall rise out of Israel and destroy Moab’. Balaam and Balak 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 (JHN 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.

Old Testament Gems: Fascinating Things You Could Have Missed

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 worshipped their own gods) heard that Israel was camping in the plains near their city, they were ‘overcome with fear’ (NUM 22:3). King Balak was himself very afraid 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] (DEUT 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 that we are, we will fall short of solutions many 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 the wrong 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 your walk with him.

God will test our hearts with material benefits

Balaam was a prophet that knew God although it is likely he practised divination as his trade. He however seemed to have a good level of obedience. When the Princes whom King Balak had sent came to Balaam the first time, with their precious articles, he stood firm and said to them ‘Go to your own land for the Lord has refused to let me go with you’(NUM 22:13). When they came again (this time with more honour and 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, Balaam said to the Princes: ‘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 ignore what he says and 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. God will always stand ‘in our path’ like he did for Balaam because he wants the 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 good

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 the journey. The Lord then used him to bless Israel even more.

God will always take our mistakes and make something out of them as long as we acknowledge and are willing to allow him to 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 blessed’ (NUM 22:12). This shows us that God’s blessing on the people of Israel was in fact indelible or permanent. 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 fruits of the spirit, abundance and good health are already within everyone who walks with God even if they may not seem apparent. If we continue to believe, we will eventually see the manifestations. We should therefore rejoice in knowing that no one can curse what God has blessed and He has blessed 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 (JHN 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 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 COR 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.