SSL 5 - Num. 22:22-35
PREVIOUS LESSON: In Num. 20:1-13, we found the Israelites back at Kadesh Barnea in the wilderness of Zin where, 38 years before, they had rebelled by refusing to enter the land of Canaan (Num. 14:1-10). The penalty for their disobedience had been the death of the entire first generation of Israelites except for Joshua and Caleb. Now, like their forefathers, this new generation contends with Moses and Aaron because there is no water. But God shows them mercy and tells Moses to take his staff but only speak to the rock, and it will bring forth water. But instead of obeying god, Moses speaks to the people in anger and contempt then strikes the rock with the staff not once but twice. (1) The rock was a symbol of God's mercy and grace. Thus, when Moses struck the rock out of disobedience, it was the same as striking God Himself. By doing this, Moses had crossed the line and become a rebel himself. (2) Rebellion and disobedience are the opposite of trust. The actions Moses and Aaron demonstrated a complete lack of faith and trust in God and in front of the entire assembly of Israel, everything they said and did was a direct insult to God's person and holy character. (3) God's judgment against Moses and Aaron clearly demonstrated that God was in control. Because God had condemned an entire generation to die in the wilderness for their rebellion in refusing to enter Canaan, He couldn't make an exception even for Moses or Aaron.
THIS WEEK: In Num. 22:22-35, we will cover the story of Balaam and the donkey. At this point, the Israelites have now marched back to their staging area east of the Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea. On their way, they have fought and won three battles in the Transjordan described in Chap. 21 (Arad, Amorites, and Og). From this area, they would attack Canaan, beginning with the ancient city of Jericho. The nation of Moab, southeast of their location, feared the Israelites and did not trust their territorial ambitions. Balak, the king of Moab, sent messengers to Balaam, a pagan seer and soothsayer who claimed he could foretell the future and cast spells, and offered to pay him to put a curse on Israel with divination, a type of spell. While Balaam believed in the God of Israel, he was a pagan who also believed in all kinds of gods and spirits. Num. 22:12 records that God spoke to Balaam and told him not to curse His people, that they were blessed. Mean-while, Balak comes back and offers Balaam a lot more money for the curse, then in 22:20, God speaks again and tells Balaam, "rise up and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do." So Balaam arose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab. (Num. 22:20-21). This is where we enter today's text.
Read Num. 22:22-27 - GOD'S MESSAGE TO BALAAM THROUGH AND ANGEL OF THE LORD
22 But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. 24 Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam's foot against the wall, so he struck her again. 26 The angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick.
v. 22: But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him." - Wait, has God contradicted Himself? He told Balaam to go and he went. But when Balaam saddled his donkey, who did he go with-the leaders of Moab? By doing this, he had set himself in opposition to God. God knew Balaam's heart, too-he was seeking fortune and out of greed was ignoring God's command in v. 12, "you shall not curse the people." The presence of the angel in his path was intended to open his eyes, to show him the wickedness of his opposition to God. Traveling with servants was common but has no relevance to the story. Balaam, in his pagan ignorance, didn't realize who he was dealing with, the one true God, the creator of the universe. The "angel of the LORD" is an interesting personage who appears with some frequency in both the OT and NT. In these capacities, the angel represents God and is authorized to speak for Him.
v. 23: "When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. " - What's happening here? Well, Balaam, the all-seeing soothsayer, was so spiritually blind that he could not see the angel in front of him, while the proverbially dumb beast, his donkey, clearly saw the angel and immediately swerved off the path. Confused by his beast's strange behavior, Balaam lashes out at her to get back on the path.
v. 24: "Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side." - Now, the angel has maneuvered the donkey onto a narrow path with walls rising on each side, so that she couldn't escape in either direction.
v. 25: "When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam's foot against the wall, so he struck her again" - In attempting to avoid the angel, the donkey pressed herself tightly against one wall, and in the process, smashed Balaam's exposed foot against it. Still utterly blind to what's going on, Balaam strikes out at the donkey again.
v. 26-27: "The angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick." - The angel moved to a narrow place that effectively blocked the donkey. With no place to go, she stopped and simply lay down with Balaam still on her back. Furious now, Balaam strikes her viciously. We tend to feel sorry for this poor frightened and confused animal, don't we?
Read Num. 22:28-30 - GOD'S MESSAGE TO BALAAM THROUGH THE DONKEY
28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" 29 Then Balaam said to the donkey, "Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now." 30 The donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?" And he said, "No."
v. 28: "And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?'" - Did I read this right-the donkey talked to Balaam? Yes, our God is omnipotent. Scholars over the ages have debated how to inter-pret this: did the donkey actually produce audible speech or was it something that only Balaam heard in his head? Remember that the serpent spoke to Eve? (Gen. 3:1-5). In any case, scholars say the circumstance was subjective-you would have to have been there to really know. But we can be sure-however God did this-that Balaam definitely heard the donkey speak to him. And notice what the donkey says to him: Why have you mistreated me? Why do I deserve this?
v. 29: "Then Balaam said to the donkey, 'Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.'" - Now this is really amazing: Balaam replies to the donkey as if talking to a dumb animal this were an everyday occurrence. We know that God talked to Balaam, and commentators suggest that Balaam might have communicated with evil spirits (i.e., demonic powers), maybe even through other animals. Again, the interpreta-tion is subjective. And notice Balaam's reply: I did this because you have made a fool of me. What Balaam said he would do to the donkey with a sword (if he had one) is ironic. Do you see that? First, it was God, not the donkey, who was making a fool of him, and the donkey, who can see the angel and the sword he's wielding, by squatting down suddenly, in effect, had just saved Balaam from being separated from his head.
v. 30: "The donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?" And he said, "No." - Hooray! The donkey rebukes Balaam. To paraphrase, the donkey says I've been a good and loyal donkey all your life and have faithfully carried you everywhere you wanted to go. Don't you realize that this in not the way I normally behave? This causes Balaam pause and think this over. "No," he says. He's been humbled, confused. What's the underlying message that Balaam should discover from this? Am I somehow being told that I'm on the wrong path-I'm treading on dangerous ground? When the sovereign God places an unexpected obstacle in your path, what should you do? STOP!
Read Num. 22:31-33 - GOD'S MESSAGE TO BALAAM THOUGH THE ANGEL OF THE LORD
31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. 32 The angel of the LORD said to him, "Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. 33 But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live."
v. 31: "Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground." - In v. 28, God opened the donkey's mouth; then here, He opens Balaam's eyes. And what a fearful sight he sees: a mighty angel of God facing him with a drawn sword. His reaction isn't surprising: he's completely terrified and speechless, so he falls on his face in fear and trembling. That's what happens when you try to outwit or outmaneuver the one true God. I think many people have the mistaken idea that if they simply ignore God, He isn't really there. They are like the rulers and kings in Rev. 6:15-16 who try to hide under the rocks and mountains from the wrath of the Lamb.
v. 32: "The angel of the LORD said to him, "Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me." - Here, the angel doesn't wait for Balaam to respond (I suspect he was speechless). First, notice he repeats what the donkey said in v. 28: Why did you strike the donkey three times? In other words, why didn't you stop and think about what was happening instead of just beating your animal. When we get a warning message from God-something that interferes with the path we're on-we sometimes have the unfortunate tendency to beat-up the messenger and fail to see the angel with the sword. Now the angel explains his mission: "as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me." The Heb. word for "contrary" literally means to butt heads, and when the angel says, "me," he's speaking on behalf of god. So, Balaam is being told that on this path, he's on a head-on collision with God, the ultimate "no-win" situation.
v. 33: "But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live." - I like what the angel says here, "But the donkey saw me." Think, what does that communicate to Balaam? Simple really: the donkey, an animal known for its low intelligence and stubbornness, is a better "seer" that you are. Then the angel tells him (my paraphrase) if she hadn't acted as she did, you'd be dead right now. Now here's another irony: if Balaam's words could kill, the donkey would be dead, correct? Yet, she turned out to be a blessing, yes? More on that later.
Read Num. 22:34-35 - BALAAM'S "REPENTANCE"
34 Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, "I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back." 35 But the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, "Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you." So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak.
v. 34: "Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, 'I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back.'" - In view of Balaam's previous track record, I think we would have to view his admission of sin as pretty superficial and half-hearted at best, do you agree? And his explanations: that he "did not know that You were standing in the way against me" contradicts what God said to him in v. 12 about not cursing His people. And then the conditional statement, "if it is displeasing to you" Balaam is implicitly questioning the sincerity of God, I mean, how could he not know his actions displeased God. If Balaam had been truly repentant, he would have confessed his greed, treachery, and deceit, and begged for God's forgiveness.
v. 35: "But the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, "Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you." So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak." - This is another great example of a divine reversal where God, who is sovereign, can use what is evil to accomplish good for His own divine purposes. Remember that Balaam is, at his core, a person driven by greed who worships wealth above everything else. So, here, instead of ordering Balaam to go back home, the angel instructs him to go on with these men, with the proviso that he must "speak only the word which I tell you." If you read about Balaam on beyond this lesson into chapters 23 and 24, which are not in our reading plan, you will discover that unknown to Balaam, his mission ultimately produces the opposite of what the Moabites want, and Balaam ends up getting nothing from it. Balaam finds out the hard way that no man, even a great seer and soothsayer like himself, can curse that which God has blessed.
TRUTH 1: It is extremely foolish to be for what God is against and against what God is for. Balaam was attempting to curse the people whom God had blessed (the Israelites), which put him in the position of being against those whom God was for, in other words, he had become God's "adversary," which is a very bad place to be.
TRUTH 2: When the sovereign God places an unexpected obstacle in your path of life, you should immediately STOP. When the donkey asked Balaam to consider if squatting down on a path was his normal behavior, Balaam was forced to stop and think. And after he thought it over, God opened his eyes, allowing him to see an angel standing in front of him with a drawn sword, which, in turn, caused him to fall on his face in fear of his very life. Even believing Christians can suffer from the mistaken idea that if they simply ignore God and go their own way, He will somehow overlook their sin. Nothing is further from the truth. A Christian will suffer the consequences of sin in this life and be required to account for in the next. The writer of Hebrews said it this way: "He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness" (Heb. 12:10b).
TRUTH 3: God sometimes uses the evil of others to accomplish His plans. First, you need to understand that God never causes evil. "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone"'. (James 1:13). However, God can use the evil actions of others to accomplish good. In today's story, the king of Moab depended on the curse of Balaam to defeat the Israelites, which had the effect of holding him back militarily and allowing Israel to focus on its campaign against the nations of Canaan. (Note: A war between Israel and Moab does occur centuries later in 2 Kings 3.)
PRAYER: LORD GOD, our Father and Creator, we come before Your throne this morning with humble and grateful hearts, thanking and praising You for Your love, mercy, and undeserved grace toward us and for all of the many blessings you give us this day and every day. Lord, as we enter a brand new year in the life of this church, we pray that you will help us to be truly united in mind and Spirit, and above all. In love. That we can become the witnesses to a lost world that we need to be, that we will be a congregation who will serve this church without hesitation and be generous in giving. Help us, Lord, to make new disciples by being to be a light of hope to the lost people outside the doors of this church. And we ask for Your divine guidance over our Pastor Search Committee and help them find the man who is Your choice as the shepherd of this church, and help all of us to be patient to wait on Your timing. In the name above all names, our Lord and wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ, AMEN.