I feel like we kinda plunked down into the middle of the story on Monday, but it's because our focus is the donkey in the tale. Maybe we'd better refresh our memories on the beginning of the story, though, so we can fully understand the middle and the end!
The main human character in this passage is Balaam, and he's tough to figure out. The Bible doesn't tell us too much about him, and so we will have to use what we can find, and try not to step out too far with our assumptions. First of all, he was a Midianite, not a Hebrew. Secondly, he was renowned as a seer - a sort of a prophet. Balak, the king of Moab, was watching as the tremendous numbers of Hebrews were coming across the borders of lands in his region -- he had already seen them decimate the Amorites, and he was understandably worried that he was next! Military leaders often pray or seek supernatural guidance before battles, so Balak had an idea.
He came up with what he thought would be a brilliant plan. Since there was a fellow locally who was known as a seer, he'd tell him to curse the Hebrews, and then the battle would go Balak's way. He sent some of his high muckety-mucks and a large purse full of money:
The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said. (Numbers 22:7)Can we tell a little something already about Balaam? It seems that his reputation having spread to Balak, the king knew a little about him . . . our first clue is the word "divination." That means a consultation with the spirit world, through various means like astrology, tea leaves, palm reading, and such. The second clue is "fee." Balak expected Balaam to charge for his services. Looks like if Balaam started out as a prophet of God, he must have wandered some from his calling, and was dabbling in the occult and materialism. We'll reserve judgement on old Balaam for now, though.
When the important guests arrived, Balaam told them to stay the night, and he would "bring" them the message from the Lord in the morning. When I read Balaam's story recently, I was reminded of the woman whom Saul consulted . . . remember her? We found in our study that she was one of two things: either she was someone who actually got her answers from the occult, or she was a complete fraud. The answer seemed to be the latter, for she was totally surprised to actually see the form of the prophet Samuel - as if she had pretended, the other times that she "called up" someone. It made me wonder about Balaam, too. But when God spoke to Balaam and said don't you curse the Hebrew people, he didn't seem shocked to hear God's voice. In fact, he took the right answer back to the guests and shooed them out of the house.
Good thing, too.
This is what God said, many years earlier:
Ahhh, but Balak wasn't going to give up so easily. He sent even more impressive peeps and he stuffed more money into the purse. They asked again.
At first, we think Balaam is going to do the right thing. He tells them "no." BUT. He tells them to stay again. What is he thinking? That he can talk God into it, overnight? Oy vey. God tells him, OK, Balaam, you go ahead with them, but only do what I tell you. (Note to self . . . super example here of God's permitting us to do what we want to do, even if it is not in His perfect will. He may allow us to do something, but we will have to accept the consequences. He may permit us to do what is not in our own best interest or His, but we will have to reap that harvest.)
The next morning they set out on the way to King Balak. And the donkey turned out to be much more sensitive to God's leading and presence than Balaam was! Now, I think we all have experienced times that animals were more sensitive to sounds or sights than we were, no? Our pups have the ability to hear things that are inaudible to us, and frankly, my cat can hear a hawk in the sky long before I hear its keening cry. And they all have better "sniffers" than we do. This donkey was given the ability to see the angel of the Lord, standing in the pathway with a drawn sword. Wisely, she turned and started into the green pasture beside the road, but Balaam thought she was just being stubborn, and beat her until she went back on the path.
Again the angel was there, and she sidled up next to the wall in fear, hurting Balaam's foot in the process. She was beaten again by her irritated owner. Finally, she lay down in the pathway in front of the angel and sword, and Balaam loses all patience. Thinking she is showing sheer orneriness, he beats her again.
What was that?
The donkey just spoke to him.
The donkey did what?
Yes, she spoke to him.
Our God is a God of miracles . . . after all, if He can speak to Moses from a burning bush, He can choose to speak to a prophet through a donkey! Luke 1:37 tells us, "Nothing is impossible with God."
Perhaps the strangest part is that Balaam doesn't seem surprised by this. We'll continue tomorrow!