While the Moabite king, Balak is concocting his plan with Balaam to destroy the people of God, the Israelites are oblivious to this eminent danger. Yet God is ever watchful, protecting Israel by warning off Balaam from doing anything that would bring harm. While Israel slumbered, their God stood guard. That’s true for you, too. While you may stress over many things you can see, there are thousands more things you can’t see that would drive you insane if you only knew. But God knows, and while you sleep, he stands guard.
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 22:27-34
When Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff. Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam. “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!” “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” Balaam admitted. Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him. “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.”
The story of Balaam and his donkey has to be one of the strangest and funniest yet most unusually instructive chapters in the Bible. Let me take those one at a time—strange, funny and instructive.
First of all, this account is a bit weird. We are not quite sure from just this chapter if Balaam is a true or false prophet. It appears that he was a man who actually heard from God, even though he was outside the community of Israel. He lived in a faraway place, and apparently was so famous for getting a word from the Lord now and again that the Moabite king would seek his favor. But from this and other chapters, we also learn that even while hearing from God on occasion, Balaam was far from perfect, for he was ultimately influenced by the possibility of more money and the potential for more fame:
They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. (2 Peter 2:15)
Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. (Jude 1:11)
But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. (Revelation 2:14)
All five of the Midianite kings—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—died in the battle. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. (Numbers 31:8)
Now let me jump ahead and offer a thought that falls into the instructive nature of this story. No man or woman who speaks for God is perfect. Never forget that—especially in this day and age where prophetic voices fill the airwaves and compete for your financial allegiance. That doesn’t mean the message from an imperfect prophet is not from God—it may very well be. But for sure, just because a person claims to speak for God doesn’t guarantee that God is speaking through them. If you are listening to a so-called prophet, caveat emptor: let the listener have discernment. As was said about Balaam, it is hard to tell on the surface if those who claim prophetic standing are true or false. That is why you need to pray for discernment. That is why you need to stay grounded in the “more sure word of prophecy” — the Bible. And that is why you must get under the ministry of a local shepherd, where you can watch his or her life and doctrine closely.
Second, how humorous is this story? Really? A man talks to a donkey—and the donkey talks back: “The Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. ‘What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?’ it asked Balaam. Balaam shouted, ‘You have made me look like a fool!” Look like a fool—no kidding; the man is literally carrying on a conversation with a donkey. I suppose here is a case where a donkey made an ass out of a man. For reals, now look who’s saying “nay”.
“Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee?” And Balaam said, “Nay.” (Numbers 22:31, KJV)
Again, skipping ahead to the instructive observations to the story, among the many applications we could insert here, for sure, we can conclude that God has a sense of humor. If we step back and think about how he works in our lives, we would have to chuckle at the funny, sometimes ridiculous ways God has to use to get our attention. Learn a lesson from Balaam: Don’t make God get to the point where he has to use a donkey to get your attention. Listen the first time!
Third, the story is incredibly instructive in this over-arching sense: One of the most encouraging truths we can glean from Numbers 22 is not something that is actually stated in the chapter. It is happening all around it. You see, while Balak is concocting his plan with Balaam to destroy the people of God, the Israelites are oblivious to the eminent danger. Yet God is ever watchful, protecting Israel by warning off Balaam from doing anything that would bring harm. While Israel slumbers, their God stood guard.
And that is true for you, too. While you may stress and worry over many things you can see, there are thousands more things you don’t see that would drive you insane if you only knew. But God knows, and while you sleep, he stands guard. He is your strong tower, your shield, your defender, your warrior.
Now if the Lord will keep you from what you don’t see, he will also keep you from what you do see. Either way, he is your Warrior God. And since God is in charge of your safety, why not give him all your concerns!