Sometimes a Donkey is Smarter than a Prophet

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Picture of a donkey talking ... or laughing.

We read about a prophet and his donkey in today’s Bible reading*. If you’ve been around church for very long, you’ve probably heard about Balaam. It seems that he saw himself as a mercenary prophet, a prophet for hire.

After seeing what the people of Israel did to the Canaanite King of Arad and the Amorite Kings, Balak, the King of Moab sent some representatives to hire Balaam to prophesy against the Israelites. They promised riches in exchange for Balaam just speaking a curse over his own people. God told Balaam to not honor their request. When he refused, Balak sent more representatives with more clout. Balaam rejected their offers, saying, “If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go against the command of the Lord my God to do anything small or great.” (Numbers 22:18 CSB)

But instead of sending away the officials, Balaam invited them to stay overnight to see if God had anything else to tell him. Perhaps the prophet thought that he could take the job in order to give a bigger donation to God’s treasury? I’m sure no one has ever had that motivation for sin. </sarcasm>

Indeed, God told Balaam to go with the men, but to not curse His people. The next morning, Balaam saddled his donkey and followed the men. God was very upset that Balaam went with them and posted His angel on the road to kill Balaam.

When Balaam’s donkey saw the angel, it veered off the road. Balaam struck the donkey with a stick. When the donkey saw the angel a second time, trying to avoid the angel, he squeezed Balaam’s foot against a stone wall. Balaam was incensed and struck the donkey again. And then something unusual happened.

The donkey spoke to Balaam. Actually, the donkey and Balaam got into a brief conversation before God opened the prophet’s eyes and he saw the angel for himself. Balaam immediately repented of his sin of beating the donkey. He offered to go back, but the angel told Balaam to continue going with Balak, but reminded him to only prophesy what God told him to say. This time, the prophet listened.

Three times, Balaam prophetically blessed God’s people, just as God instructed. Finally, Balaam prophetically cursed Moab, just as God instructed. Balak and Balaam went their separate ways. The prophet didn’t receive payment for services rendered. He didn’t do what he was hired to do: curse Israel.

As you read the story, it’s difficult to not see a change in Balaam’s heart. The story begins with Balaam telling Balak’s representatives no. When the higher-ups arrive, he says no, but he opens the door for God to change His mind. But it isn’t until Balaam and his donkey have a face-to-face conversation that Balaam’s eyes are opened and the seer actually sees what’s going on.

Application

How often do we read something in our Bible and think that God has changed His mind about something? In doing so, we open the door to hearing an additional word.

Yes, it’s possible that when we read something in our Bible, we get it wrong. We don’t always understand clearly what God says. But many times, God isn’t that difficult to understand. We just don’t want to hear what He’s saying. Balaam did the right thing in going back to ask God to speak. And so should we.

We should remain in God’s Word and ask Him to speak clearly to us, always ready to act on what He says. But if what we read and hear differs from what God says elsewhere, we need to stop and ask for help from other Believers who are further down the road than we are and who have more wisdom than we do. Iron sharpens iron. (Proverbs 27:17)

* Chapters covered in today’s reading:
Numbers 21
Numbers 22
Numbers 23
Numbers 24