There is a story in the Old Testament about an ass. Don't worry it's not a biography . . . at the expense of a lame joke, I'm referring to a donkey. A bad donkey. At least that's what his master thought.
Balaam son of Beor was a prophet. At least he appears to be, and God speaks to him. He was not of Israel, so don't confuse him with a prophet of Israel. Scripture tells us the king Balak recognized him as a man who blessed and cursed people. "For I know whoever you bless is blessed and whoever you curse is cursed (Numbers 22:6b)."
He becomes important to Balak because Israel has shown up on the plains of Moab. They had just whooped the Amorites. People were getting nervous in Moab. Scripture says they were 'filled with dread' because there were so many of them. The Moabites called Israel a horde and complained, "This horde is going to lick up everything around them, as an ox licks up the grass of the field (Numbers 22:4)."
Balak son of Zippor was king of Moab. He sends messengers to Balaam and requests he come and curse the Israelites, ". . . because they are too powerful for me (Numbers 22:6)." He hopes with a curse he will then be able to defeat them and drive them out from the land.
Now, Balaam lived near the Euphrates river, in his native land. The elders of Midian and Moab came to Balaam to make the request for their king, Balak. I love this story, because the interaction between God and Balaam is so conversational.
"Who are these guys (Numbers 22:9)?" God asks Balaam.
He relays what Balak said through the messengers and God replies, "Yea. Don't go. You are not to put a curse on those people, because they are blessed (writer's paraphrase Numbers 22:12)." Balaam sends the elders home.
Balak doesn't like that response so he sends a larger entourage made of the elite. This time he offers to reward him 'handsomely' (that means a lot). Plus he will do whatever Balaam asks.
Balaam tells the elders, "It doesn't matter if he gives me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God (Numbers 22:18)." This time God tells him to go.
So, Balaam saddles his donkey, yes now we are going to talk about the donkey. Scripture says God was very angry when he left. It doesn't say why, but I believe moving against His chosen people may have had something to do with it. Also, Balak's persistence to move against a people who had not shown aggression against Moab may have been a motivator as well. Later God teaches Israel to welcome foreigners into their land, he even sets provisions for hosting them in His law (Deuteronomy 14:29).
God sent the Angel of the Lord to oppose him. Now, the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the road with sword drawn. The donkey quickly turned off the road and into a field. Balaam began to beat his donkey to get it back on the road. Balaam, of course, did not see the danger ahead.
Later down the road, the Angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards. Donkey (we will call him Donkey, it reminds me of the character in Shrek) pressed close against the wall, crushing Balaam's foot against it. Again, Balaam began beating Donkey. Finally, the third time, the Angel of the Lord moved to a narrow place where there was no room to move to the right or to the left. Donkey laid down.
Balaam was furious, he began beating Donkey with his staff. The Lord opened Donkey's mouth. "What have I done to you, to make you beat me these three time?"
Balaam has a conversation with Donkey. He doesn't bat an eyelash, he simply continued the conversation. "You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand I would kill you right now."
“Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
We are difficult to get through to. I am speaking about us as humans. The signs are all there. We believe we know what to expect, anything outside of that, misses our notice. Even a man who speaks freely with God, and is not surprised when a donkey speaks to him, misses the point. He beats the animal instead of listening to it, or following its lead.
We as a people come across an opposing idea, something new. We demonize it, or them, and then try to beat it into submission. Politics divide people by building a tribe mentality. We associate with a tribe and all other ideas become the enemy.
Our beloved donkey needs to be punished. When someone corrects us, our impulse is to attack.
We may think about it later, but first we demonize the person and search for every flaw they have. We are defensive, angry, and vindictive.
I work in sales. My manager calls me once a week. He challenges me, challenges my goals, and my results. He asks me hard questions. I don't like those calls, they give me anxiety. But, they keep me on task. I could become lazy, miss appointments, or not make the calls I need to make in order to be successful. He pushes me to be better. It's his job. It takes work for me not to be defensive.
I don't think I'm alone. God opens Balaam's eyes to see the Angel. He sees how close he came to death. He understands the gravity of what he is about to encounter, and he realizes Israel is not to be taken lightly.
Later in the story Balaam blesses Israel, repeatedly. God says, "God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it (Numbers 23:19,20)."
God made a promise to Israel. This story is interesting, because it's like those old television shows that subtitled 'meanwhile' and we saw something that was going on elsewhere. It eventually played into the story-line, but the main characters were not aware of the events. This whole story could be prefaced with 'meanwhile'.
Meanwhile, God was fulfilling his promises. He protected Israel beyond what they knew. It took a lot to get their attention, and it still takes a lot to get our attention.
Open your eyes. May we see the blessings God has for us. May we see the ways He is challenging us to grow.
May we see the bad donkey, as a blessing.
In His service and yours,