When reading the Bible there are often sections or entire books that we skip over. For whatever reason we don’t read them or pay much attention to them. I think this is true for a lot of us with Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We know the stories of Genesis and the Exodus. Often, from here, we skip right to Joshua. It makes sense a little bit because we’ve convinced ourselves that those three books in between are just old laws and lists of people. However, there are some stories in those books, one in particular that I wanted to write about today.
The story is about a man named Balaam, and it happens in Numbers chapter 22. To give you a little context, this happens during the Israelites' forty years of wandering after leaving Egypt. They were constantly at war with different enemies because they were reclaiming the land that God had promised them.
They had just defeated the Amorites and were marching towards Moab. The king of Moab is terrified because he does not believe he can win a war against the Israelites. So what do you do if you’re the king of Moab and you’re about to fight a war you don’t think you can win? Well, the obvious answer is to summon a sorcerer to put a curse on your enemy. You may think I’m joking but that’s what the king does, he summons Balaam (who is a sorcerer, diviner, magician) to put a curse on the Israelites.
Balaam is no ordinary sorcerer. He is internationally known and famous. He is the best of the best when it comes to sorcery. He also doesn’t live in Moab so the King sends messengers to Balaam to have him curse the Israelites. After the messengers explain the situation to Balaam he tells them to spend the night and he will give them an answer in the morning. That night God comes to Balaam and tells him not to go with these men and curse Israel, which then Balaam tells the messengers in the morning.
You can imagine the King of Moab is not happy about this. So he sends more distinguished messengers (and probably more money) back to Balaam. This time God tells him to go but do only do what God tells him, meaning that he can go to Moab but don’t curse the Israelites.
The next morning Balaam gets on his donkey and begins the trip to Moab. God now becomes angry because Balaam has it in his mind that he now WILL curse the Israelites. He sends an angel to stand in the road to oppose him. At this point only the donkey can see the angel and it turns off the road into a field. Balaam beats the donkey to get it back on the road.
Then the angel stood in a narrow path of a vineyard with walls on both sides. The donkey again sees this and presses up against the wall which crushes Balaam’s foot. So naturally he beats it again to get it moving.
The angel finally moves ahead and stands in a narrow place where there is no room to turn. The donkey sees the angel again and lies down in the path because there is nowhere to go. Balaam is furious now and starts to beat the donkey.
Here’s where to fun starts. Numbers chapter 22:28 says “Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I don’t to you to make you beat me three time?’” That’s right everyone, there’s a talking donkey in the Bible. It’s at this point that Balaam’s eyes are open and he too see the Angel. He realizes that God knows what he is thinking and that he is wrong. He falls down and apologizes and promises to now only say what God tells him to say.
That is the story of Balaam. A fun story that often gets overlooked in the Bible, but what does it have to do with us? Is there anything we can learn from a story about a magician and a talking donkey? I would argue that there is. Plain and simple God is trying to tell Balaam ‘No’. He sends his angel three times and even opens the mouth of a donkey for Balaam to ‘get it’.
We often think in terms of ‘what is God trying to tell me here’, or ‘what does God want me to do’. Have you ever thought in these terms, ‘is God trying to tell me no about something?’ Maybe it’s 'no' to a temptation. Maybe it’s 'no' to an unhealthy relationship. Maybe it’s 'no' to something else.
We are all spending more time at home and in isolation these past few weeks. Chances are your ‘screen’ time is going up as well. Are you developing any unhealthy habits that God might be saying ‘no’ to? We all need phones, computers, and other devices to stay in touch and do school work right now and there’s nothing inherently wrong with technology. However, I wonder if during our new temporary reality, we develop new habits that God might be saying ‘no’ to.
Questions for discussion/contemplation: