Jesus in Numbers Part 9: The Infamous Talking Donkey and the Angel of God

This is one of the best stories in the Old Testament! Yes, it features a talking donkey! See, God can do ANYTHING! So, even though the old generation had died off, you need to figure there were more kids born in the 40 years of wandering in the desert. Anyhow, there were still a good million to 2 million people who camped in Moab, across the Jordan River from Jericho. Furthermore, word spread about all the great things God did for the Israelites. The king of Moab didn’t want these people around. Now, if you’ve been following God’s Story from Genesis, you’ll remember that the Moabites are descendants of Lot. So, technically, the Israelites are cousins of the Moabites (today’s Jordanians).

Here, you’ll see a prophet make a choice — a lot of money or listen and obey God. What he decides and how he comes to that decision, is what makes this story fun. Let’s dig in….

Numbers 22

Then the people of Israel traveled to the plains of Moab and camped east of the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Balak son of Zippor, the Moabite king, had seen everything the Israelites did to the Amorites. And when the people of Moab saw how many Israelites there were, they were terrified. The king of Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This mob will devour everything in sight, like an ox devours grass in the field!”

So Balak, king of Moab, sent messengers to call Balaam son of Beor, who was living in his native land of Pethor near the Euphrates River. His message said:

“Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.”

Balak’s messengers, who were elders of Moab and Midian, set out with money to pay Balaam to place a curse upon Israel. They went to Balaam and delivered Balak’s message to him. “Stay here overnight,” Balaam said. “In the morning I will tell you whatever the Lord directs me to say.” So the officials from Moab stayed there with Balaam.

That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men visiting you?”

10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent me this message: 11 ‘Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come and curse these people for me. Then perhaps I will be able to stand up to them and drive them from the land.’”

12 But God told Balaam, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!”

13 The next morning Balaam got up and told Balak’s officials, “Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.”

14 So the Moabite officials returned to King Balak and reported, “Balaam refused to come with us.” 15 Then Balak tried again. This time he sent a larger number of even more distinguished officials than those he had sent the first time. 16 They went to Balaam and delivered this message to him:

“This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Please don’t let anything stop you from coming to help me. 17 I will pay you very well and do whatever you tell me. Just come and curse these people for me!”

18 But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God. 19 But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.”

20 That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”

Balaam and His Donkey

21 So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along, 23 Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So Balaam beat the donkey again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. 27 This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff.

28 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.

29 “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!”

30 “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.

31 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.

32 “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. 33 Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.”

34 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.”

35 But the angel of the Lord told Balaam, “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.” So Balaam went on with Balak’s officials. 36 When King Balak heard that Balaam was on the way, he went out to meet him at a Moabite town on the Arnon River at the farthest border of his land.

37 “Didn’t I send you an urgent invitation? Why didn’t you come right away?” Balak asked Balaam. “Didn’t you believe me when I said I would reward you richly?”

38 Balaam replied, “Look, now I have come, but I have no power to say whatever I want. I will speak only the message that God puts in my mouth.” 39 Then Balaam accompanied Balak to Kiriath-huzoth, 40 where the king sacrificed cattle and sheep. He sent portions of the meat to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth-baal. From there he could see some of the people of Israel spread out below him.

Numbers 22 NLT

Numbers 23

Then Balaam said to King Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven young bulls and seven rams for me to sacrifice.” Balak followed his instructions, and the two of them sacrificed a young bull and a ram on each altar.

Then Balaam said to Balak, “Stand here by your burnt offerings, and I will go to see if the Lord will respond to me. Then I will tell you whatever he reveals to me.” So Balaam went alone to the top of a bare hill, and God met him there. Balaam said to him, “I have prepared seven altars and have sacrificed a young bull and a ram on each altar.”

The Lord gave Balaam a message for King Balak. Then he said, “Go back to Balak and give him my message.”

So Balaam returned and found the king standing beside his burnt offerings with all the officials of Moab. This was the message Balaam delivered:

“Balak summoned me to come from Aram;
    the king of Moab brought me from the eastern hills.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me!
    Come and announce Israel’s doom.’
But how can I curse those
    whom God has not cursed?
How can I condemn those
    whom the Lord has not condemned?
I see them from the cliff tops;
    I watch them from the hills.
I see a people who live by themselves,
    set apart from other nations.
10 Who can count Jacob’s descendants, as numerous as dust?
    Who can count even a fourth of Israel’s people?
Let me die like the righteous;
    let my life end like theirs.”

11 Then King Balak demanded of Balaam, “What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies. Instead, you have blessed them!”

12 But Balaam replied, “I will speak only the message that the Lord puts in my mouth.”

Balaam’s Second Message

13 Then King Balak told him, “Come with me to another place. There you will see another part of the nation of Israel, but not all of them. Curse at least that many!” 14 So Balak took Balaam to the plateau of Zophim on Pisgah Peak. He built seven altars there and offered a young bull and a ram on each altar.

15 Then Balaam said to the king, “Stand here by your burnt offerings while I go over there to meet the Lord.”

16 And the Lord met Balaam and gave him a message. Then he said, “Go back to Balak and give him my message.”

17 So Balaam returned and found the king standing beside his burnt offerings with all the officials of Moab. “What did the Lord say?” Balak asked eagerly.

18 This was the message Balaam delivered:

“Rise up, Balak, and listen!
    Hear me, son of Zippor.
19 God is not a man, so he does not lie.
    He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
Has he ever spoken and failed to act?
    Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
20 Listen, I received a command to bless;
    God has blessed, and I cannot reverse it!
21 No misfortune is in his plan for Jacob;
    no trouble is in store for Israel.
For the Lord their God is with them;
    he has been proclaimed their king.
22 God brought them out of Egypt;
    for them he is as strong as a wild ox.
23 No curse can touch Jacob;
    no magic has any power against Israel.
For now it will be said of Jacob,
    ‘What wonders God has done for Israel!’
24 These people rise up like a lioness,
    like a majestic lion rousing itself.
They refuse to rest
    until they have feasted on prey,
    drinking the blood of the slaughtered!”

25 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Fine, but if you won’t curse them, at least don’t bless them!”

26 But Balaam replied to Balak, “Didn’t I tell you that I can do only what the Lord tells me?”

Balaam’s Third Message

27 Then King Balak said to Balaam, “Come, I will take you to one more place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them from there.”

28 So Balak took Balaam to the top of Mount Peor, overlooking the wasteland. 29 Balaam again told Balak, “Build me seven altars, and prepare seven young bulls and seven rams for me to sacrifice.” 30 So Balak did as Balaam ordered and offered a young bull and a ram on each altar.

Numbers 23 NLT

Number 24

By now Balaam realized that the Lord was determined to bless Israel, so he did not resort to divination as before. Instead, he turned and looked out toward the wilderness, where he saw the people of Israel camped, tribe by tribe. Then the Spirit of God came upon him, and this is the message he delivered:

“This is the message of Balaam son of Beor,
    the message of the man whose eyes see clearly,
the message of one who hears the words of God,
    who sees a vision from the Almighty,
    who bows down with eyes wide open:
How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob;
    how lovely are your homes, O Israel!
They spread before me like palm groves,
    like gardens by the riverside.
They are like tall trees planted by the Lord,
    like cedars beside the waters.
Water will flow from their buckets;
    their offspring have all they need.
Their king will be greater than Agag;
    their kingdom will be exalted.
God brought them out of Egypt;
    for them he is as strong as a wild ox.
He devours all the nations that oppose him,
    breaking their bones in pieces,
    shooting them with arrows.
Like a lion, Israel crouches and lies down;
    like a lioness, who dares to arouse her?
Blessed is everyone who blesses you, O Israel,
    and cursed is everyone who curses you.”

10 King Balak flew into a rage against Balaam. He angrily clapped his hands and shouted, “I called you to curse my enemies! Instead, you have blessed them three times. 11 Now get out of here! Go back home! I promised to reward you richly, but the Lord has kept you from your reward.”

12 Balaam told Balak, “Don’t you remember what I told your messengers? I said, 13 ‘Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord.’ I told you that I could say only what the Lord says! 14 Now I am returning to my own people. But first let me tell you what the Israelites will do to your people in the future.”

Balaam’s Final Messages

15 This is the message Balaam delivered:

“This is the message of Balaam son of Beor,
    the message of the man whose eyes see clearly,
16 the message of one who hears the words of God,
    who has knowledge from the Most High,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
    who bows down with eyes wide open:
17 I see him, but not here and now.
    I perceive him, but far in the distant future.
A star will rise from Jacob;
    a scepter will emerge from Israel.
It will crush the heads of Moab’s people,
    cracking the skulls of the people of Sheth.
18 Edom will be taken over,
    and Seir, its enemy, will be conquered,
    while Israel marches on in triumph.
19 A ruler will rise in Jacob
    who will destroy the survivors of Ir.”

20 Then Balaam looked over toward the people of Amalek and delivered this message:

“Amalek was the greatest of nations,
    but its destiny is destruction!”

21 Then he looked over toward the Kenites and delivered this message:

“Your home is secure;
    your nest is set in the rocks.
22 But the Kenites will be destroyed
    when Assyria takes you captive.”

23 Balaam concluded his messages by saying:

“Alas, who can survive
    unless God has willed it?
24 Ships will come from the coasts of Cyprus;
    they will oppress Assyria and afflict Eber,
    but they, too, will be utterly destroyed.”

25 Then Balaam left and returned home, and Balak also went on his way.

Numbers 24 NLT

Points to Ponder

"I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:3
  • That’s Jesus Balaam is talking about! A star will rise from Jacob!
  • Israel is blessed. No one can curse them. That was true back then and it’s true right now.
  • Balaam feared God — he respected Him — enough to turn down the lure and temptation of money to obey. Can you do that? How many times have you chosen wealth, or pride, or lust, when you knew better? (I know I have a few times, Actually, more than I care to think about!)
  • If you truly follow Jesus — are a committed Christian believer — the Holy Spirit in your heart will help you decide right from wrong.
  • What King Balak wanted to do was rather than fight the Israelites in battle, which he saw there were too many, so he thought spiritual warfare would work. Little did he know that his prophet-for-hire, Balaam, knew that the right choice was to obey God.
  • Balaam recognized and understood who God was and that His message had to be told.

Are you on the right path?

Here’s a prayer to pray if you ever feel like you are straying from the Narrow Road. King David wrote…

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

It’s time to get right with God!

What are you waiting for?

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift and Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

Top image by Jay (JayBob) Launius from FreeBibleImages.org (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

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