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The Old Testament can be vague. Sometimes the details are missing or conflicting with what we believe about God. This can be unfortunate, but it can also be a blessing. Sometimes the missing details allow us to put in details that are relevant to us. Different readers can get different perspectives and messages.
One of the stories that is missing a couple of details is the story of Balaam and his donkey. For today’s post, I want to share what I saw in Balaam’s story this time around. Perhaps in ten years, I’ll read it again and see it from a different perspective. However, this is what I saw and learned from Balaam this time.
Balaam and the donkey
Balak, king of the Moabites, sees that the Israelites are coming towards his lands. He is also aware of a man named Balaam who has the ability to curse and bless others. Balaam lived in a place that indicated that he could have been one of the scattered descendants of Abraham’s family and therefore, he might have had the priesthood. This isn’t outright stated, but it makes sense to me considering the fact that he was seeking revelation from the Lord and had an experience with Him.
Balak sends messengers to Balaam, asking him to curse the Israelites. Balaam houses these messengers overnight and seeks the will of the Lord considering this group of people who have left Egypt. The Lord tells Balaam that the Israelites are blessed, and Balaam sends the messengers away. Balak then sends “more honorable” princes to Balaam to plead with him to curse the people again. These princes tell Balaam that Balak is willing to bestow great honor and whatever else he wants if Balaam will curse these people. Balaam offers the princes lodging, and he goes to inquire of the Lord again.
The Lord tells Balaam that if the princes call him, he can rise up and go with them. However, Balaam is warned to only do what the Lord wants him to do. Balaam rises up in the morning and saddles the donkey and goes with the men.
Interestingly enough, the Lord gets angry with Balaam for going. He sends an angel to stop him. Balaam’s donkey sees the angel and refuses to keep going, and Balaam gets repeatedly angry and strikes the animal. The donkey’s tongue is loosed, and the donkey asks Balaam why he keeps getting hit. Balaam tells the donkey that he’s mad because the donkey keeps stopping. The donkey then reminds Balaam of how he has always been a good donkey, and Balaam’s eyes are opened to see the angel.
The angel rebukes Balaam for hitting the animal who was saving his life and reminds Balaam to do what the Lord asks. Balaam stays faithful to the Lord this time around.
The Lord gets angry
Within this story, there is a seemingly confusing Old Testament detail that could probably benefit from some clarification. The detail is that the Lord gets angry with Balaam and sends a destroying angel. At first glance, this may seem confusing because the Lord told Balaam that he could go with the men, didn’t He?
Let’s read a little closer.
20 And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.
21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
So this is one of those details that is a little bit vague and could probably benefit from more clarification. This is what I see when I read this.
I see a man who already received an answer from the Lord regarding the Israelites but chooses to go back and ask again. I see the Lord telling this man that if the princes call him in the morning, he can go. I also see a man that didn’t get called. He rose up in the morning and simply got ready to go.
To me, this implies that Balaam really wanted those rewards. I see someone who was hoping to be able to curse the Israelites and receive those riches without going against the Lord. He got up really fast in the morning and was eager to go. I don’t see someone who is approaching this tempting situation with the gravity it engenders. His eagerness is once again displayed when he beats his donkey for not moving forward.
Balaam was probably a decent man. If he was able to wield his priesthood power to bless and curse, I’m going to assume he exercised that power righteously up to this point. If he was able to receive those answers from the Lord, I’m going to assume that he was used to seeking revelation. Balaam just got a little too excited about potential honor and riches.
Balaam didn’t see the angel at first, and I think this is significant. I’m not sure Balaam’s desires literally blinded him from the angel, but I think the principle remains all the same. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own desires that we don’t see the signs from the Lord, warning us about the coming destruction. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own desires that we forget setbacks can be a part of the Lord’s plan, just as the donkey was a blessing-setback.
My husband and I have recently moved across the country, and we’ve been living in a hotel for a couple of months. I daydream about having a house with plenty of food storage and a garden so that I can feel safe in an uncertain world. I daydream about having a yard for my son to destroy and get lost in. I daydream about enough space for my baby to take a nap without getting woken up. Don’t be too sad for us; it’s a two bedroom hotel and we’ve been doing just fine. However, I don’t think anyone would blame me for wanting a house.
As I prayed about our circumstances, I kept receiving the answer that we just needed to be patient.
There came a day when we found a house we adored. On our way to go see it one night, I prayed and asked the Lord to help Conner and I to feel united about it. After looking at it, we were both really excited and put in an offer. While we waited to hear back, I daydreamed about that house. We ultimately didn’t get it, but I couldn’t let go of it. For a month, I kept an eye on it, praying that the contract would fall through and we would get another chance.
The contract fell through, and I was pumped. To me, this was an answer from God. Conner and I decided to go look at it again. Interestingly enough, we went during the day this time. We found a sagging roof in the back, signs of rot, and tons of black mold in the attic. Needless to say, we did not put an offer in again.
I remember driving home and thinking about what a blessing it was that the Lord had stopped us from buying this home that needed serious renovations that we probably couldn’t afford. I also remember being grateful that the Lord had allowed me to see it again so that I could let go of those desires. He mercifully allowed me to see the reality of the house; He allowed me to see the angel stopping me from going down a path that wasn’t good for my family.
The angel was not the only significant part of Balaam’s realization of his situation. Honestly, the angel was nothing more than a representation of what was going to occur at the end of Balaam’s road if his heart didn’t change.
The donkey was every bit as significant as the angel. The donkey served as a reminder of the Lord’s past goodness. The donkey’s words urged Balaam to remember how he had always faithfully served him, and they implied the question, “Why do you hit me when everything I’ve done has been to serve you?”
The Lord does not always send angels to stop us in our paths, but He almost always sends the donkey. If we can teach ourselves to remember that the Lord is guiding the details of our lives, we can rejoice in any kind of setback, knowing that it’s either leading us in the right direction or incapable of actually hurting us while the Lord is on our side.
I know that the Lord is on our side. I know that our personal transition across the country has been full of uncertainty, but the Lord has constantly sent “donkeys” to remind me of how He has always cared for me in the past. He’s done it enough times now that I’ve been able to lean on that belief. And though I don’t know the means by which it will occur, my uncertainty about whether we will be okay has all but faded and I feel excited about where we’re headed. It took me a while to get to that point, but as I continually turned to Him, He was merciful enough to continually remind me that He is guiding us.