Fascinated with Balaam and his donkey

I am up to Numbers22-27 and I am just totally fascinated with reading the story of Balaam again.  It was one of those OT stories that I wasn’t all that familiar with until a few years ago, but now going thru the Chrono read for the second time, I was looking forward to this, and I have learned more this time than last time!

Israel has “gotten back on track” with the LORD after the whole disaster at Meribah and the bronze snake on the pole…they really gain momentum and are defeating enemies left and right.  Balak and Moab see this and they get nervous and are ‘overcome with fear of the people of Israel”. (Num 22:3). So, he and Moab get together and come up with a plan…they will ask this dude Balaam, a diviner…sorcerer for hire, to come and curse the people of Israel.  Balaam at first refuses the invitation, but then eventually agrees.  On the way, God assigns an angel to block his path – only Balaam can’t see the angel, only the donkey he is riding on can.  Needless to say, the donkey is like “I am so getting out of here” and 3 times takes a turn off the path to avoid the angel of the Lord.  Each time, Balaam strikes the poor donkey.  At the third time, the donkey has had enough…and this leads to a HILARIOUS verbal exchange between Balaam and his donkey…

27When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28Then the LORD(A) opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”


The Lord then allows Balaam to see the angel and not surprisingly, Balaam wants to do an about face and run back home…I think I would to, but God will use Balaam, despite who Balaam is and the true intentions of his heart because God is sovereign over all – even evil – and uses everything to accomplish his purposes.

Fast forward a bit — Balaam eventually meets up with his employers, they quickly take him to places where he can overlook the nation of Israel, I can just see them both standing in the background rubbing their hands together and drooling…waiting for him to curse the nation of Israel and rid them of this problem…but he doesn’t.  Each time (FOUR times in fact), he BLESSES the nation of Israel.  I have to admit, I was reading this part and saying to myself “Why is Balaam getting a bad rap in the rest of scripture?  He looks like the Lord spoke thru him and he actually blessed Israel…?” (See 2 Pet 2:15; Jude 1:11; Rev 2:14).  Well, I kept reading in Numbers this morning and I found out that there is more to the story…

It appears that Balaam had a master plan and after all this “blessing” encouraged Balak and Moab to get to the Israelites a different way – thru women and a false god named Baal. (see Num 31:16)

We read in Numbers 25 that Israel is presented with the opportunity for free sex, food, and a giant party at the altar of Baal – and they jump headfirst into the deep end of the pool.  (Num 25:1-3)  They may have just been looking for a good time, but in fact the Bible says that they “yoked themselves” to Baal.  Where Balaam was unable to curse them, probably because the Lord didn’t allow him to – Israel did it to herself and again found satisfaction, joy, fulfillment in the arms of some slutty women and a false God.

Is that not fascinating?

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Are we not still struggling with those very same things?

Perhaps the biggest threat to our own journey of sanctification is ourselves, our resident sinful nature, and our desire to find worship and pleasure in something other than God.  It could be anything…it doesn’t have to be sex (though how frequently is it?), it can be food, work, unhealthy desire for self-esteem — you name it.

This is a battle.  As Paul David Tripp says “there is a battle going on and it is being fought on the turf of your heart.”  Calvin calls our hearts “Idol Factories.”   Our own worst enemy is ourselves.   So…where do we go from here?

  • Be aware – know this is a battle, know it is going on in your heart and be vigilant. Be aware that everything around you (almost) is trying to lure you away to worship Baal…taken a walk in Time Square lately and seen the billboards?  YIKES.  You need a strong Biblical world view / filter…see next point…
  • Be in the Word – pour yourself into the Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you, and SUBMIT to it…don’t just read it, let it change the way you live (Ps 119:11)
  • Be praying – pray for God to help you, pray for your heart to find it’s fulfillment in God and His word, and not the world, not sin.  Pray for your heart – tell God that he has free reign to come into ALL areas of your heart to clean it out, own every dark corner.  I have referred this article before from John Piper and I can’t tell you how much it has helped me to pray this way….Nine Ways to Pray for Your Soul
  • Do not hide any sin in your heart.  He sees it.  Just like he saw into Balaam and what would truly happen. God knows our heart.  Check out these great verses on God knowing our hearts….
  • Read great books by great authors about a great God.  I can’t get this out of my head lately — stop reading books about YOU and start reading books about GOD.  See my list on the side for “must read” books…if you don’t know where to start – start with Pink’s Attributes of God – then think about how THAT kind of God.

Speak or strike? Obedience = faith?

Again…so stoked to be running thru Numbers…you see the stories that shaped the whole story of God’s redemption.  I guess I just love getting to the core issue of things and when I run across things in the NT about Moses and the nation of Israel it is SO cool to remember why the things happened…today is a biggie, ironically from a very (seemingly) small thing…

Numbers 20 again finds the people complaining (I’m sensing a theme here), this time about the lack of food and water.  I can’t really believe that after everything these people have seen God do – amazing, crazy, awesome, supernatural things – they so quickly complain about little things…and I love that Moses and Aaron immediately (this time)  take it to the Lord – they go right into the tent of the meeting, reverently fall on their faces before God and seek his will.  God immediately tells them what he wants Moses to do.  Numbers 20:8

Take the staff and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and TELL the rock before their eyes to yield it’s water.

Moses and Aaron go out…they gather the congregation by the rock and for some reason Moses makes a seriously bad decision…he doesn’t TELL the rock, he STRIKES the rock….TWICE.

And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff, twice, and water came out abundantly…(v11)

Now, when I first read this, I was thinking…ok big deal.  So he didn’t do exactly as the LORD instructed.  I mean he has been instructed to bang the rock before to make water (Ex 17:6) and it worked this time again, so ?

Well, there is more to it then that…first of all God takes serious issue with this – v12

Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.

Holy Moses.  (sorry I couldn’t resist) Because of that “little” mistake God bans Moses from the promised land?!  The end goal of all this wandering is to get to the promised land and now, Moses just disqualified himself.


But there is more to it…three things I see:

  1. Anger – it’s kinda well known that Moses has an anger management problem.  (Remember the first tablets of stone?) The fact that he strikes the rock, not once…but TWICE, probably indicates that he was ticked off.  Moses, gives in to sin in the midst of intervening for the people – gives in to self…and therein directly disobeys God.  How many times do I give in to sin, even in the midst of “serving him” and selfishly chose to react with anger, bitterness, gossip?
  2. Assumption – we all know the saying about what happens when we ‘assume’….perhaps Moses assumed that because he had smashed the rock before with his staff and made water come out that this is “probably what God meant, so I’ll just do it this way.”  God had given him explicitly clear instructions, and he didn’t follow them.  God gives us explicitly clear instructions in his Word, the Bible, how often do we “sort of” follow them?  Is it even important to us to follow the instructions in his word or do we think we have wiggle room?  Have we rationalized certain sins – even the ones that are strictly prohibited in the Bible – and keep them around and assume that God is ok with them?  Listen carefully – God is never OK with sin and his will for us will NEVER include sin.  Don’t be deceived.  Follow God’s instructions in his word – submit your life to them and be changed by them…DAILY.
  3. A Lack of Faith – someone said that “anytime we sin, we become a temporary atheist.”  I think God may somewhat agree.  Look at his reaction in v12 – “because you did not BELIEVE IN ME.” God instantly equates Moses’ actions with a lack of belief – a lack of faith.  When we chose sin, we are really saying that what God has for us isn’t good enough.  We are finding (or trying to) joy in something other than God…

If this is resonating, if you feel God’s Holy Spirit moving within you – run…do not walk…run to Him.  Get on your knees and repent with sorrow for the sin of unbelief, a lack of faith..and everything that goes along with it (like #2 and #3)…ask God to forgive you by the action of his Son on the cross and the resurrection God has given.  He will forgive you and you will be free.

THEN, also run…do not walk…to the nearest computer and order a copy of “When I Don’t Desire God” by John Piper. (I say go to the computer because the odds of finding it in a “Christian” bookstore are pretty slim…you usually will only find very lame, weak, man-centered books on how to find your joy in cheese these days in most chain Christian stores….sorry…did I just say that out loud?) .  Crawl up by the fire and read the whole thing.

What you will learn is that we first need to find our treasure, our joy, our satisfaction, in God alone – he is the only thing that will truly satisfy us.  That’s the way he made us.  Get to know this God, read good books about GOD, his nature, his attributes, read the WHOLE Bible and see his hand throughout redemptive history…and in that you will find rock solid joy in a rock solid, unchangeable, eternal, infinitely good God.  Here have a taste of Piper….on the house….

…having a spiritual taste for the glory of Christ is not morally neutral. Not to have it is evil and deadly. Not to see and savor Christ is an insult to the beauty and worth of his character. Preferring anything above Christ is the very essence of sin. It must be fought.

UPDATE: I also read a great bit in “Milton Vincent’s ‘A Gospel Primer for Christians’ that really helps us understand here too….

Every time I deliberately disobey a command of God, it is because I am in that moment doubtful as to God’s true intentions in giving me that command. Does He really have my best interest at heart? Or is He withholding something from me that I would be better off having? Such questions, whether asked consciously or not, lie underneath every act of disobedience.

However the gospel changes my view of God’s commandments, in that it helps me to see the heart of the Person from whom those commandments come. When I begin my train of thought with the gospel, I realize that if God loved me enough to sacrifice His Son’s life for me, then He must be guided by that same love when He speaks His commandments to me. Viewing God’s commands and prohibitions in this light, I can see them for what they really are:  friendly signposts from a Heavenly Father who is seeking to love me thru each directive, so that I might experience His very fullness forever.

When controlling my thoughts as described above, the gospel cures me of my suspicion of God, thereby disposing me to walk more trustingly on the path of obedience to His commands.