Indigenous people groups have their own god/s. Balak, the king of the Moabites, is terrified of the Israelites, bands together with Midianites, and calls for a famous diviner, Balaam, to come and curse the Israelites. He knows that he and the god of his people are not up to the challenge.
Balaam understands, “that a people’s own god had the greatest power over them for bad or good." Therefore, Balaam attempts to establish contact with Israel’s God.
Imagine his surprise when God speaks to him, “You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12). Driven by personal greed, however, Balaam ignores the counsel of this God and continues his conversation with Balak. Nothing is gained by refusing to curse Israel while cursing Israel promises great wealth. Balaam thinks that he can manipulate Israel’s God to do his bidding.
Balaam’s donkey is more discerning that he when the angel of the Lord God prevents Balaam’s donkey from going forward. Balaam, used to demonic manifestations, apparently wasn’t surprised when the donkey speaks to him (though this time it wasn’t demonic).
With a bit of drama and overkill Balaam builds seven altars and offers seven bulls and seven rams (on three occasions) in hopes that the God of Israel would speak to him. Balaam cannot manipulate God to curse the Israelites; instead, God manipulates Balaam rather to bless them. He also speaks about future events (Messianic promise - 24:17; the fall of future kingdoms - 24:18-24).
The question naturally arises, “How can a holy God use a pagan diviner,” a man who “loves the wages of wickedness” (2 Peter 2:15)?
In times past God revealed Himself to Abimelech, king of Gerar, to prevent him from taking Sarai as his wife (Genesis 20:6-7). He spoke to Pharaoh in dreams (Genesis 41:25). Later, he speaks to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, through dreams and visions (Daniel 4). It is Nebuchadnezzar who declares God’s sovereignty over pagans:
“His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)
God’s speaking to a person doesn’t always mean that God has a covenantal relationship with that person; all of His encounters, however, do show His care for His covenantal people, even when He addresses unbelievers.
""Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you.’" (Numbers 22:29)
God speaks through donkeys and even through false prophets. Lest we think that Balaam is a great prophet of God, we need to look closely at this narrative to see that Balaam is:
A greedy man (22:17-18) - Money talks. And Balaam listens (See 25:1-3; 31:16). He "loved the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Peter 2:15).
An exhibitionist (23:1, 14, 29) - Three times Balaam builds seven altars. Isn't that a bit of overkill?
A sorcerer (24:1) - Balaam practices sorcery.
Dumber than a donkey (22:25, 28, 31) - "When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed close to the wall . . . she lay down under Balaam." Balaam was unable to see the angel of the Lord until the Lord opened Balaam's eyes. The donkey had more spiritual discernment than Balaam.
Balaam is uniformly condemned in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11) as a false prophet and used as an example of a greedy man gone bad. Just because the Spirit of God comes upon a man or speaks to him doesn't make that man a man of God. Just as the Lord opened the donkey's mouth, so he opened the sorcerer's eyes.
This is one of the great mysteries of the Bible that God sometimes uses wicked men to accomplish His purposes.
Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
For background/commentary read Numbers 31:8; 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14
Why couldn't Balaam curse Israel?
What seems to be Balaam's primary motivation?
How does God get Balaam's attention?
What does the donkey recognize about the situation that Balaam doesn't?
What does Balaam prophesy about Israel's future?
How many oracles does Balaam offer?
Why can't Balaam take any credit for what he sees?
What enables Balaam to see and understand?
Turning truth into prayer:
Ask the Lord to "enlighten your eyes lest you sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3b) and to reveal to you where you are resisting His activity in your life.