Before the movie Shrek, the best known talking donkey was Balaam's donkey. That's what we're reading about today.
Of course, that's only part of the story between Balak and Balaam.
DAILY READINGSNumbers 22-24 & Psalm 47
DAILY NOTESNumbers 22:2
- Apparently, Israel is making a name for itself. The Moabites are terrified and distressed/irritated by the news of what the Israelites are doing.
- Balaam is, apparentely, a diviner with a good reputation. Balak is "overcome with fear" and his response is to go to Balaam. Balak knows that "whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed."
- This is the recurring theme for Balaam. He will only say what God tells him to say. That is, there's no money back guarantee. Even if it doesn't align with what Balak wants, Balaam will only give the words that God gives him.
- There is no indication why Balaam would seek the Lord's words and why later he would call the Lord "my God" (Verse 18).
- Even though God gave Balaam permission to go to Balak, God was angry when he left.
- Along the way, an angel of the Lord appears but only Balaam's donkey sees it.
- This story is thought to be a poke at Balaam's power as a diviner. How is it that a donkey could see the angel right in front of him, but Balaam, who has such spiritual power, could not. And how is Balaam expected to see/know spiritual things that relate to God?
- The angel (presumably God) says that Balaam's way is perverse. Your study Bible probably has a note that says we're not quite sure what that means in the Hebrew text.
- Whatever it means, Balaam recognizes he has sinned. Again, we're not quite sure how. He only left because God told him to go. Did he just really want to go? Is the sin he is referring to what he does for a living?
- Perhaps Balaam is thinking of what happened to him on the road and that's why he came all this way but did not go see Balak.
- Balaam goes to a high place (and bare) alone to hear from God. His first words to God are about the 7 altars. So, was this a common practice for him? Did God require this? Had Balaam spoken to God like this before?
- The rest of the chapter includes 2 oracles of Balaam.
- Balak hears the first oracle, that Balaam cannot curse the Israelites because they're already blessed by God. Balak decides to take Balaam to another place in hopes that will change the word he receives from God. It does not.
- Balaam had only seen "part" of the Israelites as Balak took him to different places to hear from God. Now, as Balaam sneaks away to the wilderness, he sees the entire camp of Israelites and the spirit of God comes upon him.
- Maybe that's why God was so descriptive with how everything in the camp should look!
- With God's spirit upon him, Balaam gives his 3 oracle which is a general blessing of the Israelites.
- After being chastised by Balak (again), Balaam gives his 4 oracle which is a depiction of what will happen to Israel and the surrounding nations--it's a good thing for the Israelites.
- Considering Balaam's 3rd and 4th oracles, this is a perfect psalm depicting God's protection of and provision for the people of God.
- It was God, the people knew, that subdued all the other people for their benefit.
OTHER OBSERVATIONSIt's interesting to me that Balak thinks that maybe the place where Balaam seeks God's word is the issue. I'm sure that has something to do with ancient divination practice. These prophets would read the entrails of animals and use other elements of nature to decide what a god was saying. Surely the form and location of such practices would have been meaningful for them.
The point of today's reading, however, is that what God has promised stands true. No one is able to revoke the blessing God has placed over the Israelites.
It's not like we would ever try to get God to change his mind, right? How many of us know the routine kids have with parents? When one parent says, "No," a child may go to the other and hope for a, "Yes." Or better (or worse?), take it up with Grandma!
Learning to listen for God's voice is hard enough. Our lives are so noisy. And actually listening, with the intent on following through, to what God has to say can be even more difficult.