While most people want to be like Mike, this author wants to be like a donkey.
“Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth…” Num. 22:28
God opened the mouth of a donkey on a dusty road one morning. Not so that the donkey could neigh, as would be expected but that the donkey would speak to the prophet Balaam in intelligible words. A donkey is often described as silly, simple, and foolish. As I began to read this story, I assumed I already was the donkey. A simple being, used by God in spite of myself. To share that fact seems awfully humble on my part doesn’t it? Well to my surprise, the more I read of the prophet Balaam and his simple donkey, I discovered I was not nearly as much of a donkey as I should be. I was more like the prophet Balaam.
The story in Numbers 22 begins with Balak, King of Moab, wanting to have Israel cursed. He sent word to the prophet Balaam, asking him to provide this particular service. Balak flattered Balaam greatly, as he acknowledged his role as prophet; as one who was able to bring blessings and curses.
At first glance, Balaam appears righteous in his act of seeking God on the matter. God’s answer to Balaam was No! Immediately Balaam sent word back that he could not do what was requested of him. Not impressed with the answer he received, Balak then sent word that he would reward Balaam handsomely if he would come and disperse a curse upon the Israelites. Again, our righteous Balaam confirmed his original answer to Balak’s men, but…
It was the “but” that revealed Balaam’s heart. Balaam told Balak’s men he would not go but would seek God just in case there was something else God wanted to add. In other words, God gave a resounding "No you cannot go and curse my people," but Balaam thought possibly God left something out in his original answer.
Between Verses 20 through 22 true colors are shown. Balaam goes back to God and now God says, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” Great! Balaam got that extra information out of God.
The next morning Balaam saddles up his donkey and heads out. Suddenly, verse 22 describes Gods anger with Balaam heading out. How did that happen?
I had to pause and talk to God about this. I said, “Alright God, I know that your word does not contradict itself so what are you saying here? Didn’t you tell him he could go? So why were you mad? Wasn’t he following your command?” As I continued to search for answers, I discovered it wasn’t the command of God that Balaam was following, it was his own hearts desires.
God saw the heart of this servant. Yes, Balaam had the title of prophet and had boasted of seeing visions of the Almighty (Chp. 24:3,4) but when it came down to it. He was greedy, he wanted his way. Yikes! Sounds familiar. Balaam’s intentions may have been good at one point but as with many of us, his vision as a servant of God was clouded by flattery and greed.
Before ever seeking God, Balaam alreaady knew it would be a sin to curse the Israelites. He was a prophet. He already new that the Israelites were God’s chosen people and you didn’t mess with them. Yet, a part of Balaam got caught up in the flattery that Balak had given him and let’s face it, the money looked pretty good too.
Balaam had been offered a handsome reward for his services. Perhaps, Balaam justified within himself that the money would help him in his ministry for God down the line. Perhaps, he considered just this once to compromise so that ultimately he could serve God better. We are not told the thoughts that ran through his mind, yet, God clearly knew Balaam’s heart. He wanted to go from the very first time he sought God on the issue. That’s why we find a "but" after his refusal, which lead God to give Balaam over to his own desires.
Often we compromise what we know for various reasons and our determination to get our way brings God to a point of giving us over to our own desires. The lessons learned are always much harder than need be.
The irony of this story is shown in verse 22. The prophet was so blinded by his own desires as he headed out on his journey, that he did not see the angel of the Lord blocking the path that he was choosing to take. It was the eyes of the silly donkey that were opened to the Angel of the Lord. Three times, the donkey saw the angel of the Lord and refused to take steps in that direction. The donkey knew it meant they were headed down the wrong path. The prophet on the other hand, was angered by the donkey not taking him where he wanted to go. In his anger, he beat her. It took God opening the mouth of the donkey and eventually opening the eyes of the “Oh so spiritual’ prophet, for Balaam to really see what was going on.
I had assumed that I would write this devotion and have room to boast about being a simple donkey that God uses. Being so humble and all… Instead, I found that I’m a lot like Balaam: I get caught up in flattery, I put my own desires before God’s. I have quite a few "but’s" of my own. From this I learned that I need a lot more practice at being simple, silly, and humble; like the donkey who was able to see God’s hand and knew when she was headed down the wrong path.
The Mathew Henry commentary gives us a nugget of wisdom worth remembering. “Let none be puffed up with a conceit of visions and revelations, when even a donkey saw an angel: to save both herself and her senseless rider.”