Balaam’s, that is. A loyal ass indeed.
I finished Numbers today, but I’m starting in Numbers 22. I imagine most everyone has heard the story of Balaam and his ass, but it gets glossed over most of the time and shrunk down to a silly story about a donkey talking.
So here’s the full story:
- Balaam’s Ass
Balaam was a prophet who spoke with and heard directly from God. He was not an Israelite, and he apparently had no qualms about taking money for his prophecy. He was more than happy to bless or curse people for payment. He did, however, have a fear of the Lord, and would not curse if God forbade it.
Balak (the king of Moab) was afraid of the Israelites and tried to hire Balaam to curse them, and that’s where the story starts.
Now, Balak sent riches Balaam’s way to persuade him to come. Balaam asked the messengers to wait til morning, and he asked God about the matter first. God said in no uncertain terms, “Thou shalt not go with them, thou shalt not curse the people, for they are blessed.” Balaam relayed this message to Balak’s messengers, and sent them away.
Balak was not satisfied with this answer and sent again, with even more persuasion. Now, had Balaam been an honorable man, the story would have ended here. Having been given a “Thou shalt not” by God Himself, Balaam should not have entertained these men, and should have immediately sent them away again. But Balaam was greedy, so he asked them to stay the night and went to talk to God again, as if God would suddenly change His mind.
God told him the same basic thing, but said to go ahead and go with them if they came to call in the morning, but bound him to only giving the blessing that God intended. It would appear that Balaam didn’t bother to wait for the men to come to him in the morning. He got up and saddled his ass and left straight-away to go with them, and this apparently made God angry (although I imagine he already wasn’t happy that Balaam felt the need to ask the second time).
So the Lord set an angel in Balaam’s path to slay him (the angel being invisible to Balaam). The ass was kind enough get out of the way. After Balaam smote the ass for turning aside, the angel waited for him again, and again the ass was so concerned for Balaam that she rammed herself against a wall (and hurt his foot in the process) to save him. Balaam, being unaware of the angel, punished the ass again and they went on. The third time the angel waited in a place where the ass couldn’t avoid him, so she just sat down under balaam and refused to move. At this point he got really angry and started hitting the ass with a staff, and the Lord allowed His sense of humor to prevail lol.
This is the part of the story you’ve probably heard. God gave the ass a voice, and the ass asked Balaam what she’d ever done to him to deserve being beat. Balaam’s reaction to this is almost as funny as a talking donkey. Instead of being flabbergasted, or amazed, or stunned, he simply answers back that if he had a sword he’d kill her now for mocking him. What kind of a reaction is that?!? lol
Then the ass reasons with him, which is even more funny, and finally God allows Balaam to see the angel. Balaam offered to turn back at this point, and the Lord spared him, but told him to go ahead and go on.
- Balaam’s Prophecies about Israel
Balaam went to Balak, and offered a series of blessings instead of curses. Balak was foolish enough to keep moving around and asking him to try again, because he apparently figured God might eventually change his mind, or perhaps Balaam might get greedy enough to go against God.
Here are the various things said about Israel from the mouth of Balaam, as he prophesied for God in Numbers:
- 23:10: they shall dwell alone and not be reckoned amongst the nations
- 23:11: too numerous to count
- 23:11: they shall have an end to be envied
- 23:21: the Lord God is with them
- 23:21: the shout of God is among them
- 23:22: there is no enchantment nor divination against them
- 23:24: they shall rise up like a lion (who does not lie down until his meal is over)
- 24:7: his seed shall be in many waters
- 24:7: his king shall be higher than Agag and his kingdom shall be exalted
- 24:8: he hath the stregth of a unicorn
- 24:8: he shall eat up the nations, his enemies, break their bones and pierce them through
- 24:9: blessed is he that blesseth them, curseth is he that curseth them
He then offered a series of future prophecies about various kingdoms in the area and what would become of them (mostly at the hand of Israel) and went back home.
- The rest of the story.
Here’s where the story gets a little sketchy, because opposed to popular belief (or at least what you hear people preach and teach about), the story is over. But there was more to the story, because Balaam comes back up very briefly in chapter 31. Just long enough to point out that he was killed along with the Midianites (I believe he was a Midianite) when the Israelites slayed them.
You need a little back story here. After the whole series of blessings, after Balaam went back home, nothing is said of Balaam again until his death. However, during the time between, the Isreali people began to ‘commit whoredom’ with the Moabites, and the Moabites invited them to worship and sacrifice to their gods. The Lord was angry at this and set a plague against the Israelites, and there was a large falling out from this whole thing.
In the middle of this, while Moses and the people were mourning over the dead. One of the princes of Israel (Zimri, of the Simeonites) brought in a Midianite princess (Cozbi, daughter of Zur), to commit whoredom with her, with absolutely no shame (he paraded her in front of Moses and the people on the way to his tent). One of the priests was so angry at this that he ran them both through with a javelin. This righteous atonement was enough to stay God’s anger at Israel, and he stopped the plague.
Israel later went to war, at God’s command, and destroyed Midian to avenge Israel against them. They slayed the men, and brought back the women and children. When Moses saw that they’d brought back the women, he said this (Numbers 31:15): “Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor (the false god), and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.”
So apparently Balaam didn’t just go home and leave things alone. Apparently he stuck his nose back into things and ended up counseling the Midianites and Moabites to become a stumbling block to Israel.
We have to surmise at this point (because the rest of the story is not written down) that Balaam, being unable to curse Israel, was still willing to take money to counsel the leaders (because after all, even a princess was set to tempt a prince of Israel into whoredom) on how to weaken Israel; or perhaps on how to mingle with them in hopes that they wouldn’t attack, or in hopes that God would remove his blessing.
Balaam is one of the few people who is mentioned specifically when the account of the wanderings of Israel is recalled in future writings and is also used as a example in later teachings (he’s mentioned in Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Micah, and Nehemiah, 2 Peter, and Revelation). I’ve taken the time to go through the entire story of Balaam here, because I feel that part of those later teachings is lost on people who only know “that’s the prophet who took money for prophecy and almost god killed and ended up having to be chastised by a donkey”, or “oh yeah, that’s the stupid guy that kept hitting a donkey for trying to save his life”, or worse yet “oh yeah, that’s the dude with the talking donkey”.