The story of Balaam is one of those accounts that we have a hard time learning from simply because of the strange miracle that occurs. WE find ourselves fascinated by the events, and we focus on the supernatural rather than considering the principles.
As I was reading through this text, I found myself considering, not the talking donkey, but the circumstances of Balaam, his anger, and the Lord’s providence. And I believe that such a consideration would be good for any of us.
If you do not recall the story, a pagan king sent for Balaam to ask him to pronounce a curse over the people of Israel. As Balaam travels toward his meeting with the king of Moab, the Lord sets an angel in the pathway. Balaam’s donkey, enabled by God to see the angel, moves off the path to avoid the angel two separate times. During one of those detours, Balaam’s foot gets squished up against a wall. Finally, the donkey sees the angel in a narrow place, and refuses to carry Balaam any further forward, refusing to walk him to his death.
So, as is familiar, Balaam begins to beat his donkey for its supposed disobedience. And God allows the donkey to speak to Balaam. That Got Balaam’s attention, and then the Lord allowed Balaam to see the angel in the path threatening his very life.
Numbers 22:31-35 – 31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” 35 And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.
OK, we could get really excited debating the merits of talking donkeys. But how foolish is that. If you are willing to accept the presence of an angel, if you are willing to accept the existence of God—a God who once spoke to Moses through a bush—you should have no problem accepting that the Lord could speak through a donkey to a stubborn man. But the method of God’s speaking here is not the main point. The fact that God will be in control, the fact that God will not allow Balaam to accomplish a task outside of God’s parameters, the fact that God will sovereignly protect his people from Balaam’s curse, that is what is at stake here.
But I also think there is a lesson for you and me living our Christian lives today. Three times in this account, Balaam experienced painful inconvenience. He was frustrated. He was angry. He did not understand. It made him want to lash out. But the moment Balaam was allowed to see what was really happening, he fell on his face and confessed sin.
I wonder how often you and I experience painful inconvenience. We get mad. We get depressed. We want to lash out. But we also seldom get to see what the Lord is doing behind the scenes. In Balaam’s case, God was protecting his people, and in a way protecting Balaam, from Balaam’s folly. What God was doing was good. What God was doing was loving and kind. And just because Balaam was not in a position to see that does not change the perfection of God.
What pain and struggles are you facing? Do you actually think that you know all that the Lord is doing through your pain? From what is God protecting you ? Toward what is God shaping you? Be careful wanting to get out a stick and beat on something that the Lord may be using to save your life or strengthen your soul.
Balaam misread his pain. He did not understand, and he lost his cool over it. You and I often do not understand what the Lord is doing behind the scenes either. May we trust the Lord enough to believe that he is using all things for our good, even our frustrations. May we remember that the goal of our lives is our being conformed into the image of Christ. But may we also remember that sometimes a little heat and a little pain is often needed for that form to take shape.