1617.) Numbers 22

22. Rembrandt

“The Ass of Balaam Talking before the Angel” by Rembrandt, 1626 (Musee Cognacq-Jay, Paris, France)

Numbers 22   (CEV)

1Israel moved from there to the hills of Moab, where they camped across the Jordan River from the town of Jericho.

King Balak of Moab Hires Balaam To Curse Israel

2-3When King Balak  of Moab and his people heard how many Israelites there were and what they had done to the Amorites, he and the Moabites were terrified and panicked. 4They said to the Midianite leaders, ” That bunch of Israelites will wipe out everything in sight, like a bull eating grass in a field.” So King Balak 5sent a message to Balaam son of Beor who lived among his relatives in the town of Pethor near the Euphrates River. It said:

I need your help. A huge group of people has come here from Egypt and settled near my territory. 6They are too powerful for us to defeat, so would you come and place a curse on them? Maybe then we can run them off. I know that anyone you bless will be successful, but anyone you curse will fail.

Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel, to cripple them spiritually so they could be defeated in battle. Balak seemed to know the strength of Israel was spiritually rooted, and they had to cut off from their source of power if they were to be conquered. It seems Balaam was known as a mighty man in spiritual things. As far as Balak was concerned, when Balaam cursed or blessed a man or a people, it came to pass.

–David Guzik

7The leaders of Moab and Midian left and took along money to pay Balaam for his work. When they got to his house, they gave him Balak’s message.

8” Spend the night here,” Balaam replied, ” and tomorrow I will tell you the LORD’s answer.” So the officials stayed at his house.

Here we see the heart of Balaam revealed. Though he was obviously a man with significant spiritual gifts, he was not a man with a genuine heart after God. He was “seeking God’s will” regarding cursing the nation of Israel — something that was plainly not His will.

9During the night, God asked Balaam, ” Who are these people at your house?”

10” They are messengers from King Balak of Moab,” Balaam answered. ” He sent them 11to ask me to go to Moab and place a curse on the people who have come there from Egypt. They have settled everywhere around him, and he wants to run them off.”

12But God replied, ” Don’t go with Balak’s messengers. I have blessed those people who have come from Egypt, so don’t curse them.”

13The next morning, Balaam said to Balak’s officials, ” Go on back home. The LORD says I cannot go with you.”

It was as if Balaam is saying, “God doesn’t want me to do this . . . but I can be persuaded.”

14The officials left and told Balak that Balaam refused to come.

15Then Balak sent a larger group of officials, who were even more important than the first ones. 16They went to Balaam and told him that Balak had said, ” Balaam, if you come to Moab, 17I’ll pay you very well and do whatever you ask. Just come and place a curse on these people.”

Balaam refused to decisively put away a temptation the first time it came. Now the temptation came back to him stronger than it was before.

18Balaam answered, “Even if Balak offered me a palace full of silver or gold, I wouldn’t do anything to disobey the LORD my God. 19You are welcome to spend the night here, just as the others did. I will find out if the LORD has something else to say about this.”

20That night, God said, ” Balaam, I’ll let you go to Moab with Balak’s messengers, but do only what I say.”

We can say that God did not change His will. He had clearly declared His will, and Balaam had decisively rejected it. Now God prepared Balaam up for judgment, to both test and reveal the wickedness of Balaam’s heart.

21So Balaam got up the next morning and saddled his donkey, then left with the Moabite officials.

Balaam and His Donkey Meet an Angel

22. Balaam

22Balaam was riding his donkey to Moab, and two of his servants were with him. But God was angry that Balaam had gone, so one of the LORD’s angels stood in the road to stop him. 23When Balaam’s donkey saw the angel standing there with a sword, it walked off the road and into an open field. Balaam had to beat the donkey to get it back on the road.

The donkey was more spiritually perceptive than the prophet! The donkey had no spiritual gifts, but at least acknowledged his Creator. The prophet had wonderful spiritual gifts, but also a disobedient heart and walk.

24Then the angel stood between two vineyards, in a narrow path with a stone wall on each side. 25When the donkey saw the angel, it walked so close to one of the walls that Balaam’s foot scraped against the wall. Balaam beat the donkey again.

26The angel moved once more and stood in a spot so narrow that there was no room for the donkey to go around. 27So it just lay down. Balaam lost his temper, then picked up a stick and smacked the donkey.

22. Balaams donkey cartoon


James 1:19 (NIV)

Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

28When that happened, the LORD told the donkey to speak, and it asked Balaam, ” What have I done to you that made you beat me three times?”

29” You made me look stupid!” Balaam answered. ” If I had a sword, I’d kill you here and now!”

30” But you’re my owner,” replied the donkey, ” and you’ve ridden me many times. Have I ever done anything like this before?”

” No,” Balaam admitted.

Balaam admitted that the donkey got the best of him in this conversation!

31Just then, the LORD let Balaam see the angel standing in the road, holding a sword, and Balaam bowed down.

from Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who,
by Frederick Buechner


The legend of Solomon’s ring, the adventures of Dr. Doolittle, the attempt to decipher the dots and dashes of dolphins and to teach chimpanzees to type out their thoughts on computers all reflect man’s ancient dream of being able to talk with the animals.  As fascinating as a message from outer space would be a message from the inner space of a great blue heron or a common house cat sunning herself on the kitchen linoleum.  Their mute gaze suggest a vision of reality beyond our imagining.  What do they see in their ignorance that we in our wisdom are mostly blind to?

In the Book of Numbers, Balaam’s ass sees an angel of the Lord barring the way with a drawn sword in his hand and thereupon lies down in the middle of the road with Balaam still on his back.  When Balaam clobbers him over the head with a stick, the ass speaks out reproachfully in fluent Hebrew, and then Balaam sees the angel too.

This is perhaps a clue to the mystery.  Whereas men as a rule see only what they expect to see and little more, the animals, innocent of expectation, see what is there.  The next time the old mare looks up from her browsing and lets fly with an exultant whinny at the empty horizon, we might do well to consider at least the possibility that the horizon may not be quite as empty as we think.

32The angel said, ” You had no right to treat your donkey like that! I was the one who blocked your way, because I don’t think you should go to Moab.  33If your donkey had not seen me and stopped those three times, I would have killed you and let the donkey live.” 34Balaam replied, ” I was wrong. I didn’t know you were trying to stop me. If you don’t think I should go, I’ll return home right now.”

35” It’s all right for you to go,” the LORD’s angel answered. ” But you must say only what I tell you.” So Balaam went on with Balak’s officials.



HERE is a fun piece — Don Francisco sings a song about Balaam and his donkey, as an accompaniment to a Sunday School play!


King Balak Meets Balaam

36When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went to meet him at the town of Ir, which is on the northern border of Moab. 37Balak asked, ” Why didn’t you come when I invited you the first time? Did you think I wasn’t going to pay you?”

38” I’m here now,” Balaam answered. ” But I will say only what God tells me to say.”

39They left and went to the town of Kiriath-Huzoth, 40where Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep and gave some of the meat to Balaam and the officials who were with him.

41The next morning, Balak took Balaam to the town of Bamoth-Baal. From there, Balaam could see some of the Israelites.


Contemporary English Version (CEV) Copyright © 1995 by American Bible Society

Images courtesy of:
Rembrandt.  http://www.abcgallery.com/R/rembrandt/rembrandt95.html
Balaam’s donkey sees the angel.   http://www.biblebios.com/balaam/balaam.jpg
cartoon.  https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/22-balaams-donkey-cartoon.jpg?w=450

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