Remembering Balaam and the Talking Donkey
Do you remember the story of Balaam and the talking donkey? No, I’m not talking about some some obscure character in the movie Shrek. What I am referring to is the tale of Balaam written in the Bible (Numbers 22-24). I came across the story of Balaam in preparation for preaching this week in our series “Seven Churches”. Here is the passage for this Sunday’s sermon:
"And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: 'The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. "'I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it." Revelation 2:12-17 ESV
So in preparation I wanted to refresh myself with the story of Balaam, besides simply referring to the “guy with a Narnian donkey”.
In the book of Numbers we find that Balaam had a reputation of a being able to spiritually connect with God despite the fact that he was most likely a pagan diviner for hire. In these passages, we find Balak, the king of Moab, sent a message looking to hire Balaam to curse the Israelites. Initially, after hearing from God, Balaam refused to offer his services to the king. However the king persisted and sent messengers a second time. Balaam sought the guidance of God again and in Num 22:20 “... God came to Balaam at night and said to him, ‘If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.’”
Now instead of waiting for the men to come to call and see what Balaam’s decision would be we find in verse 21 that: “Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.” He took the initiative instead of waiting as God had commanded. Thus we find in verse 22 that God was angry at Balaam for not listening, and the story of the donkey who eventually talks is in verses 22-31.
After this incredible event takes place, Balaam now continues with God’s permission to go to Balak the king of Moab. Continuing on through Numbers chapter 24 ( and I suggest taking the time to read these) we find that Balak takes Balaam to 3 different locations attempting to have him curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam blesses the Israelites at God’s direction. The king is upset at Balaam, and they part ways at the end of chapter 24.
Now at this point we might wonder why Balaam gets such a bad reputation in the Bible with passages like that above in the book of Revelation. The reason is...
The story of Balaam and Balak doesn’t end at the end of chapter 24. Instead, we find that because of a desire for financial gain Balaam returns to Balak with a plan to harm the Israelites without putting a curse on them. His devious plan called for the women of Moab to go to the Israelites camp and seduce them into idolatry and sexual immorality. And we can see the tragic story of them falling into this trap, with 24,000 Israelites dying in Numbers chapter 25.
Now how does this relate with the passage in Revelations for this Sunday’s sermon? And what does this have to do with us today and our church? Well… come and find out this Sunday at Mercy Hill!