The Angel and the Donkey

The Bible story of Balaam and his talking donkey recorded in the book of Numbers has always mystified me, and it seems like the more I think about it, the more I find mystifying.

My initial problem comes in what appears to be God changing His mind. Here’s the background. The king of Moab wants Balaam, evidently a prophet of God, to come and curse Israel, the people of God, as they are making their way to the Promised Land.

OK, we can overlook the king’s ignorance, I guess, assuming instead that he hadn’t put two and two together—that the God who was protecting and blessing these people was the same one Balaam consulted for his prophetic words.

But on to the story. When the envoy from the king arrived, Balaam said, Let me see what God has to say about this. He came back to them and faithfully reported God’s word—No, I’m not to go with you, I’m not to curse them.

Perhaps the king had been spoiled as a child because he didn’t take no for an answer. He sent his representatives to Balaam a second time. The prophet said he’d check with God to see what else He had to say. And this time God told Balaam to go with the men but to speak only that which He told him to.

Off they go, accompanied by two of Balaam’s servants. And Balaam’s faithful donkey which he’d ridden all his life.

Along the way, an angel of the Lord lies in wait for Balaam with drawn sword in hand. The donkey sees the angel and avoids him. Three times.

Balaam, apparently frustrated by his wayward donkey, beats the animal. And then the second miracle—the donkey asks Balaam what he did to deserve the beatings. Balaam says he would have killed the donkey if he’d had a sword because the animal was mocking him.

The donkey asks if Balaam has ever known him to act this way before, and when the prophet admits he has not, his eyes are opened and he sees the angel.

The angel says to Balaam, why did you beat your donkey seeing as he saved your life?

Balaam then repents, says he sinned, and that he’ll return home if that’s what the Lord wants. The answer? No, go ahead and go, but speak only what God tells you.

Besides the God-changing-His-mind issue, I saw for the first time the God-versus-God aspect of the story. The angel of God stood with a sword to kill the prophet of God, but a miraculous talking donkey saved him. Who but God opened the eyes and the mouth of the donkey? So God saved His prophet from His angel.

Now I have to admit, I decided to post these questions because often times in writing things down, I see more clearly. And I think that might be true here.

Apparently there is something Scripture doesn’t give us in these verses—Balaam’s decision to say something he wasn’t supposed to say.

Consequently, in the same way he viewed his donkey as wayward and beat the animal and would have killed it, God stood against Balaam with sword in hand as the prophet went, apparently wayward in his heart, to meet with the king.

Except God had mercy on Balaam and gave him a second chance—well, actually three chances, as it turns out, because that’s how many times the king took Balaam to a place where he could overlook Israel and where he offered sacrifices as a way of seeking God’s curse.

Three times. The same number of times the donkey saved Balaam’s life. Coincidence?

Now, about that God-changing-His-mind issue … 🙄

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in September 2009.

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Published in: on March 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 Comments

  1. love this story

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  2. LOL! What fun. Over on James blog yesterday, we were just speaking of needing to get a little sliver donkey charm to remind us of Balaam’s donkey. Good reminder for those of us who are fond of apologetics.

    I am uncertain if God actually changes His mind of it it just appears that way to us. Sometimes a “no” could mean our heart is not yet in the right place or the timing is off. Later a “yes” is not really God changing His mind, it is just that the timing is now right or our heart has now shifted.

    Balaam is an interesting guy to study. I have learned that when we are listening to what God is saying to us,it is really important to take yourself completely out of the equation. Thy will, not my will. That can be really hard because we all want the out comes we want. Balaam wrestles with His will versus God’s will and God gives him ample opportunities to humble himself and get his heart right. He sends a talking donkey and an angel, for goodness sakes. If that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will. 🙂

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    • Oooohh, I like the idea that God doesn’t chance His mind though it may look like that because we don’t know what circumstances have to be in place or how we need to change, how our hearts need to be right with Him. I’ll have to think about that some more.

      Balaam sure gives us lots to think about, doesn’t he? This story is also a good example of the need to interpret Scripture with Scripture, because we know more from other passages, particularly that Balaam found what he thought was an out: he wouldn’t curse Israel, just tell the king their spiritual weak point.

      Yet one of the really great trues about God come straight from his mouth: “God is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent. Has He not said and will He not do it, or has He spoken and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19)

      Becky

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  3. I wonder if there were 2 types of angels, the merciful one: with the donkey.And the other was going to give judgment: but was stopped by the merciful one. In other words, many lessons here.

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    • Michele, I’ve thought about the differing types of angels, too. God does send angels, as recorded in Scripture, to do things that seem . . . in contradiction to His ways. I’m thinking of one instance when an angel put a “lying spirit” into the mouths of certain prophets.

      Yet we can’t get away from God’s sovereignty. He must have sovereignly allowed the angel to go to kill Balaam, but He must have also sovereignly allowed the donkey to see the danger and to speak.

      I don’t think we have the whole story, but one thing’s certain: God was acting on behalf of His people. He was protecting Israel and He was working in Balaam’s life.

      Becky

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