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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The Church That Tolerates False Teaching


Pergamon-the white stone-0026The third message Christ delivered in the book of Revelation was to the angel of the church in Pergamum. Almost as if reciting a list of pros and cons, He begins with a declaration of what He knows about this church.

First they held fast to Christ’s name. Then, they did not deny the faith even when they experienced persecution, even when one in their midst was martyred.

Jesus then moved on to the “But I have this against you” column. The number one issue was that someone in their church was doing what the Old Testament prophet Balaam did.

Balaam is actually not as well known as his donkey. He was the prophet hired by Israel’s enemy to curse God’s chosen people. When messengers from the enemy king first approached Balaam, he refused to go. After negotiations and direction from God to go but to only say what God told him to say, Balaam went.

Balaam’s intention was not pure, however. God sent an angel against him and had it not been for his donkey, Balaam would have died. In a miraculous intervention, God allowed the donkey to speak to Balaam, then opened his eyes and set him right.

And yet, though Balaam did deliver God’s message of blessing over the people of Israel instead of the curse he’d been brought to deliver, he found a way to get paid. He told the enemies of Israel how they could entice God’s people to sin. For a time the plan worked. Their sin brought God’s wrath upon Israel, and many people died.

So in the church of Pergamum, there was a “Balaam” teaching ways that would lead God’s people into sin. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were others holding to the teaching of the infamous though anonymous Nicolaitans—those who did deeds God hates.

You’d almost think God was holding this church accountable for being tolerant. And you’d be right. They weren’t removing the Balaam-like false teacher. They weren’t telling the people holding to the teaching of the Nocolaitans to knock it off.

Because they did not take steps against the false teaching in their midst, Jesus told them they needed to repent. And if they didn’t repent, Jesus said he’d come “with the sword of My mouth” and make war on those they should have dealt with.

I suspect this sword is the word of God, which Paul identified in Ephesians as part of the armor of God. Clearly, the best weapon against false teaching is the truth.

Jesus closes his message to Pergamum by once again giving promises to those who “overcome.” You’d think “overcoming” is a theme in these messages.

And still I have to ask the question: overcome what? Interesting that John, who wrote Revelation, had this to say about overcoming in 1 John 5:4:

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Those who have ears to hear receive the promise that if they overcome, Jesus will give them “hidden manna.”

Manna harkens back to the days of the Exodus when God literally fed His people with the bread of angels. For forty years, He provided for their physical needs. Manna also alludes to Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life.

The second half of the promise is a little more cryptic. Jesus promised to give them a white stone and on the stone would be a “new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Rev. 2:17b).

One possible idea is that the white stone referred to something from the Greek culture:

there is an allusion here to conquerors in the public games, who were not only conducted with great pomp into the city to which they belonged, but had a white stone given to them, with their name inscribed on it; which badge entitled them, during their whole life, to be maintained at the public expense … These were called tesserae among the Romans, and of these there were several kinds.” Clarke then gives examples of the different kinds: “Tesserae conviviales, which answered exactly to our cards of invitation, or tickets of admission to a public feast or banquet; when the person invited produced his tessera he was admitted … But the most remarkable of these instruments were the Tesserae hospitales, which were given as badges of friendship and alliance, and on which some device was engraved, as a testimony that a contract of friendship had been made between the parties.”

The inscription of the new name which no one else knows implies an intimacy between the one who overcomes and God. I think the white stone and new name might be my favorite part of this message though I don’t really understand it.

Just to make things interesting, Jesus also will have a new name no one will know.

He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. (Rev. 19:11)

So in this aspect, those who overcome will be like He who has overcome sin and death and Satan and the world. Amazing that we are even remotely identified with Christ, and yet time and again, that’s His promise.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 2


“A prophet never loses his calling, only his way.” So reads the tag line for Mike Duran‘s recent release, The Telling, a contemporary supernatural suspense.

The premise brought to mind a couple Biblical prophets. The first was Jonah, a good model for the main character in The Telling, in my opinion. Both received a call from God, both renounced that call, both suffered consequences and came to a place of despair, only to have God pull them out of the depths and give them another chance to obey Him. Of course, Jonah’s story doesn’t end there whereas the fictitious Zeph does experience redemption at the end.

Jonah “pulled up a chair” to watch the destruction he had prophesied. When it didn’t come, he sulked. God gave him an object lesson to show him how lacking in compassion he was.

The fictitious Zeph wasn’t lacking in compassion. He simply didn’t realize that his lack of obedience was causing others to suffer. Once he came to that realization, things began to change.

The second Biblical prophet I thought of was Balaam, perhaps not as well known as Jonah. He was hired by one king to curse the people of Israel. God’s people. Apparently Balaam was a prophet of God, so this was an ironic situation, a prophet of God asked to curse God’s people. Balaam had the sense to say he would only speak the word which God gave to him. But somewhere in the process, he lost his way. We know this because of context and the interpretation of other Scripture verses.

First the context. God gives Balaam the OK to accompany the messengers to see the king who wants to hire him, but He says Balaam must only speak His words. On the way, an angel comes out to kill Balaam. Say what?!?

Clearly, something happened between God giving His permission for Balaam to go and the angel waiting in ambush. I can only surmise that Balaam lost his way and planned in his heart to speak words God did not give him to speak.

As it turned out, Balaam’s faithful donkey saw the angel, three times, and saved him by refusing to pass within the angel’s reach. Who knew an angel was limited in such a way that a donkey could thwart his intentions?

At any rate, Balaam arrived at the spot where he met the king. Three times this monarch asked Balaam to curse the people of Israel and three times he blessed them instead. But his story doesn’t end here either. Apparently after delivering God’s blessing, he then advised the king how he could trip up Israel. This we know from other scriptures interpreting the original story, culminating with Revelation 2:14b.

You have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.

I’d say Balaam lost his way. I’d say Jonah lost his way. I’d say the fictitious prophet Zephaniah lost his way when he renounced the gift God had given him because of the bitterness and anger and doubt and despair that filled his soul.

Other prophets faced similar depression, if you will. Elijah, after triumphing over the 450 prophets of Baal ran off when he received the message that Jezebel was going to kill him. He hid and in the process cried out to God bemoaning the fact that he was the last (he thought) to believe. He simply wanted to die.

God responded by giving him a break, a companion, a promise, and a vision of the future.

Jeremiah was another depressed prophet. In fact he is called the weeping prophet. His emotional condition was a mixed bag, I think. He did feel forlorn because of his circumstances. He was targeted for death, after all, because he was prophesying that Judah would face consequences for their sin. But he also lamented for his nation. He knew that the exile was coming. He counseled the king to repent, to surrender, knowing that this would spare Jerusalem and save many lives. How each passing day of disobedience must have grieved his heart.

Clearly Jeremiah, though pushed to the limit, did not lose his way.

It’s an interesting study, I think, to consider why one gifted man of God would lose his way and another of like stripe would not. The Telling is a tale about one who did lose his way. There’s much in Zeph’s background that explains why he made the choice he made, but there’s enough there to make me wonder, was he in fact a man gifted by God or a man used by God? Is there a difference? I think so. God can use even the rocks of the field to give Him praise, but He called twelve men to come and follow Him.

Published in: on September 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 2  
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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 faithful 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 this week 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 … 🙄

Published in: on September 30, 2009 at 1:17 pm  Comments (11)  
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