In the Garden of Eden the serpent was used by the devil to lure Adam and Eve into sin while God has not given a voice to any animal to converse with mankind. But God does and can use anything and anyone by blessing beyond their inherent capabilities to perform any specific task for Him. Even an animal may be used by Him to work for His Divine kingdom, as long as one is prepared and willing to be used by Him. Being ready for an assignment for the heavenly kingdom is a matter of submission and total obedience.
Why was Balaam stopped and permitted to go with the Moabites? ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Proverbs 18:21). Balak, the king of Moab was afraid of the Israelites ‘for they were many’, though they had given him no cause for this (Numbers 22:6). He called for Balaam, the prophet, requesting him to curse the Jewish people saying, ‘I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed’. How does this work in our life? ‘God created man in His image and likeness’ and when someone stands before a mirror his image is reflected therein (Genesis 1:27). Whatever the individual does, the image does exactly and if he moves away from the mirror, the image also starts moving away in the mirror. Lord Jesus, the True Son of God, further confirmed this, ‘the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner’ (John 5:19). The Son of God is one with Him and imitates the Father in heaven.
God created everything with His Word, what He said, that came to be. In like manner, one who is in close relationship with God will be able to receive the fruit of his tongue. The call from Balak to Balaam was to come and curse the Israelites, ‘perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land’ (Numbers 22:6 – 41). God stopped him from going with ‘the messengers of Balak’ with a command, ‘you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed’. But surely God could have cancelled any curse that Balaam would have pronounced but that would be against the Word of God for man as a speaking being is empowered to use his tongue to make a thing happen. After that Balak sent ‘princes, more numerous and more honorable’ than the first group with a bigger offer of financial reward ‘to honor him more greatly’. God laid two conditions to Balaam’s going with them, first, ‘if the men come to call you, rise and go with them’; second, ‘but only the word which I speak to you – that you shall do’.
Balaam’s eagerness to go, due to his greed and less regard for God’s word, is seen in his getting up in the morning and he ‘ saddled his donkey and went with them’ without waiting for them to come again to call him. The permission to go, is with the Hebrew word ‘etam’ that is to be separate of mind from them and not one in identity of thoughts and purpose. He was to be physically with them but his soul was to be in consonance with God and His word. But since Balaam was one, ‘emoi’, with the princes of Moab, that Angel of the LORD again stopped him in the way. The Angel of the LORD again told him to go, ‘etai’, with them but not partner with them in their plan.
God is never confused in what He desires and the first time asking by Balaam was a violation of God’s desire for a prophet to bless and encourage and not curse. The second time asking was definitely a sin for Balaam and the command was external and not internal closeness with the Moabites. The primary will of God was absolute denial of permission but His secondary will permitted him to go but with certain conditions. Actually where your heart is, that is what we want to hear as an answer to prayer and Satan misuses this to mislead people. Moses was already told about his death by God and the new command was, ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people’ (Numbers 31:2).
Moses could have delayed this with a desire to extend his life but he did not and immediately took action. We are required to obey God in our thoughts, words and deeds fully and not in a half-hearted manner, for that is true obedience.
Why did God open the donkey’s mouth? Balaam had disobeyed God in going with the princes of Moab and since he was filled with pride to have persuaded God to permit him to go, God used an unusual manner to show him the reality of man’s worth. God’s Sovereign will was to stop him from going but then His permissive will allowed the use of free will of Balaam. The appearance of the Angel of the LORD barring Balaam’s way (Numbers 22:22-35) was for four reasons; first, to repeat the initial warning of not saying anything out of ‘the word that I speak to you’. Second, to humble him by revealing Himself to the donkey and using the donkey to show him the reality of his pride and relationship with His Maker. Third, God clarified to Balaam that He can use even an animal to fulfill His purpose and that the gift of speech itself is a gift from God and he must use it wisely. Angel Gabriel carried the news of the birth of John the Baptist to Priest Zechariah, but to prevent him from saying something to interfere in this, he was made mute ‘until the day these things take place’ (Luke 1:20). Four, The Angel of the LORD barring Balaam’s way was the Angel of mercy to scare him in obeying God and not to harm him and others. Balaam was allowed to go with the same caution as before.
Why were Balaam and others with him not surprised to hear the donkey speak? Balaam lived a life where the most spiritual experiences coexisted with the most vulgar and unfair. This was evident in his eagerness to go despite the warning from God that the Israelites are blessed people. He was so blinded by his pride and greed that he forgot God’s command, ‘you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed’ nor did he tell this to Balak’s messengers.
God has used various animals and beasts to help mankind in the Old Testament apart from the devil using the serpent in the Garden of Eden and God allowing that to happen. Prophet Elijah was sent by God to Brook Cherith with an assurance of being fed by the ravens (1 Kings 17:3- 4). Some young men from Bethel, mocked Elisha and at his curse ‘two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty two of the youths’ (2 Kings 2:23-24). A prophet went to the northern kingdom to pronounce a curse on the false altar in Bethel with specific instructions from God (1 Kings 13) ‘You shall not eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by going the way you came’. At the urging of an old false prophet he went back and ate bread in his house and ‘a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his corpse was thrown on the road’, and the donkey and the lion stood by it and people passed by without any danger from the lion.
Prophet Jonah, instead of going to Nineveh, as commanded by God, boarded a ship to flee to Tarshish but after a violent storm hit the ship, he was thrown into the sea by the sailors (Jonah 1:17 ). But to save and teach His child obedience, ‘the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights’. The Temple Tax, to be paid by every Jew male, was demanded from the very God who was worshipped in the Temple (Matthew 17:24-27). Lord Jesus commanded Apostle Peter to go and cast a hook in the sea of Galilee and he will find a ‘piece of money’ in the fish’s mouth, enough to pay the tax for him and the Lord.
God created everything for His good pleasure to proclaim His glory. He can and does use all of His creation to do His will for a blessing or to bring judgment. Balaam had tried to be one in mind with the Moabite princes, who had come to call him and God used his own donkey to open his eyes to the power of God.
Lessons from Balaam’s story for believers’ today – There was no one from the Israelites present as a witness to the whole episode of Balaam and Balak, the Moabite king, yet God used Moses to record this in detail in the Scripture. God revealed Himself to Abraham as ‘El-Shaddai’, translated as God Almighty and as Creator He has power and control over every created being/thing. He can use anything for His glory. When the Lord was going into Jerusalem, riding a donkey, the Pharisees asked Him to stop the people from singing Hosannas to Him (Luke 19:40). Lord Jesus replied that stopping them would result in ‘these stones would immediately cry out’ for God desires that His Son be praised. Lord Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan, and He was ‘with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him’ (Mark 1:13). The wild beasts and the spirits, both angels from heaven and evil spirits on earth, recognized who He was and came forward to be in His presence.
Second, God can turn the intended curses into blessings. Balaam cried out a blessing on the Isrsaelites, ‘How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel!’ (Numbers 24:5). Apostle Paul reiterated this further, ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him’ (Romans 8:28).
Third, Balaam was filled with pride and greed and attempted to persuade God to change His mind. Surely ‘the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil’ (1 Peter 3:12).
Four, God punishes the wicked. Since Balaam urged Balak to use Midianite women to lead the Israelite men into sin and idolatry, all Midianites suffered vengeance of the LORD (Numbers 31:16). Balaam was ‘killed with the sword’ during their battle with Moab
Five, God is love (1 John 4:8) and His love overrides His justice through forgiveness in His Son. The Israelites were not even aware of the drama enacted around them but God ensured that they suffered no harm. We are assured that ‘the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us groaning which cannot be uttered’ and this is ‘according to the will of God’ (Romans 8:26-27). Without our being aware, God blesses us in innumerable ways.
Six, God permits free will to choose – Balaam was denied permission to go as per the ‘perfect will of God’ but since in greed he again sought the LORD, he received the permissive will of God. When we venture out of His perfect will, we suffer eternal consequences.
This story is not about Balaam or Balaak or even the Israelites but about God and His love for His people who are willing to be different. As believers we become aliens for people of other faiths but we are commanded to love our neighbors, for in this manner we reveal God’s love to them. Midianites had no reason to hate Israel or try to harm them but they did and suffered. We are commanded by the Lord, ‘do not resist an evil person’ and show him love and our prayers will bring results and we shall be justified before our God (Matthew 5:39).
The highest responsibility of a believer is to recognize the truth and God leads us into the truth in His Son who has revealed the true image of the Father in Him, for us to aspire to be like Him. Balaam tried to ignore the voice of God and God forced him to listen to the voice of his donkey to understand God’s command fully. The Israelites stood afar off from Mount Sinai, when God appeared and we must examine ourselves if that be the case with us also. Are we ready to listen to and obey God’s ‘still small voice’ or have we become spiritually deaf with the cacophony of various noises around us?