When we think of a “battle”, we generally think of the use of traditional weapons, such as guns and bombs and knives. Some battles, however, are quite different. Instead of traditional weapons, these battles employ things such as cunning, deception, or even curses to achieve their desired result.
Balak, king of Moab, resorted to such tactics. He was “…terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.” (Num 22:3 All quotes will be from the NIV)
Then a devilish idea came to his mind, and he immediately summonsed Balaam. Now Balaam was considered to be a prophet of God, and Balak knew that a curse from Balaam would be all that was needed to destroy Israel forever. His request? “Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country.” (Num 22:6)
Interesting that Balak’s goal was to defeat Israel. It makes me think of someone else who wishes to defeat those who worship God. Hmmmm. Just who might that be??? (See John 10:10)!
Though Balaam wasn’t quite as righteous as Balak thought him to be, he still insisted that the elders of Moab “spend the night here…and I will bring you back the answer the LORD gives me.” (Num 22:8).
The only problem was, the answer didn’t come back the way Balak or his men would have hoped. God’s answer? “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.” (Num 22:12)
Is anyone surprised? After all, how would WE respond if someone approached us to ask if we would curse OUR own children? Even if they were brats, our reaction would likely be a little less civilized than God’s …
We can see Balaam’s true character beginning to come through in the words he spoke to the emissaries from Moab: “Go back to your own country, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” (Num 22:13). In other words, “It’s God’s fault!”
But Balak won’t take “no” for an answer. He returns to Balaam, not once or twice, but three more times! And each time he tries to make the rewards for cursing Israel a bit more enticing: “I will reward you handsomely …” (Num 22:17)
I only know of one who tried to entice Jesus to sin on three separate occasions. But that’s another story.
Funny thing is, each time Balak returns, Balaam continues to hang out with him. It’s like he hopes that he will be allowed to give that curse!
He did learn his lesson however. Because it was obvious that Balaam wanted to go and curse Israel, God gave in. He told him: “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” (Num 22:20)
Balaam thought he had the upper hand here, but while on the road towards Moah, the very next day, the improbable happened. Three times “an angel of the Lord stood on the road to oppose him.” (Num 22:22). Balaam couldn’t see the angel, but the donkey he was riding sure could. Either the donkey was motivated by fear, or he had more wisdom that we would give him credit for, because each time the he refused to move into the angel’s territory. Once he ran into a field, once he squashed Balaam’s foot against the rock wall, and once he actually laid down on the ground under his rider.
Balaam was far from pleased, and he beat his donkey severely. It wasn’t until the third time that the donkey actually responded: “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” (Num 22:28)
Balaam must have been so angry that he wasn’t thinking right, for he actually answered his donkey: “You have made a fool of me!” (Num 22:29) I don’t think I would have gone so far as to actually answer an animal who had spoken to me, but then, who knows?
Some may be surprised by this turn of events. Why would God allow Balaam to go, and then block his road with an angel? I believe that the answer to this is that God chose to teach Balaam an important lesson, and it is there, just after the donkey spoke, that Balaam began to get the idea: Perhaps he was the one trying to make a fool of God by seeking permission to curse the very people God had blessed!
The angel’s message was clear: “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.” (Num 22:32-33)
Now who was the fool? Balaam was certainly grateful to his donkey for saving his life. Maybe he should give the beast a carrot?
But the most important lesson Balaam learned on that road was this: “I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” (Num 22:38) And that is what he proceeded to do. Three more times.
Just imagine how King Balak must have felt after hearing the prophet, who was supposed to “curse” Israel, give them a blessing instead! It wouldn’t have surprised me if he had tried to strangle Balaam with his very own hands! And this is the moment when Balak reveals his true nature:
“I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times. Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but the LORD has kept you from being rewarded.” (Num 24:10-11). In other words, Balak, in direct opposition to God, promised the reward, but when the desired outcome didn’t come, Balak blamed God. It’s ALL God’s fault!
The persistence of Balak was geared against God Himself, and though he, Balak, was to blame, he tried to blame God. Isn’t it interesting how Balak’s tactics resemble those of the evil one himself!
But then, if we hang around the devil too much, we may end up looking like him as well!
The good news for any of us who have decided to follow God is this: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31)
Hey…did I leave my donkey somewhere? After all he saved my life three times! But shhhhhh! Don’t tell anyone!
(To access the entire “Facing Unimaginable Odds” devotional series, please click here.)