When we closed yesterday's study the donkey of Balaam had seen the angel of the Lord three times blocking the roadway. The donkey possessed the spiritual discernment to see the angel, whereas the prophet (in his greed to reach Moab and the money promised to him there) did not. Balaam beat his donkey three times for stopping on the way and the Lord gave the donkey a voice so it could ask its master, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?"
Balaam is behaving like an immoral, ungodly man. He's mistreating an animal and he's disrespecting the Lord, going to Moab in the wrong attitude and hoping for gains in wealth and status. He's enraged by the delays his donkey is causing. "Balaam answered the donkey, 'You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.'" (Numbers 22:29) He's embarrassed about how his donkey is behaving in front of his two servants. Perhaps the Moabite caravan is still within view, witnessing Balaam's problems with his donkey. The prophet doesn't feel he looks very masterful right now. He fears his inability to get a donkey to obey him makes him seem unable to deliver an effective curse against Israel---the curse for which the king of Moab intends to pay him handsomely.
He accuses the donkey of making a fool of him but no one is making a fool of Balaam except Balaam. When the first dignitaries from Moab approached him about hiring him to curse Israel, as a prophet of the living God he should have immediately said no and sent them on their way. He knew God was on the side of Israel and that God blesses whoever blesses Israel and curses whoever curses Israel. (Genesis 12:3) But he was tempted by greed and honor so he invited the men to stay overnight while he consulted the Lord. Only he didn't consult the Lord; the Lord had to show up and forbid him to go to Moab and say anything against Israel. Balaam reluctantly sent the men away in the morning only to have the king of Moab send another caravan of even more impressive officials promising any amount of money and honors if Balaam would only curse Israel so the king's army can drive the Israelites away. Again the prophet didn't immediately say no, instead asking the men to stay overnight while he consulted the Lord. Again he didn't consult the Lord; the Lord came to him and said---in view of Balaam's stubborn attitude---to go on then. But the Lord warned him he would not be able to speak a word about Israel that the Lord doesn't put in his mouth. His mind on the money and prestige promised by the king of Moab, Balaam set out in the wrong spirit. The Lord has tried three times to block his path in an attempt to get him to stop and think about his wrong attitude toward Israel and toward the God who is Israel's protector and defender. You'd think these repeated obstacles might have made Balaam stop and think, "Hmm, something is going on here. When the path forward is this difficult, maybe it's the wrong path. I need to stop by the roadway for a while to pray and seek the Lord's guidance." But, as we often do when we are determined to forge ahead because it's what we want to do, Balaam keeps trying to overcome the delays. He keeps trying to move ahead no matter what.
There have been times in my life when I was on the wrong path. I knew I was on the wrong path but it was the path I wanted to travel. The Lord very clearly put obstacles in my way. Delays occurred. Difficulties arose. But I wanted to keep going forward so I pushed my way over, around, and through the obstacles in a stubborn and sinful attitude. Like Balaam, I was making a fool of myself and I had no one to blame but myself for any consequences that arose as a result of my actions.
Balaam is so far gone in the wrong attitude that he isn't even startled or frightened when his donkey speaks to him. He's been trying to block out the voice of the Lord. No doubt the Holy Spirit is shouting as loudly as He can to Balaam's spirit, telling him he must not speak a word against Israel, but Balaam has deliberately covered his spiritual ears. The only way the Lord can get through to him right now is by speaking through something that was not created with the ability to make conversation. Even then it takes the donkey speaking twice before the strange and miraculous nature of this event starts to get through to Balaam. "The donkey said to Balaam, 'Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?' 'No,' he said. Then the Lord opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown." (Numbers 22:30-31)
The Lord isn't the one who had closed Balaam's eyes; Balaam closed his own eyes, spiritually speaking. A donkey was able to see what he---a prophet of the Lord---could not see. Balaam was being deliberately blind. The Lord had to take drastic and unusual measures to get Balaam's attention and open his eyes to the truth.
Later in the Bible, when Israel has fallen into idolatry, the Lord will use the donkey and the ox as examples of creatures who know and respect and obey their master. He will use this example as a way of declaring Israel more stubborn than the most stubborn of domesticated animals. He will say, "The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand." (Isaiah 1:3) The Lord could speak these same words against Balaam right now, saying, "The donkey sees Me but the prophet has shut his eyes. The donkey hears My voice but the prophet has covered his ears. A simple animal understands that it should respect and obey Me. But the man, to whom I have given great intelligence, does not understand because he doesn't want to understand."
In tomorrow's passage Balaam will repent. This is a good thing but he wouldn't have had to repent if he'd done what was right when messengers came to him from Moab. Things didn't have to go this far. He didn't have to look foolish in the sight of onlookers. He didn't have to experience the guilt and fear of knowing he'd deliberately disobeyed God. He didn't have to fall onto his knees on a dusty road and admit his sin in the presence of his servants, in the presence of the donkey he's treated woefully, and possibly in the sight of the Moabite officials whom he previously wanted to impress. All of this could have been avoided if he'd been in the right spirit in the first place. But at least he's in the right spirit now. The Lord can't use a proud and stubborn person for His work but He can use a repentant and humble person. He's going to allow Balaam to go forward now that the prophet has accepted an attitude adjustment. The Lord will use Balaam not to curse Israel, as the king of Moab wants, but to bless Israel and to bless the name of Israel's God.