The prophet Balaam can now see that the angel of the Lord has been blocking his path. That is why his donkey has stopped three times on the road. Realizing he's been shutting the Lord out and closing his eyes and ears to Him, Balaam bows before Him on his knees.
"The angel of the Lord asked him, 'Why have you beaten your donkey these three times?'" (Numbers 22:32a) Balaam, in his greedy desire to get to Moab quickly to receive handsome payment for his services to the king, lost his temper and beat his donkey with his staff each time the donkey refused to move forward. The Lord is displeased with cruel treatment of animals. As we said earlier in the week, the Bible makes the pronouncement that, "The righteous care for the needs of their animals." (Proverbs 12:10a) Balaam acted like an unrighteous man when he struck his donkey for stopping in the roadway. A person who belongs to the Lord ought to care about all the creatures that He made.
The Lord points out that the donkey had more spiritual discernment than Balaam. The Lord called Balaam to be a prophet but he allowed himself to be blinded by greed. He didn't see the angel in his path. The prophet is supposed to seek and share the word of God, but it took God giving an animal the ability to speak in order to open the prophet's ears. "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 it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it." (Numbers 22:32b-33) This person standing in the road, with a drawn sword in His hand, is referred to as "the angel of the Lord". It's clear He speaks of Himself as if He is the Lord and I believe that's because this is one of the Old Testament appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ.
In the Bible we find a number of angel visitations and sometimes these beings are called "an angel of the Lord" and other times "the angel of the Lord". Many Bible scholars, Christian authors, and Christian commentators feel very strongly that the person speaking with Balaam is the pre-incarnate Christ. Whenever the Old Testament records an appearance of the one known as "the angel of the Lord", we can be pretty sure we are reading about what is called a "Christophany". The person is having an encounter with Christ in a time period prior to the incarnation. I'm going to briefly discuss three important clues which indicate that a Christophany is occurring in the Old Testament. First, whenever "the angel of the Lord" shows up, He will speak with the authority of God. He will not speak in the manner of a created angel who relates a message from God; He will speak the word as though it originates from Him or from His Father. Second, He will appear in human form, just as He does in our passage today when we find Him standing in the road holding a sword in His hand. And, lastly but perhaps most importantly, He will accept worship. The angels who serve the Lord don't accept worship but will direct worship toward God alone (see Revelation 22 for examples of this) and the Bible strictly forbids the worship of angels (see Matthew 4:9-10 and Luke 4:7-8 in which the fallen angel Satan asks Jesus to worship him and Jesus replies that no one but God must be worshiped, also see Romans 1:25 and Colossians 2:18 in which the Apostle Paul states it's a sin to worship angels).
In Numbers 22 the angel of the Lord speaks on His own authority. He appears in the form of a man. He accepts worship when Balaam bows on his knees before Him. I feel that our passage fits the requirements to be considered a Christophany. Balaam is bowing before the pre-incarnate Christ and now we find him confessing his sin to the pre-incarnate Christ. "Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, 'I have sinned. I did not realize You were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if You are displeased, I will go back.'" (Numbers 22:34) On the one hand it sounds as if Balaam has had a change of heart. On the other hand the phrasing of his confession sounds as if he's willing to turn around and go home not because he's sorry for his greed but because the Lord is blocking his path and may actually kill him if he keeps trying to go forward. Is Balaam sorry for his sin or not? I've never read a commentary or heard a message preached about Balaam in which the commentator or speaker feels he is truly repentant. They feel that his fear of the Lord is not the holy and reverent type of fear but the type of fear a person feels when his life is in danger. They could be right, for when the Apostle Peter spoke of people who were willing to sell out their faith and go against their principles for the right price, he compared them to the prophet Balaam whom he accused of leaving the right way and loving the wages of wickedness. (2 Peter 2:15)
The Lord is going to allow Balaam to go on to Moab and meet with King Balak. The Lord is going to show Balaam who is boss, and the boss isn't Balaam or Balak: it's the King of kings who is in control of this whole situation. Balaam will not be able to pronounce a curse upon Israel---the job he's being hired to perform. Balak will not get what he wants. He's used to obtaining whatever he wants once a price has been agreed upon, but it won't work this time. These two men will soon see just who they are dealing with, so the Lord tells Balaam to continue forward, but he will not be able to speak a word that the Lord has not put in his mouth. "The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, 'Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.' So Balaam went with Balak's officials." (Numbers 22:35)