Balaam's Encounter with God

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Numbers 22:1-41

The Story of Balaam & His Encounter with God

1.      Text Exegesis

The Setting and Background – Verses 1-3

The first verse of Numbers 22 is a concluding verse of events from the previous chapter.  The Israelites just completed successful campaigns against King Sihon of the Amorites in Hesbon and King Og of Bashan.  This Moabite land was previously conquered by Sihon.  King Balak watches as Israel defeats people who previously took land from him.  “Slim indeed are your chances of winning against a team that has handily defeated another team that earlier defeated you!” [1]  The situation is reminiscent of sporting events in society today, only with far greater consequences.  Win-loss comparisons are continually made to determine how one team will play against another team who faced a similar foe. 

“One of the keys in this passage is found in the use of the Hebrew verb rā’â, which means ‘to see with understanding’ and ‘to have a clear comprehension of the matters at hand.’  Balak… has been made aware of the dramatic victories and potential threat of this people who were now encamped within the reaches of his fledgling domain.”[2]    King Balak watches the Israelites thrash an army who previously took land from him by force.  Balak knows he needs help in defeating the Israelites.  The vast number of Israelites is also a concern to the king and the Moabites.  The people say to the elders of Midian that the large numbers of Hebrew people will lap up the land’s resources similar to over-grazing a field with an ox. 


First Messengers Sent to Balaam – Verses 4-14

In an effort to gain an upper hand with the overwhelming strength and prowess of the Israelites, Balak sends messengers to enlist a man named Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites.  Who is this man Balaam?  “No title such as prophet or priest is given to Balaam and, therefore, we are left to discern from the context what his position was.  Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel so Moab could defeat Israel.  He knew of Balaam’s powers of blessing and curses.  In v. 6, the power of a spoken word, whether in blessing or cursing, is confirmed.”[3]   While Balaam is not identified in the text, he apparently develops a reputation as a prophet or seer.  Josephus identifies Balaam as the greatest of the prophets of that time.

“The custom of cursing an enemy before battle was widespread in the ancient world, and Balaam seems to have gained a reputation as an effective operative who could be relied upon, on the payment of an appropriate fee (v. 7), to give satisfaction.”[4]   Balak either hears or sees first-hand that whoever Balaam blesses was blessed and whoever he curses was cursed.  His reputation is good enough to offer monetary payment for putting a curse on Balak’s enemy because we read in verse 7 that the elders of Moab and Midian take with them the fee for the divination request. 

Balaam is identified as heralding from Pethor in his native land of Amaw, so it must be appropriate or at least possible to enlist the services of a prophet from another country.  “Pethor was south of Carchemish, more than 350 miles from Moab.  A journey of this length would require much planning and time.  This account compresses a great amount of time into a brief record.  There is an accumulation of more than 1,400 miles of travel involved.”[5]   The planning and expense of travelling 350 miles one way to seek Balaam; a great distance in that day; takes several weeks to plan and travel.  The elders traveling would require servants and supplies for the long journey.  The fees they took to pay for services and the costs of travel confirm Balaam’s reputation.  It is a major undertaking to gain the services of the seer Balaam whose spoken words apparently have real potency.

Upon arrival, verse 7 reads that the elders told Balaam what Balak said and requested.  “The initial meeting with Balaam is recounted in summary fashion with focal point.  The actual details of such a meeting would have entailed the standard hospitality process of formal greetings, the sharing of preliminary gifts, the sharing of a meal, and probably an extended discussion of the events precipitating this visit, and then the formal presentation of the letter.”[6]   Again, time is condensed in the story but suffice it to say, Balaam seems to know what was being asked of him.  By asking the visitors to spend the evening, he seems to understand the seriousness of the request by stating that he needs to hear from Jehovah, a clear reference to the God of Israel. 

It should be noted here that a group of inscriptions were discovered by archeologists in 1967 at the site of Deir’Allā, close to the northern bank of the Jabbok/Zerqa River north of Moab.  “In the Old Testament Balaam is clearly a figure who belongs exclusively to traditions about Transjordan; it is noteworthy, then, that our texts, in which he plays a central role, likewise come from a Transjordanian holy place.  Also, in our texts Balaam has no connection whatever with anything that can be considered characteristic of typically Israelite religion.”[7]   The 8th century B.C.E. inscriptions are similar to the Balaam oracles found in Numbers and written in a similar dialect and quite possibly a form of the Hebrew spoken by the Israelites who lived in the Transjordanian region. 

“The Deir’Allā writings are saturated with polytheism, express belief in divination, and portray Balaam as interacting with a number of gods in various ways: by receiving visions and through involvement with divination and possibly exorcism.”[8]   Some would point to translations in which Balaam uses divine speech and refers to Yahweh or Jehovah as an indication he knows God in a personal way.  To the contrary, the Deir’Allā writings indicate that Balaam is a polytheist and not a believer in the one true God, Yahweh.  However, while there was no personal relationship, Balaam does seem to see and understand the power of Yahweh.

God comes to Balaam during the night, asking him to identify the men.  This is a rhetorical question, reminiscent of God’s interaction with Adam in the garden after Adam’s sin and with Cain when he asks the location of Cain’s brother.  Clearly, God knows who the men are and why they seek Balaam.  It is God who came to Balaam and His question is not to gain knowledge, but to teach.  Balaam answers the question and God instructs Balaam to tell the men that Balaam must not go with them and must not put a curse on the Israelites because they are blessed. 

“Like Balaam of the Deir’Allā texts, the prophet arose that morning after his encounter with God and returned with the essence of the word he had received from on high in that night dream.”[9]   Balaam does not tell all the details of his encounter with God, but rather tells the emissaries that the Lord gave him instructions not to go with them.  Upon returning to Balak, the men tell him that Balaam refused to come with them.  “Nowhere in these chapters did the elders of Moab and Midian or Balak refer to God.  It is Balaam who uses the name of God regularly.  It is implied that the message came from God in a dream (v. 13).  It is significant that God came to Balaam (v. 9). When Balaam tells the elders that the Lord has refused to let him go with them, the elders returned with the news that Balaam refuses to come with us – they did not mention anything about God.”[10]   Balak knows only that his invitation was refused.  He does not know why.  In all likelihood, the short answer and the lack of knowledge leads Balak to push harder for an acceptable answer. 

Some scholars state that Balaam has ulterior motives in refusing to go, hoping the refusal would cause Balak to up the ante.  Balak refuses to accept the rejection, but there is no evidence to show that Balaam refused to go for any other reason than what scripture reveals.  Yahweh tells Balaam to stay put and not to curse His people.  The next set of verses may reveal a change in Balaam’s thinking, but at this point in the story, ulterior motives cannot be supported.

Second Messengers Sent to Balaam – Verses 15-21

Balak does not like Balaam’s answer and still sees the need for help in defeating the Israelites.  He sends another set of higher ranking officials to convince Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites.  Balak turns up the pressure and increases the offer of payment for Balaam’s services.  First, verse 15 states that higher ranking officials are sent and second, there are more of them than in the first group.  Balak also increases the fee he is willing to pay, basically saying Balaam could “write his own ticket” as to how many zeros to add to the fee.  Again, the text does not adequately give the perspective of the time or distance involved in making the trek, but the audience of that day probably knew very well of the cost and effort involved.

Balaam’s answer is intriguing because it comes in two parts.  First, he tells them that a palace filled with silver and gold would not change his mind.  “…Balaam’s words echo the reality that he had indeed had an encounter with the God of Israel, through which the true Elohim had confronted and revealed himself to the pagan diviner.”[11]   Obviously, Balaam’s first encounter with Yahweh had an impact.  Keep in mind, this second party probably arrives several months after the first party left.

“Balaam’s next words, however, betray a certain ambivalence.  He invites the messengers to stay so that he can find out what else the Lord may have to say (v. 19).  This is odd.  Why would Balaam think the Lord might change his mind?  Or perhaps we should ask: Why would Balaam hope the Lord might change his mind?  The answer to this question is rather obvious: King Balak has ‘upped the ante’ to the point that Balaam cannot resist!”[12]   The situation changes, including the terms of the deal.  “The suspicion inevitably arises that Balaam had at least some hopes that the situation might change.  It is here that questions about his moral character begin to arise for us.”[13]   The prize grew and it appears that Balaam is at least considering or hoping things changed with Yahweh since Balaam last heard from Him. 

Just like the events of Balaam are described in the Deir’Allā inscriptions, God came to him a second time.  God told Balaam in the first encounter that he is not to go with the men.  However, in this encounter, Balaam is permitted to go with them with one catch.  Balaam is instructed to say or do only what Yahweh tells him to say or do.  “At this point in the narrative the reader might ask the question, If God has relented on his prohibition of Balaam making the journey to Moab at the behest of Balak, might he now change his mind and permit Balaam to curse this nation he had punished in times past?”[14]   Why would God allow Balaam to go, but only to do and say what was instructed by God?  “This last instruction provides a clue to interpreting the entire narrative and yields insight into the nature of Balaam’s disobedience.  He was only to say and do what God told him – and no more…To understand this verse we must read what it says and read nothing into it.  The passage does not say that Balaam sinned in going-only that God became angry when he went.”[15]   The question why is not answered at this point in the story but it does give insight into God’s understanding of Balaam’s heart and into his thinking.  “If there is substance in these observations, as there certainly seems to be, they can only mean that God was reading the prophet’s heart and, seeing the mixed motives there, and the desire for gain, said to him in effect, ‘Very well, have your own way, and go with them’ – in the spirit of Psalm 106:15, ‘He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul.’”[16]   As the reader finds out in the next set of verses, God’s reaction to Balaam’s actions give further insight into the soul of Balaam through the eyes of God.  The reader is never told exactly what Balaam is thinking, but through his words and actions some conclusions take shape.

God’s Messenger Sent to Balaam – Verses 22-35

Balaam gets up the following morning and saddles his donkey to make the trek back to Balak with the second group of emissaries.  Verse 22 of the text reads that God became angry when Balaam started out on the journey.  Why?  Didn’t God permit Balaam to go the previous night?  “Various reasons have been supplied, such as: (1) Balaam had not understood God correctly. (2) Balaam had convinced himself that God permitted him to go.  Balaam wanted to go so much that his personal desires were confused with the voice of God. (3) Balaam knew that God permitted him to go but would not let him curse the people but he would not tell the princes so.  In this way he was guilty of gross misrepresentation.”[17]   There is a fourth possibility.  Rabbinical tradition teaches that secretly Balaam hopes in his heart that God will eventually allow him to curse the people of Israel.  Because of his rebellious heart and attitude, God is angry. 

Balaam starts out with two servants.  Because God is angry with Balaam, an angel of the Lord stood in the road before them to stop their progress.  “There were two elements in the confrontation: on the one hand, it was the expression of the divine anger (this is the force of ‘adversary’ in v. 22) against Balaam for what he was intent on doing; on the other hand, it was designed to restrain him from advancing further on the road that was inevitably to lead him headlong into disaster.”[18]   The text is silent about the second emissary group, but one infers that Balaam journeys with them.  It is apparent that no one, outside of Balaam’s donkey, sees the angel of the Lord wielding a sword and blocking further advancement down the road.

When the donkey sees the angel, she turns off the road into a field.  Balaam, not seeing the obstacle before them and the reason for the donkey’s action, beats the donkey to get her back on the road.  Based on inferences from the text, it seems that the angel allows the party to continue because verse 24 reads that the angel then stands in front of them in a narrow path between two vineyards.  The path is further described as running between two walls. 

Because the angel stood on the path, the donkey attempts to go around the angel close to the wall.  She apparently gets too close to the wall and causes Balaam’s foot to be crushed.  For that, Balaam beats her again.  Verse 26 states that the angel moves ahead and then stands in a narrow place of the road which would not allow anyone the ability to pass or to turn around.  At that, the donkey lies down because she can go no further.  Balaam gets angry and beats her a third time. 

With the third beating, God performs a miracle.  “God’s intervention takes on extraordinary proportions through the opening of the heretofore unintelligible mouth of a lowly female donkey who is enabled to communicate with a human, and through the unveiling of the eyes of an incognizant prophet whose training and expertise in the ways of deity had not equipped him to see the divine representative standing directly in front of him.”[19]   The donkey turns to Balaam and asks him to tell her what her great fault is and what causes him to beat her.

“Most amusing is the fact that Balaam answers his donkey (22:29-30) as if he were used to conversing with her regularly.”[20]   There is nothing in the text that indicates Balaam’s shock over a talking donkey.  It could be his pride and anger cloud his reasoning for he responds by saying she makes a fool of him, and if he had a sword he would kill her.  One gets the sense that Balaam is incensed at the donkey to the point of hysteria, and the donkey calmly and rationally responds by rhetorically asking him to recall a time when she has ever acted this way.  Balaam responds with no, and it is at this time that God opens the eyes of Balaam where he can see what the donkey saw all along.

At the sight of the angel Balaam bows down, finally realizing the weight of the situation.  The angel asks Balaam why he beat the donkey when it was she who tried to protect her master.  The angel states that Balaam’s path was a reckless one, and if it was not for the donkey’s “insight”, the angel would surely have killed Balaam.  “We do not know whether the word ‘donkey’ had the same kind of connotation as it sometimes has for us today, but it does seem that there is a certain fitness for our thinking that it took a donkey to demonstrate to Balaam the real nature of what he was doing…How humiliating it must have been for the seer…to realize that he had not been able to see what his dumb donkey had seen.”[21]   Upon realizing his wayward actions, Balaam admits his error and offers to go back to where his journey began.  The angel of the Lord tells him to continue, but because he knows Balaam’s heart, the angel of the Lord again reminds Balaam only to speak what the Lord tells him. 

Scholars have varying opinions over the talking donkey and if she really spoke in an audible voice because the text is silent as to whether the other members of Balaam’s party heard the donkey speak.  It seems that either the donkey brays and all but Balaam heard only braying or the donkey speaks in a language understood by Balaam, but the ears of his companions were closed.  This option would not be that unbelievable, in light of Balaam’s eyes being closed to what was before him.  While the text is silent regarding all the facts as they relate to this incident, two things are very clear according to the text.  First, the donkey and Balaam see the angel of the Lord and, second, the three interact with each other visually and audibly. 

Prelude to the First Oracle Event – Verses 36-40

Balak receives news that Balaam’s arrival is close and goes out to meet him.  Rather than sending servants to meet Balaam, Balak personally meets him as a way of honoring Balaam.  It seems there was more to it.  “Balak’s greeting commenced with stern questions concerning Balaam’s initial reluctance to come as a result of the diplomatic messengers sent in the first round of negotiations.”[22]   There is, in the text, a sense of urgency on the part of Balak to get the show on the road by pushing Balaam to begin the job of cursing Israel.  It appears that Balak wants not only to honor Balaam, but to clear the air of any misgivings and then use his influence to move the process along to a speedy completion.

Balaam essentially says that the events are what they are, but the fact is that he is now there.  Balaam added, however, that he could only say what God instructs him to say.  Balak offers sacrifices of cattle and sheep, giving some to Balaam and the officials that were there.  This part of the text ends with verse 41 reading that the next day Balak takes Balaam to Bamoth Baal where they meet with part of the people.  The next chapter (23) begins the events describing Balaam’s oracles.  “In summary the story is a powerful celebration of the certainty of Israel’s success.  Her triumphant progress to the land of promise cannot be halted or even hindered by the strategems (sp) of adversaries.  Yahweh’s control is such that the worst they can do turns to a positive good in Israel’s favor.”[23]


2.      Text Exposition

Biblical Truths from the Text

Many eternal truths are planted throughout the text at hand.  A general over-arching truth concerns the nation of Israel.  “God will act to accomplish his ultimate will for Israel and indeed for all of humanity…This theological tenet also relates to the above blessing and cursing theme, as God had promised since the time of the call of Abraham…”[24]   God wins in all circumstances.  Fear is a very powerful emotion that effects how humans react to God and circumstances.  When the people of God fear Him and allow Him to act through them, the world fears God and His people are victorious.  When God’s people act timidly and fear their situation or surroundings, God cannot use them to do mighty works and the world does not fear God.

God uses different situations and people for His purpose.  “Balaam had apparently achieved international fame for his ability to carry out such activity, and thus Balak could commend him…saying ‘I know that those you bless are blessed and those you curse are cursed.’”[25]   God will use anything and everything to bring glory to Himself.  “It is the theological principle that God can, and does, make use of His creation, animate and inanimate, rational and irrational, as bearers of His Word of salvation to men.”[26]   God uses the godly, but we see in the text that He also uses the ungodly. 

We also see in Balaam, a man who allowed temptation to get the better of him by asking the second group to spend the night.  Just like Joseph in Genesis, people should run from temptation.  We also see that the incidents in this story, “serve the purpose of reminding…that a holy God is in control of the situation and…that his servants should be faithful to the tasks assigned to them to carry out God’s plans…Lest Balaam think he might ply his prophetic trade…God confronted him in his rebellious state of mind…”[27]   In the midst of temptation, confusion, and possible suffering, God’s children should be faithful to His call on their lives. 

“When the Lord has clearly revealed his will to us, our role is to accept and follow it, not…asking for a second opinion.”[28]   If we rebel, God will orchestrate events to bring us back into His will; some of which, could be painful.  We also see in Balaam that deliberate sin can blind us to spiritual realities, often to the harm of those around us. 


Life Applications from the Text

Christians should seek God’s will to be done and seek how we can be a part of God’s glorious plan and understand that God’s plan includes Israel.  We also need to understand that God uses the godly and the ungodly, just as He used Balaam.  We should continually pray for those in positions of government or power; that God would give them wisdom and that they would be used of God – willingly or not, knowingly or not.

Christians should look at sin the way God does and understand its effect on their relationship with God and how they see themselves.  Sin blinds and destroys, often with collateral damage to those around us.  We should all pray for strength and strive to run from temptation and lay down sin that so easily entangles.[29] 

Christians should also understand how God has formed and shaped them, utilizing their giftedness in God’s place for them in eternal kingdom work.  Fame does not equate to being godly or having a relationship with God.  If we are called to be a prophet, then we need to speak as God gives us words to speak.  If we are called to be a donkey, then we should strive to be the best donkey because who knows, we may be called to carry our Savior.

God knows our heart, just like he knew Balaam’s heart.  God also allows us to go our own way and follow our will, but He will thwart our plan or correct us at the right time and in a way which shows His will for our lives.  When God moves in this manner, He uses each situation as a teachable moment.  Just like He did with Balaam, God will nudge and guide us in different ways.  Sometimes He nudges us to walk a different path.  Sometimes He makes us walk narrow paths that results in a scraped and scarred body.  Sometimes God blocks the path to the point where the only thing to do is simply lie down before Him, seek His face, and wait.  In every case, God wants us to assume the lowly position of a donkey, so that we will be receptive to Him and be able to see His hand.

3.      Sermon Manuscript

Three Types of People

This Numbers passage identifies representative groups as it relates to the spiritual nature of people.  Everyone is in the same group in the beginning – when we are born.  Scripture is very clear that everyone is born sinful.  For example, Romans 3:23 proclaims that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[30]  Not only are all people born into sin, but Paul quotes Psalms to point out in Romans 3:11 that people do not seek after God in the first place.[31] 

Balak is representative of this group.  Balak has no desire to seek God.  In fact, Balak does not mention the name Yahweh in this passage.  Balak is totally consumed with the world and what he can accumulate or gain in the world.  He is so consumed with what the world has to offer, he is determined to keep what worldly possessions he has.  Balak is aware that there is a higher being, because Romans 3:20 states that God and His qualities are present and seen by all.[32] 

Balak, however, doesn’t desire to go any further in finding out more about God.  That is, until he finds himself in a difficult situation.  When Balak realizes that the Israelites soundly defeated an army who earlier beat his own army, he suddenly decides to seek aid from the gods.  Balak seeks out the spiritualist seer, Balaam, who represents the second group of people.

Balaam is identified as a prophet and seer in this passage.  Other Biblical and antiquity writings help us understand that Balaam is widely known as a man who is in touch with the “spirit” world.  Balaam is a seeker of gods and spirits, but he is not one who seeks after Yahweh unless he can get something out of the relationship.  Balaam sees no difference between Yahweh and all other gods that man creates.  Balaam is whom Paul described in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”[33]

The third group of people are those who do seek a relationship with Yahweh.  The Israelites in this passage are the children of the one and only God.  The relationship with God is established through the covenant God made with them and Moses, their representative.  At this point in their history, they recognize God’s hand on them and they see how God is protecting them and fighting for them.  We see through history that the people of God are not always faithful to God, but God is always faithful to them.

The question we must ask at this time is “In which category do we fall?”  Are you like Balak, and oblivious to God?  Do you care less about God unless there are major problems that are beyond your control?  Are you seeking only when and if you believe that God can alleviate your pain?  Or should the question be, “Are you like Balaam?”  Do you seek after spiritual things, but are unwilling to put all your “spiritual eggs” in one basket?  Instead of stepping out in faith in the one true God, you would rather cover your bases and follow multiple avenues to seek a god that meets the needs of immediacy?  The real question should be, “Will you seek to be a child of the one true God?” 

The Israelites were under the Mosaic covenant and related to God by keeping His law and shedding animal blood for their sin.  We live under a different covenant.  We now live under the covenant of God’s grace.  Christ is our perfect sacrifice who sealed the covenant by shedding his blood to wipe away our sin and provide us with the opportunity to become children of God.  He died in our place and rose after three days.  The Bible tells us that this gospel, this good news, is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.[34] 

Fear is Powerful

It may be that you have received the gift that Christ offers, but you still live in fear and doubt.  Fear is a powerful emotion in the human psyche.  Fear drove Balak to seek the help of someone who was a last resort or type of unknown secret weapon.  Balak had no desire to seek God or gods because he did not believe in them.  Something drove Balak to seek out that which he distained. 

Why was Balak so afraid?  Balak saw the results of what God did through a people who allowed God to fight the battle.  Balak saw a group of people who followed God’s commands.  When Balak saw how powerful the Israelites were, he knew that his army needed help.  He asked Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites to bring destruction on them to enable Balak and his people to stop the Israelites from advancing.

However, we see many other instances in the Old Testament where the Israelites forgot about what God did through them.  When the Hebrew people stopped looking to God, fear of the enemy invaded their ranks.  Fear caused the Hebrew people who left Egypt to question God, desire to return to slavery, murmur and complain, and essentially run from the enemy by deciding not to enter the promised land because the giants seemed too large to conquer. 

Throughout the Bible we see that fear or awe of God by His people causes them to focus on Him and not the giants they face.  When focused on God, His people rely on His strength and direction because they know that the task at hand is too great to accomplish on their own.  History proves that God is all-powerful and does mighty things through ordinary people who are obedient.  The watching world sees the acts of God and fears Him.  But when God’s people choose to ignore God and go their own way, fear sets in when things go wrong.  Fear of God by the world subsides when His people fear the world more than they trust God.

The same is true for us today.  We are just ordinary people facing a world full of monumental problems.  The human side of us sees only the magnitude of the problems we face.  Fear and doubt sets in, and we become paralyzed in despair.  Problems seem to grow and our enemies are emboldened as our fear grips us tighter and tighter.  That is, until we see no other sources of strength and salvation other than God.  When we are reminded that, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world”, and remember the great feats of God throughout history and in our lives personally, our fear of the world diminishes and our confidence in God grows.[35]  

God desires that we live our lives believing that, “with God all things are possible.”[36]  When we believe to the point that we are willing to step out in faith, God does the miraculous.  He does this through willing and obedient servants in order to bring glory to Himself and strike fear in the hearts of His enemies.  God will accomplish His plan and in the end He will accomplish His plan through us - or in spite of us.

God is Sovereign

The text shows us that people either follow God, other gods, or show no interest in spiritual matters unless it meets an immediate, selfish need.  However, the text also shows us that God can and will use all things to accomplish His will and plan and will use anything and everything to bring glory to Himself.  “It is the theological principle that God can, and does, make use of His creation, animate and inanimate, rational and irrational, as bearers of His Word of salvation to men.”[37]  God uses people to accomplish His plan; willingly or unwillingly, knowingly or not.

God has never failed in the past and He will never fail in the future.  In fact, God knows the future because it will be what He wills it to be.  Romans 9:11 gives us confidence that God’s elect will carry out His will, not because of what man does, but because of God who calls them to carry out His plan so that His purpose will stand.[38]  In fact, Revelation 17:17 shows us that God even uses Satan and all who follow him to carry out the will and plan of God.[39] 

We also read in Hebrews 6:1-19 that God proves to His children that His unchangeable purpose and promise will be accomplished.[40]  God is trustworthy to keep His promise and because of that, we have a hope that is an anchor to our soul.  We can move and act in God’s will with complete confidence knowing that, “He who promises is faithful.”[41]  Even when circumstances seem dire and all seems lost, we can stand with full assurance that God will protect us even unto death.  We also know that death is not the end, but rather, physical death is the continuation of a new life in Christ in different surroundings. 

 In the subject text, Balak knows he must orchestrate the nullification of Israel’s power.  He calls upon Balaam to put a curse on the Hebrew people, a common thing to do in that day and age.  Balaam provides his services for money and he sees great profits in performing the ritual for Balak.  However, God speaks to Balaam and forbids him from cooperating with Balak.  Balaam tries twisting and turning his encounter with God to convince himself he may hear another answer at a later time. 

God interacted and thwarted Balaam’s plan by stopping his donkey from proceeding.  God revealed Himself to a lowly animal to keep Balaam in His plan.  It appears that at the very least, Balaam hoped to change the mind of God or cause a change of circumstances to be able to curse the Hebrew people and collect a reward as large as a king’s ransom.  In spite of Balaam working against God, the curse never took place because God worked through an unwilling man – Balaam – to do and say only what God permitted. 

What can we take away from this text that applies to our lives in a direct way?  First, we need to be certain of our eternal destiny.  What is our relationship with God?  Jesus said that He is the only way to have a relationship with God.  How do we receive the gift that Jesus offers?  We must first repent of our sin, which means we need to understand we are living the wrong way and admit we must turn from the way that we are living and live for Christ. 

We must also ask Christ to forgive our sins and cleanse us, knowing that if we confess our sins, God is faithful to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.  And we must believe that Jesus is Lord; that He died for our sins; that He laid in the grave for three days; and that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead.  From that moment on we need to live in confidence that what Christ started in us, He will complete according to His perfect will.

Second we need to be sensitive and open to God’s direction and hand in our lives.  Being spiritually sensitive to God’s voice is an ability we acquire over time through practice.  Our goal should be sensitivity to God’s spirit like that of Balaam’s donkey.  Sometimes God will call us to move off the path we are on and onto another path.  Sometimes God will call us to continue on the path we are on, but walk on the other side or to continue on – even if the path becomes so narrow that we and those with us become bruised and scraped in the process.  Sometimes God desires that we stop where we are and wait on Him to give us further instructions.

God’s desire is that we become so obedient that we don’t move until He tells us to move and then only move the distance and direction He tells us and no more.  Being that sensitive to God’s spirit is perplexing and frustrating to the world.  In fact, we may be ridiculed or even beaten, just like Balaam beat his donkey.  People who are not spiritually sensitive to God don’t understand what is going on and will often be used by Satan in an attempt to thwart the plan of God.  When those around us are confused and angry, even to the point of hysteria, God’s desire is that we remain focused on Him and as calm and collected as Balaam’s donkey. 

The third thing we need to do is pray.  We need to pray for God to accomplish His will and that He will give us the clarity to know our part in His master plan.  We need to ask that He will give us the strength and courage to be used by Him to carry out His will.  We will get things wrong because we are human, but we should continually pray that God will correct us when we fail to see His plan or to act.  We need to understand that God will allow us to wander only to a point and then He will nudge us with as much force as necessary to bring us back on track.  Even when we wander, God wants us to grow from it by learning to depend on Him in every way.

We also learn from this text that we should pray for others.  Of course, it is easy to pray for brothers and sisters in Christ or people who we know.  However, God calls for us to pray for people we don’t know personally and for people we may not like or see eye to eye with on social, moral, or political matters.  We should pray for people of influence whether it is militarily, financially, or politically – that God will guide them and use them to carry out His will and plan. 

Romans 13:1 makes it abundantly clear that those in authority are there because God allows them to be there.[42]  When Paul wrote this letter, he was referring to the Roman government, a government that was far from godly.  That means we should pray for the leaders of our country, even if we disagree with them and even if they do not act in a godly way.  We should ask that God direct them, give them godly wisdom, and move them in such a manner to accomplish His will.

God is sovereign.  He will accomplish His perfect plan as history unfolds.  Nothing happens outside His permission or direction.  In the end He wins and all glory and honor will be His and His alone.  Does that mean we, His children, are to sit back because He has it all under control?  No!  His perfect plan for orchestrating His glory throughout history has, and will continue, to include us.  In his infinite knowledge, He chooses to use us in bringing about His kingdom on earth.  Why?  The answer to that question is beyond my pay grade.  It is a question only God can answer.  The only question that should be answered is, “Do you have a relationship with God through Christ and are you allowing Him to work in your life?”  May His will be done in you and through you. 



I.                   Three Types of People

A.    Biblical Truth

1.      Balak

2.      Balaam

3.      Israelites

B.     Application

II.                Fear is Powerful

A.    Biblical Truth

B.     Application

III.             God is Sovereign

A.    Biblical Truth

1.      God’s will be done

2.      God will use all circumstances

3.      God will use all people

B.     Application

1.      Live in Christ.  Live in confidence.

2.      Be open to God’s direction – He will nudge us as He wants

3.      Pray for His will be done in our lives – He allows misdirection up to a point

4.      Pray for His will be done in others lives



Allen, Clifton J. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Edited by Clifton J. Allen. Vols. Volume 2 Leviticus-Ruth. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1970.

Budd, Philip J. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. Numbers. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1984.

Cole, R. Dennis. The New American Commentary. Vol. Numbers. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Gane, Roy E. The NIV Application Commentary. Vols. Leviticus, Numbers. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.

Hoftijzer, Jacob. "Prophet Balaam in a 6th Century Aramaic Inscription." Biblical Archaeologist, March 1976: 11-16.

Martin, Glen. Holman Old Testament Commentary. Vols. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002.

Philip, James. The Preacher's Commentary Series. Vol. Volume 4: Numbers. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1987.

Stanley, David M. "Balaam's Ass, or a Problem in New Testament Hermeneutics." Catholic Biblical Quarterly, January 1958: 50-56.

The Holy Bible. NASB.


[1] Roy E. Gane. The NIV Application Commentary, Leviticus, Numbers. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). 689.

[2] R. Dennis Cole. The New American Commentary, Numbers. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000). 379.

[3] Clifton J. Allen, ed. The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 2 Leviticus-Ruth. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970). 141.

[4] James Philip. The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 4: Numbers. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1987). 227.

[5] Clifton J. Allen.  142.

[6] R. Dennis Cole. 382.

[7] Jacob Hoftijzer, Prophet Balaam in a 6th Century Aramaic Inscription, Biblical Archaeologist 39 no. 1 (March 1976): 13.

[8] Roy E. Gane. 690.

[9] R. Dennis Cole. 384.

[10] Clifton J. Allen. 143.

[11] R. Dennis Cole. 386.

[12] Roy E. Gane.  691.

[13] James Philip. 228.

[14] R. Dennis Cole. 387.

[15] Glen Martin. Holman Old Testament Commentary, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002). 340.

[16] James Philip. 229.

[17] Clifton J. Allen. 144.

[18] James Philip. 230.

[19] R. Dennis Cole. 391.

[20] Roy E. Gane.  696.

[21] James Philip. 231.

[22] R. Dennis Cole. 394-395.

[23] Philip J. Budd  Word Biblical Commentary, Numbers. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1984). 261.

[24] R. Dennis Cole. 375.

[25] Ibid. 381.

[26] David M. Stanley. Balaam’s Ass, or a Problem in New Testament Hermeneutics, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 20 no. 1 (January 1958): 54.

[27] R. Dennis Cole. 389.

[28] Roy E. Gane. 695.

[29] Hebrews 12:1

[30] Romans 3:23

[31] Romans 3:11

[32] Romans 3:20

[33] Romans 1:21

[34] Romans 1:16

[35] 1 John 4:4

[36] Matthew 19:26

[37] David M. Stanley. 54.

[38] Romans 9:11

[39] Revelation 17:17

[40] Hebrews 6:1-19

[41] Hebrews 10:23

[42] Romans 13:1

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