Balaam and Balak. God caused donkey to speak against getting beat.

Day 65 (March 6): Balak asks Balaam to curse Israel, God ensures Balaam’s readiness, donkey talks, Balaam aids Israel, Balaam shares Israel’s future

Wong Chim Yuen

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Numbers 22-24
(1407 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 22:4): Has Balaam been mentioned in the Bible until now?  From today’s reading, he sounds like he is really close to God.  How come he has not been mentioned thus far, or did I miss something?

A. You did not miss anything.  This is the first time we have met Balaam, because he is not an Israelite.  This three-chapter interval in the story appears to have its origins in the fear of the Moabite king and a pagan prophet.

Q. (Numbers 22:22): I don’t understand why God was upset with Balaam for going to see Balak when God told him to go the night before.

A. Yes, this is tricky.  I would suspect that God’s anger with Balaam has to do with his motives.  God gives Balaam permission to go, but not to curse Israel, so perhaps that is what Balaam was planning to do that offended God, even after He had granted permission to go see the king.  I can see why a face value reading of the text would cause confusion, however.  There is quite possibly some sort of error in the text that presents itself as God contradicting His own order.

Q. (22:23-34): The understanding I have of this verse is that Balaam is in his own world.  He’s not looking up to see the angel of the Lord, so God knows that Balaam isn’t tuned in to him.  He sent the angel to give Balaam a wakeup call to make sure he is speaking God’s words?  Also, when Balaam is whipping the donkey, God makes the donkey talk, which made me think that God was trying to teach him a lesson that he needs to pay attention to others and not just himself.

A. I think that is very insightful.  Your suggestion could be another reason God was not pleased with Balaam and forbid him to go: he was only focusing on himself, and needed a “wake up call.”

Q. (23:1-6, 23:14) Rob, you have told us that when we see the number 7 in the Bible, it signifies completeness, how does this the seven altars signify completeness here?

A. You have correctly noticed another incident of 7.  The number apparently was significant in the minds of Israel’s neighbors as well, for they also see it as a significant number.  According to my commentary, Balaam is using a pagan technique of prophecy called liver divination, and this many animals sacrificed would surely have given Balaam plenty of organs to examine (a lovely image, isn’t it?).  This type of divination would have been specifically forbidden to the Israelites, but was commonplace for professional pagan prophets (say that 5 times fast) like Balaam.

O. (23:7-12) I can imagine how totally ticked off King Balak would be.  I guess this is God’s version of humor.  It works for me!

Q. I just wonder if Balak, after hearing the blessings prophecies, changed his mind if God would change his fate?  Or, is it already predetermined?

A. That’s a tricky question.  In the short term, Moab is NOT one of the nations that will be conquered by Israel: they are not in in the Promised Land, but are rather outside of it.  The vision that Balaam has about a specter rising to crush Moab is probably that of King David, who will conquer many of the surrounding nations.  As we keep reading, however, I think you will see the Moabite reaction to Israel.

For further reading: What reminders can we glean from the talking donkey story?

Tomorrow’s reading: Numbers 25-26