Thoughts on Numbers 22-24

I encountered another tricky passage in my RttBiaY reading last week, when I wrote most of this post…

Numbers 22-24 contains the story of Balaam, a spiritual man, of sorts, but one who also loved the world. Balaam was called by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the people of Israel because they had moved next door – but Balaam ultimately blesses Israel in spite of Balak’s anger against him. There’s a difficult portion of this story which I’d like to examine:

Numbers 22:3 And(C) Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. 4 And Moab said to(D) the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, 5(E) sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor(F) at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw,[a] to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. 6(G) Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

7 So the elders of Moab and(H) the elders of Midian departed with(I) the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message. 8 And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the LORD speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam. 9(J) And God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” 10 And Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, 11 ‘Behold, a people has come out of Egypt, and it covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I shall be able to fight against them and drive them out.'” 12 God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for(K) they are blessed.” 13 So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” 14 So the princes of Moab rose and went to Balak and said, “Balaam refuses to come with us.”

15 Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. 16 And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, 17(L) for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do.(M) Come, curse this people for me.'” 18 But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak,(N)Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold,(O) I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more. 19 So you, too,(P) please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the LORD will say to me.” 20(Q) And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them;(R) but only do what I tell you.” 21 So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.

Balaam’s Donkey and the Angel

22 But God’s anger was kindled because he went,(S) and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way(T) as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. (ESV) [Emphasis added.]

I’m sure you remember at least the beginning of the rest of the story: Balaam’s donkey balks because of the angel standing in the road; Balaam gets mad; Balaam eventually gets the message that the donkey is protecting him, but goes on to make several pronouncements for Balak – all of them blessings instead of cursings, however, because he feared God more than Balak. The tough part here for me was God letting Balaam go, then getting mad at him. It took several readings and then dipping into Matthew Henry, who at first didn’t seem to help at all…. But these verses should help: 2 Pet 2:15; Jude 1:11; Ro 1:24 (read all of 2 Peter 2 and all of Jude for the full picture). If you read the passages together, you should be able to see that Balaam was really not interested in God’s agenda. He did fear God more than he feared Balak, but he didn’t fear God enough to have nothing to do with Balak, his emissaries, or his gold.


  • God can use even sinful men who are not His to further His purposes. Balaam had a relationship, of sorts, with God; he even talked with Him — but he did so for a fee.
  • It takes more than a knowledge of who God is to be saved.
  • Don’t tell temptation that you can’t get involved, yet seek God’s approval when you know full well that God is against that sin!
  • Don’t be distracted by materialism, status, and the things of this world.
  • God may let you have what you desire and lust after, but He will only let you go so far — and there will be consequences!


  1. …”Difficult portion of this story”??? How can you or anyone else with any brains whatsoever seriously believe that a donkey spoke, presumably in the local language. The bible is just fiction… ALL FICTION!… Harry Potter for the masses when there was no science, no medicine, no astronomy, no empirical objective knowledge, no mass communication, no generally available books, nothing but blind faith in anything that gave even an inkling of explanation as to why life then was so appallingly hard. Everybody 2000+ years ago lived in a world of fear, violence and ignorance. You really need to wake up and see the modern ‘MAN’ made industrial world, hospitals,education systems, mass transit systems and scientifically explained nature for their own fantastic intrinsic worth and beauty… Try and imagine what life without everything in your modern home would be like? and then imagine what it wouyld be like if everybody had nothing??… Have you been to a village in Northern Afghanistan?…God had and has absolutely nothing to do with our ability to have long life spans, good education, interesting and productive modern lives. God is a figment of ignorant imagination and the bible is a manual to that ignorance… Talking Donkeys and snakes… WAKEY! WAKEY!… live this life, the world is a beautiful man made place and when you die it will feel to you precisely as it felt before you were born. Nothing… and I cannot see anything at all wrong with that, providing of course your last thoughts are not of regret and waste.

  2. Big Bird – thanks for taking the time to comment! (Actually, the donkey spoke in Elizabethan English, as recorded in the King James Version of the Bible… Just kidding 🙂 )

    But seriously – the Bible contains many accounts of miracles, under which category this story of a talking donkey surely falls – if one believes the Bible. Let’s ignore the miracles for a bit and start with one of the basic premises of the Bible – that God exists and desires to interact with mankind. (If God does exist and possesses the attributes the Bible describes Him as possessing, then I think we can agree that He can choose to work outside of the bounds of the natural world which He created in the first place.)

    However, in order for such interaction to happen, mankind’s sin problem has to be dealt with. Why? Because the Bible describes God as being holy and without sin, and every person in history as not measuring up to that standard. Thus God sent His Son into the world to live a perfect, sinless life, die on a cross, and then rise from the dead 3 days later, taking our sin on His shoulders and paying the penalty for those sins. The whole of the Bible points to the cross – either from before it (starting in Genesis 3, and some say even Genesis 1), pointing forward in history, or pointing back to it from Revelation.

    I believe that no matter where one happens to enter the stream of history, and no matter what advantages one’s culture or contemporary scientific achievement has blessed one with, that fundamentally, people have only one true and fulfilling purpose in life – to glorify God. Pursuing other things instead of a relationship with God has caused all sorts of problems all throughout history, as well as today. Sin, manifested most obviously in crime, marital infidelity, child abuse, etc. (including crimes committed in God’s name due to faulty theology), is both the result and cause of estrangement from God. Furthermore, estrangement from God just causes more problems – like waking up at 2am and wondering what would happen if you died tomorrow.

    I’m absolutely blessed to be living in this day and age, in this country, to be responding to your comment using my laptop which is connected to the internet by way of a wireless network which I set up in my house – all paid for by my job as a software engineer… All of those things and many more are incredible blessings. But are they the end for which I should be living my life? Is my wife? If we ever have children, will they be? They are all important and good things – but they are not worthy of being the central focus of my heart – my worship, in other words. All around you, you can see people worshiping other things: fame, money, sex, power, work, family, relationships, toys, themselves – the list is endless. Is it satisfying to do so? For a while, perhaps. In my experience, and according to the Bible, such things are not truly satisfying – and certainly aren’t worth living for. Only God is.

  3. Well said, Lee. Well said.

  4. Thanks for the encouraging words, Sam!

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