Balaam & the Donkey — King Balak’s offer to the prophet Balaam & Balaam’s greed.
Reading 1: Numbers 22
Reading 2: Numbers 23
Reading 3: 2 Peter 2:15-16
Today we read the story of Balaam and the donkey.
On face value the story seems strange, and a little confusing. First God says “Don’t go,” then God says “Go but only say what I say.” Did God change His mind? That would be inconsistent with what we read of God’s nature in other places. God blocks Balaam’s path to stop him going, after God has said he can go, and then his donkey speaks! And Balaam seems quite happy to have an argument with his animal, without questioning how the beast can speak!
Throughout the story there is money changing hands as Balaam seeks to co-operate with a known enemy of God’s people. Clearly there is, at best, a mixed motive at work here.
Although our title refers to Balaam as a prophet, it is not clear from the chapters we read that he was truly a prophet. Rather he seems to be a greedy man who is trying to “have his cake and eat it” by maintaining the appearance of devotion to God as well as seeking to have God comply with his own path to wealth.
If you read one more verse beyond our set reading for today (Numbers 24:1) you will see that Balaam was using divination to get his “words from God.” Certainly he speaks some truths from God (where his words line up with God’s stated purposes for Israel) but we must be careful not to assume he is speaking godly truth at all times. Rather, it is likely the opposite is true when we consider his motivation.
For more on this, I suggest you read the article on Balaam from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia which gives some helpful insights.
When we read Peter’s letter, we see the facts stated plainly: Balaam loved to earn money by doing wrong. Here is a warning for all of us. The love of money is the root of all evil, and seeking to acquire wealth by any means is the fastest path to sin. Instead, God wants us to follow Him wholeheartedly, and allow Him to add to that devotion everything else we need.
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33)
Together: can you think of a circumstance where a mixed motivation was operating? How did that play out?
Have a great day!