Friday, July 9, 2010

A Talking Donkey Evades God's Wrath

The previous chapter, Numbers 21, was fairly busy. The Canaanite king of Arad attacked and captured some Israelites, and so then the Israelites counterattacked and completely destroyed him and his lands with God's help.

Then, like before in Numbers 20, the Israelites complained about not having water. This time, God sent fiery serpents/venomous snakes to kill some of the rebellious Israelites. The Israelites repented being thirsty, so God had Moses make a bronze serpent on a pole, and if the bitten Israelites looked at this serpent, they would live. Jesus would later compare Himself to this serpent.

After that, they traveled around the desert some more. The Israelites asked Sihon, the king of the Amorites, for permission to pass through their land. The king responded by attacking the Israelites, but the Israelites defeated him. Moses sent spies to Jazer, and then captured it as well. Finally, with God's help, the Israelites conquered Og of Bashan as well.

As we would later learn in Deuteronomy 3:3-7, these victories ended with the pillaging of all goods and livestock, and the killing of all men, women, and children. This sets the stage for our study.

A Talking Donkey Evades God's Wrath
Mick Jones of The Clash asked “should I stay or should I go?” in a song which topped the charts one decade after it was written. Mick wrote about a tumultuous relationship; not sure if it was worthwhile any longer. Believers sometimes turn to God for answers in such unsure situations. Omniscient; if there was ever a source for wisdom, you would think your Heavenly Father would set you on the right path.

In this study, a man by the name of Balaam turned to God for guidance, but God jerked him around; almost killing him for following that same God-given guidance, and that is not even the strangest thing about this tall tale. Let us investigate in Numbers 22.

Numbers 22:1-4 opens the chapter with the Israelites camping in Moab. The Moabites are frightened by the numbers of the Israelites, probably on the order of over six hundred thousand men at this time (Numbers 1:46), but even more frightened because the word had spread that the Israelites had just slain every man, woman, and child in multiple Amorite cities (Numbers 21:25-26, Deuteronomy 3:6).

Balak, king of the Moabites, fears for the safety of his people. Desperate, he sends princes to summon Balaam, a guy with a proven track record of effective blessings and curses, to aid his defense against the Israelites. Balaam tells the princes that it will depend on what God tells him, which obviously reveals the source of Balaam's blessing and cursing powers as well as his relationship with God (Numbers 22:4-8).

God asks Balaam who are the men who have come to him (Numbers 22:9) Either this is proof that God is not omniscient, or God is testing Balaam to see if he will tell the truth, which would be stupid because God would already know what Balaam's answer would be.

Balaam informs God that Balak wishes to curse “a people” which came from Egypt, so obviously Balaam does not know who they are. God informs Balaam that he should not go with the princes, and should not curse the people because they are blessed. So, Balaam told the princes that God would not let him go with them (Numbers 22:10-14).

Balak does not give up so easily. He sends more princes, and higher esteemed princes, back to summon Balaam again, and offers Balaam a great reward. Balaam tells them that it does not matter what they offer. It only matters what God says, which again suggests that Balaam had a tight relationship with, or at least a considerable respect for, God (Numbers 22:15-19).

Because God does not change His mind (Numbers 23:19) and does not respect a man's earthly importance (Deuteronomy 10:17, 2 Chronicles 19:7, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, Galatians 2:6, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, and 1 Peter 1:17), naturally you would expect God to provide the same response again to Balaam. You would be wrong. Numbers 22:20 says:
That night God came to Balaam and said, "Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you." NIV
So God changed His mind, and let Balaam go, but God then gets angry at Balaam for going with the princes per His own command! After Balaam leaves in Numbers 22:21, we read in Numbers 22:22:
But God was very angry when [Balaam] went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him... NIV
Now here is where the story goes from bad to worse. Worse than God contradicting Himself? You bet.

We see in Numbers 22:23-27 that the invisible angel of God had a sword drawn, and on three occasions blocked Balaam's path. His donkey could see God, and so walked around Him the first two times, but stopped the third time because God had completely blocked the path. Because Balaam could not see God, he beat his donkey for misbehaving all three times.

God then grants the donkey the power to speak, and so she asks Balaam why she received the beatings. Balaam has a discussion with her about the beatings, instead of being utterly shocked (or reacting at all, for that matter) that his donkey could talk (Numbers 22:28-30)!

Then, in Numbers 22:31- 33, God grants Balaam the ability to see Him, to which Balaam does react; falling facedown. After chastising Balaam for thrice beating his donkey, God goes on to tell him, as Numbers 22:33 renders it:
"... If [the donkey] had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her." NIV
God was standing there, with His sword drawn; ready, willing, and even desirous to see Balaam dead. The only thing which stayed His sword was how close His target was. Proximity. As if someone could be too far away for God to kill. As if God was not omnipotent.

It is also important to note that God was not waiting for Balaam to commit one more sin. Instead, God was simply waiting for Balaam to take one more step closer to God to kill him. Ironic, no?

Balaam, humble as ever up to this point, tells God that he has sinned, and he will turn back around if that is what God wants. God replies with essentially the same response from Numbers 22:20, that Balaam can go with the princes, but must speak only what God tells him (Numbers 22:34-35).

So what was the point of all of this? Apparently God just wanted to put the fear of God into a man who, by this account, already had the fear of God. God was just being a bully.

No comments:

Post a Comment