Don’t Beat the Donkey and Other Lessons from Numbers 22

There’s a story in the Bible about a man named Balaam.  You can read the entire story in Numbers chapters 22 through 24.  I’ll give you a brief summary.  

Balaam was not an Israelite but was a prophet who had some connection with God.  A king hired Balaam to curse Israel.  God told Balaam not to go, then to go, then on the way opposed his going, then said to go (gets a bit confusing).  Balaam’s donkey spoke to him (not your everyday occurrence).  Instead of cursing Israel, Balaam spoke blessings over God’s people.

Don’t beat the donkey

The first lesson that I’m learning from this story is that when a friend starts acting strangely, don’t lash out at them.  In other words, don’t beat the donkey.  

There is, more likely than not, something we don’t see or know that is causing the strange behavior.  In verse 30, the donkey pointed out that what it did, in addition to speaking, was not normal.  Balaam beat the donkey before considering why it was acting out of character.

Our friend may be trying to get our attention and isn’t sure how to do it without offending us.  A good question to ask is, “What am I not seeing?”  We all have different perspectives.  It is important to be open to hearing from others what they are seeing.  In fact, it may save us much heartache, even if it costs us some embarrassment in the process.

Alternatively, when someone acts out of character, they may be dealing with something in their life that you can come alongside them and help.  At the least, you can be understanding of their difficulty.  

We need open eyes

It’s easy to be so focused on our goals that we miss important things going on around us.  The angel of the Lord standing in Balaam’s way was important for Balaam to see, but he was blind to it.  He needed the help of another to reveal what was right there in front of him.

We live in both a physical and spiritual world at the same time.  We’re pretty good about seeing things in the physical, but it is very common to struggle to see in the spiritual realm.  The donkey saw the angel of the Lord even though Balaam did not.  

A prayer that I commonly pray is, “Lord, give me eyes to see as You see.”  He has been faithful to answer this prayer with supernatural sight.  Sometimes, it is to be able to see the angels that are present all around us.  Other times, we are permitted to see the demonic (an important revelation, but not a pleasant one).  Most often, what we get to see are people as the Lord sees them.  

My follow up prayer is, “Lord, how do you want me to respond to what I see?”  When He opens our eyes in the spiritual realm, it is for a purpose.  There is a responsibility to speak, or act, in accordance with the Lord’s words.  Repeatedly in the story of Balaam, we see the Lord say, “You must say only what I tell you.” (verses 20 and 35)  

Balaam understood this and told Balak multiple times that he could only say what the Lord said (22:38, 23:12, 23:26, and 24:12).  We have to recognize the same thing.  My thoughts and opinions don’t matter when I’m speaking on behalf of the Lord.  I can only say what the Lord tells me to say.

It may be the Lord opposing us

There is a part of the story that I’ve always struggled to understand.  God told Balaam to go with the men (verse 20), but His angel stood in Balaam’s way as he went.  Then, in verse 35, the Lord’s angel says, “It’s all right for you to go.”  What sense does that make?

There is almost always opposition when we are walking in obedience to the Lord’s instructions.  However, I expect the opposition to come from the enemy, not from the Lord Himself.  Why, if I’m being obedient, would the Lord stand in the path?

Verse 32 gives the answer for the Lord’s opposition to Balaam.  “Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was reckless and contrary to Me.” (NASB)  Balaam was doing what the Lord said to do, but he was reckless in how he was doing it.  Method and motivation matter.

The Lord looks at our hearts and sees us for who we truly are.  What is our true motivation?  Am I serving the Lord out of obligation, for personal gain, to feel good, to pay penance for past sins, or any number of other reasons?  We can be doing the right thing for the wrong reason.  The Lord is so interested in our motivation that He may stand in our way of doing the things He told us to do if we aren’t doing them for the right reasons.

We need to check our motivation and then verify that our method is what the Lord wants.  I can be fairly blunt in speaking the Lord’s words, which sometimes is appropriate.  Most often though, the Lord wants me to speak with compassion, which requires tact.  I need an understanding of the person I’m speaking with.

What if you’re the donkey?

There will be times in our journey that we are the friend that sees something that is being missed.  How we communicate what we see is important.

Balaam’s donkey tried to change course for Balaam, then it pushed Balaam into a wall, and finally it just dropped down and stopped moving altogether.  Unfortunately, Balaam didn’t understand what the donkey was trying to communicate.  This led to embarrassment and frustration for both parties.

It was only after the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and he spoke clearly, that Balaam understood.  When we are trying to help someone, we need to ask the Lord for the right words that they may be able to hear.  Then, we are to say only what the Lord tells us.

Balaam blessed Israel instead of carrying out the king’s desire to have them be cursed.  While his initial motivation was questionable, he submitted to God above man.  Are you willing to risk becoming like the misunderstood donkey to redirect someone when needed?  Do you have people in your life that are trying to get your attention?  Are your motives pure and methods honoring?

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