Balaam. Is the name familiar to you? This man is often the subject of childhood Sabbath school and Sunday school lessons. You may remember him as “that guy with the talking donkey”.
Balaam was once a prophet of God, but his heart had been overtaken by greed—covetousness. He was enticed by the great rewards that were being offered him by King Balak of Moab. The Moabites, you see, had noticed that a power much greater than themselves was attending the great multitude of Israelites who were camped out in the desert near Moab. They had also noticed that when Balaam prophesied a curse or a blessing, it would come to pass; so they decided to entreat Balaam for help.
Balaam’s response to the messengers who were sent his way may at first appear reasonable. He basically told them to stay the night and he would pray about it. When the Lord responded by telling Balaam, “Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed”, Balaam sent the messengers away. However, as the story goes on, his motives become more clear.
Balak was not going to take “no” for an answer. When he learned of the refusal, he sent princes who were even more highly honored than the first messengers—and he sent more of them. Here is where Balaam’s heart really begins to show. The safest thing Balaam could have done is to immediately respond with: “No. God has told me not to go, and I will not go. There is no need to keep asking me.” We can overcome much temptation by standing firm in the first place. Why invite temptation to stay the night! But that is exactly what Balaam did.
The princes reminded Balaam of the great rewards awaiting him if he would only come and curse God’s people. Balaam, in turn, reminded them of the fact that God had said “no” already and no matter how much reward a man offers, one can only do what God allows. “But,” he quickly added, “stay here tonight and I’ll talk to God some more.”
Stubborn, stubborn man. Are we ever like Balaam? If we persist long enough in arguing with God over a duty He has made plain, He will let us have our way. So God finally told Balaam to have his way and go with the men; and in the morning, Balaam was right on it.
That is where the donkey comes in….
*** VBS—The Land of Milk & Honey talks of God’s law, the Ten Commandments, and of some of the Israelites’ experiences on their way to the Promised Land—their encounter with Balaam and the Moabites being just one of them. Find it here. ***