A Foolish Prophet, and His Chattering Donkey (Numbers 21-22) (part 2 of 2)

Scripture Reading – Numbers 21-22

This devotional commentary continues our summary review of Numbers 21, and will also consider Numbers 22. The LORD had spared Israel from greater judgment, by directing Moses to make, and lift up a brass serpent on a pole, that served as the object God provided for the people to look to look for their healing (21:1-9). 

Numbers 21:10-16 – A Song of Rejoicing

The nation continued on their journey to the Promised Land, skirting the border of Edom (Deuteronomy 2:4, 5), and coming to the “border of Moab” (21:13). There the people rejoiced for the water the LORD provided (21:14-18).

Numbers 21:10-31 – Victory over Sihon, King of the Amorites

Desiring to pass through the territory of the Amorites, “Israel sent messengers unto Sihon, king of the Amorites” (21:21), and requested safe passage through their land. The leaders of Israel vowed to not harm their crops, vineyards, or drink water from their wells (21:22). King Sihon, however, refused Israel’s request, and gathered his people and attacked the congregation (21:22). Israel rose up against the Amorites, and God gave them victory (21:24-25). Memorializing their victory over Sihon, king of the Amorites, Israel celebrated with a song (21:27-31).

Numbers 21:32-35 – The Defeat of Og, the King of Bashan

Building upon Israel’s defeat of the Amorites, the nation faced Og, king of Bashan. He attacked Israel, but the LORD assured Moses and Israel that He would give them victory. King Og was then defeated so soundly that “there was none left him alive: and they [Israel] possessed his land” (21:35).

Numbers 22 – Balak, King of the Moabites

The next several chapters, Numbers 22-24, introduces us to Balaam, whom we might describe as an unfaithful seer (a seer being a prophet, or fortune-teller), and a king of Moab named Balak.

Balak had heard how Israel defeated Og, king of Bashan, and Sihon, king of the Amorites, and his heart failed at the thought of facing this formidable foe that was marching through his land (22:1-4). Lacking confidence that his soldiers could defeat Israel, Balak turned to Balaam, and sent ambassadors to summon the prophet to come, and curse Israel (22:5-6). The king was confident “that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed” (22:6).

Coming with the promise his services would be well rewarded, the Moabite delegation insisted that Balaam come and curse Israel (22:7). The foolish prophet, rather than reject the Moabites invitation outright, and send them away, invited them, “Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me” (22:8a).

The LORD came to Balaam, and warned, “Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed” (22:12). The next morning, Balaam sent the Moabites away, saying, “the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you” (22:13).

Receiving Balaam’s refusal, and desperate for help, Balak sent a second delegation more powerful and influential than the first (22:15). Those men came to Balaam promising to enrich, and “promote [him] unto very great honour,” if he would come and “curse…this people” (22:17).

Balaam knew he could not curse a people whom God blessed, nevertheless, he invited the Moabites to spend the night, and he would bring the matter before the LORD (22:19). That night, the LORD came to Balaam, and gave him liberty to go with the delegation (22:20-21).

Balaam rose the next day, saddled his donkey, and began his journey with the Moabites. As Balaam set out on his journey to Moab, “God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him” (22:22).

The next verses (22:22-41), relate a humorous interaction between Balaam, his donkey, and the angel of the LORD, that has captivated mankind’s imagination for thousands of years. Balaam, spiritually blinded by the thought of the honors, rewards, and riches that were promised him, did not see what his donkey saw: the angel of the LORD had become Balaam’s adversary (22:22), and was “standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand” (22:23).

Fearing the angel, the donkey rushed off the road, running Balaam into a wall, and crushing his foot (22:25). Hobbled, and humiliated, Balaam struck his donkey. Still blind to the presence of the angel, Balaam attempted to continue his journey, but his donkey “fell down under [him]: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff” (22:27). The LORD then gave the donkey voice, and the beast asked him, “What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?” (22:28).

Balaam, filled with rage, answered his donkey’s rebuke, saying, “thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee” (22:29). The dialog between the foolish prophet and his donkey continued (22:30), until “the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and [Balaam] bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face” (22:31). The angel revealed how Balaam’s donkey had saved his life (22:32-33), for surely he would have been slain for going with the Moabites.

Balaam confessed his sin, and spiritual blindness, and promised to turn back (22:34). The angel, however, directed Balaam to continue his journey to see Balak, the Moabite king, and there he would be directed by the LORD what things he should say (22:25-38).

To be continued….

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith