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Scripture Reading – Numbers 21-22
* This devotion 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 fashion and lift up a brass serpent on a pole, which served as the physical object to which people should look for their healing (Numbers 21:1-9).
A Song of Rejoicing (Numbers 21:10-16)
As the children of Israel progressed in their journey, they passed along the coast of Edom (Deuteronomy 2:4, 5). Then, they came to the “border of Moab” (21:13). It was there that the people rejoiced for the water the LORD provided (21:14-18).
Victory over Sihon, King of the Amorites (Numbers 21:10-31)
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 not to 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). Then, Israel rose against the Amorites, and God gave them victory (21:24-25). With a song, the people celebrated their victory over Sihon, king of the Amorites (21:27-31).
The Defeat of Og, the King of Bashan (Numbers 21:32-35)
Building upon Israel’s victory over 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. Like Sihon, the king of Bashan was defeated so soundly that “there was none left him alive: and they [Israel] possessed his land” (21:35).
Balak, King of the Moabites (Numbers 22:1-4)
The following chapters, Numbers 22-24, introduce 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. The king’s heart failed at the thought of facing God’s people as they marched through his land (22:1-4).
Moabite Ambassadors (Numbers 22:5-14)
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). Also, Balak commended the prophet and expressed his confidence “that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed” (22:6).
Coming with a promise that his services would be well rewarded, the Moabite delegation insisted that Balaam go and curse Israel (22:7). The foolish prophet, rather than reject the Moabite’s 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). That night the LORD came to Balaam, and warned, “Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed” (22:12). The following day, Balaam sent the Moabites away, saying, “the Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you” (22:13).
Balaam Entertained and Accepted Balak’s Invitation (Numbers 22:15-21)
King Balak received Balaam’s refusal, but desperate for assistance, the king sent a second delegation more powerful and influential than the first (22:15). Those men came to Balaam and promised to enrich and “promote [him] unto very great honour” if he would go and “curse” Israel (22:17).
Though he knew he could not curse a people whom God blessed, Balaam nevertheless invited the Moabites to stay the night, saying 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).
An Angelic Intervention (Numbers 22:22-38)
Balaam rose the next day, saddled his donkey, and began his journey with the Moabites. As he traveled to Moab, we read, “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 following verses (22:22-41) relate a humorous interaction between Balaam, his donkey, and the angel of the LORD. This story has captivated the imagination of believers for thousands of years.
Balaam, spiritually blinded by the promise of honors, rewards, and riches, did not see what his donkey saw. For standing in the path of the donkey was an angel whom the LORD sent to become Balaam’s adversary (22:22). The angel 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, humiliated, and still blind to the angel’s presence, Balaam struck his donkey. He then 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” for a third time (22:27).
Suddenly, the LORD gave the donkey voice, and the beast asked the prophet, “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 then revealed that Balaam’s donkey had saved his life (22:32-33), for surely he would have been slain for going with the Moabites.
Balaam then confessed his sin and spiritual blindness and promised to turn back (22:34). However, the angel directed Balaam to continue his journey to see Balak, the Moabite king. He promised Balaam the LORD would lead him on what he should say (22:25-38).
To be continued in our following devotion…
Questions to consider:
1) Fearing Israel, what did King Balak ask Balaam to do? (Numbers 22:5-6)
2) What was Balaam’s response when God opened his eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD? (Numbers 22:31)
Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith
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