A Reckless Path
“The angel of the LORD asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.‘” – Numbers 22:32 NIV
Balaam’s donkey. This is one of those memorable, if not seemingly improbable, stories from the pages of Scripture that catch your attention. Here you have a prophet named Balaam, who was evidently a worshiper of Yahweh. When the Israelites enter into the territory occupied by the Moabites, Balak, their king, sends for Balaam in order to get him to put a curse on the people of Israel. He offers him great wealth in return for his service. But God warns Balaam not to go and not to put a curse on the people of Israel. But evidently, Balaam is having a hard time with God’s decision. And so is Balak, the king, because he receives news that Balaam refused to come help, he sends another delegation to beg Balaam to reconsider. Their message? “Please don’t let anything stop you from coming. I will pay you well and do anything you ask of me. Just come and curse these people for me!” (Numbers 22:16-17 NLT). Balak was willing to pay Balaam anything to get him to curse the people of God. But once again, Balaam refused to go against the word of God. But he is willing to ask God one more time if it might be OK if he curses the people. This time God tells Balaam he can return with the servants of Balak, but he is only to say the words that God gives him to say. It seems that this change in circumstances leaving Balaam under the impression that God might be changing His mind. Balaam appears to believe that he still might come out of this a rich man, because the text tells us that God is not happy with Balaam – even after giving him permission to go with the servants of Balak. “But God was furious that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the LORD to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along” (Numbers 22:22 NLT). God was angry with Balaam. Why? Because he was greedy and was hoping to make money by cursing the people of God. He was a prophet who desired to make a profit by disobeying God. Over in the book of Second Peter we read, “They have wandered off the right road and followed the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. But Balaam was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice” (2 Peter 2:15-16 NLT). Balaam’s problem was greed. He was attempting to use religion or spiritual things as a means of gain. God permitted Balaam to go with the servants of Balak, but only in order to test him. God knew his heart.
God sends an angel with a sword to block Balaam’s way, but he is blind to this divine encounter. Maybe he was so blinded by greed that he was unable to see the servant of God standing right in front of him, sword in hand. But Balaam’s donkey saw the angel and refused to go forward, much to his master’s chagrin. Balaam is so spiritually insensitive that he doesn’t even seem to react to the fact that his own donkey is talking to him and he is actually having a conversation with the animal! So God finally had to open Balaam’s eyes so he could see just how perilous the situation was that he was in. The angel tells Balaam, “I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me” (Numbers 22:32 NLT). The actual translation might be “the path you are taking is a reckless one.” Balaam was being tempted to go against the revealed will of God – all for a little financial gain. That’s a dangerous place to go for anybody. At that point Balaam seems to repent. “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will go back home if you are against my going” (Numbers 22:34 NLT). But notice that the only sin Balaam confesses is not knowing that the angel was standing in his way. He pleads the sin of ignorance. But he never really confesses his greed. Balaam offers to turn back, but that was an empty offer, because God had already told him the path he was taking was a reckless one. It was wrong. He was greedy. His whole reason for going with the servants of Balak was to hopefully figure out a way to fulfill the request of the king of the Moabites and make himself rich.
Balaam ends up blessing Israel, much to the consternation of Balak. So at this point he seems to be following the command of God. He even tells Balak, “Can I say anything except what the LORD tells me?” (Numbers 23:12 NLT). God tells Balaam to bless Israel instead of cursing them, and he does. Balak continues to plead that Balaam would change his mind. There is a battle going on and Balaam is caught in the middle. He has to choose between obeying the word of God or giving in to the temptation to disobey the word of God and enjoy the pleasures of this world.
But isn’t that the temptation we all face each and every day? We have the word of God clearly communicated to us through the Scriptures. We know we are to obey it. But the enemies of God make tempting offers, promising us riches, wealth, and material blessings if we will only disobey God. It reminds me of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Satan spent the entire time trying to get Jesus to disobey His Father and offered Him recognition, fame, power and wealth in return. So what will Balaam do? Will he continue to obey God? Or will he give in the temptation to sell out and cash in? Stay tuned. We’ll see the rest of the story tomorrow.
Father, I don’t want to go “the way of Balaam,” but so often I do – giving in to the temptations of this world to profit by disobeying You. The temptations are real and they are powerful. But You are faithful and worthy of my obedience. Give me the strength to not only hear You, but obey You. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men