A Reckless Path

22 But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25 And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” 35 And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.

36 When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, on the border formed by the Arnon, at the extremity of the border. 37 And Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?” 38 Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” 39 Then Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. 40 And Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent for Balaam and for the princes who were with him.

41 And in the morning Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal, and from there he saw a fraction of the people. Numbers 22:22-41 ESV

Balaam appears to believe that he still might come out of this a very rich man because the text tells us that God was 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. – Numbers 22:22 NLT

What was the cause of God’s anger? After all, it was God who told Balaam, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them” (Numbers 22:20 NLT). It would appear that Balaam was simply following the Lord’s instructions. But there was more going on in Balaam’s heart and mind than meets the eye. God knew that Balaam had concocted a plan that would allow him to profit from this unique once-in-a-lifetime situation.

Balaam was greedy and hoped to make money by cursing the people of God. He was a false prophet who thought he could turn a profit by disobeying God. The apostle Peter provides some much-needed insight into Balaam’s motivation that helps to explain God’s anger.

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 that of greed. He was attempting to line his own pockets by masquerading as a prophet of God. This pagan diviner was little more than a con man who had made a healthy income posing as a spiritual sage who could level curses – for a price. But Balaam was in for a surprise. Jehovah, the God of the Israelites, whom he hoped to curse, had his number. God knew exactly what was going on in Balaam’s heart. The apostle Paul warned Timothy about the ever-present danger of letting the love of money influence one’s behavior.

…the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:10 NLT

God permitted Balaam to go with the servants of Balak, but only as a test. And since God already knew the content of Balaam’s heart, this test was meant for Balaam’s enlightenment. This prideful man was about to get a much-needed lesson in God’s holiness and his own sinfulness.

As Balaam and his escorts made their way to visit Balaak, God sent an angel with a sword to block their path. But was oblivious 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. Yet the donkey on which Balaam rode saw the angel and refused to go forward, much to his master’s chagrin. Balaam was so spiritually insensitive that it didn’t even register to him that he was having a conversation with an animal.

God had to open Balaam’s eyes so he could see the perilous nature of the situation. With Balaam cowering at his feet, the angel told Balaam, “I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me” (Numbers 22:32 NLT).

Speaking as an official agent of Jehovah, the angel revealed the nature of his mission. He was there to prevent Balaam from carrying out his plan. A more accurate translation of the angel’s words might be: “the path you are taking is a reckless one.” Balaam had made the decision to go against the revealed will of God – all for a little financial gain. The angel had been sent by God to prevent Balaam from carrying out his ill-conceived plan.

Sadly, the donkey had more insight than the diviner. The man who was supposed to have special access to the gods had failed to see an armed angel of Jehovah standing right in front of him. But once his eyes were opened to the danger he faced, Balaam appears to have repented.

“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 the only sin that Balaam seems to have confessed was his failure to see the angel standing in his way. He confessed the sin of ignorance. But he never acknowledged his greed or admitted his plan to disobey the will of God. Balaam offered to turn back, but only because the angel had disclosed the reckless nature of his plan. Everything about Balaam’s intentions was wrong. He was greedy. His whole reason for going with the servants of Balak was to figure out a way to fulfill the request of the king of the Moabites and make himself rich.

Despite Balaam’s insincere confession, the angel gives him permission to continue his journey.

“Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.” – Numbers 22:35 NLT

Balaam had his marching orders and they required Balaam to speak only when spoken to by God. He was not to add his two cents or dare to utter a word that had not been given to him by Jehovah. And this would prove to be another test for the materialistic-minded and headstrong Balaam.

King Balak was relieved to see that Balaam had arrived and questioned his guest about his lengthy delay. He couldn’t understand why Balaam had not jumped at the chance to pad his bank account with the sizeable reward he had offered to pay.

“Didn’t I send you an urgent invitation? Why didn’t you come right away?” Balak asked Balaam. “Didn’t you believe me when I said I would reward you richly?” – Numbers 22:37 NLT

Even Balak seemed to know about Balaam’s love affair with money. But with the words of the angel still fresh in his mind, Balaam informed Balak that his lips were sealed. Any hope of him issuing a curse was off the table unless he received permission from Jehovah.

“Look, now I have come, but I have no power to say whatever I want. I will speak only the message that God puts in my mouth.” – Numbers 22:38 NLT

The situation will become increasingly tenser for Balaam. He knew exactly what Balak wanted him to do, but he also knew that he could do nothing without Jehovah’s permission. And as he joined King Balak in his camp, he could look out over the plains of Moab and see the host of Israelites like locusts in a field. And it’s likely that Balaam had no love for these unwanted interlopers. And as he gazed at their vast numbers, Balaam probably saw dollar signs. He couldn’t resist thinking about the rich reward that lay within reach if he could simply figure out a way to do what Balak wanted and curse Israel.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.