In Num 22.22 we learn that the Lord is going to be angry with Balaam because he left right away and did not wait for the princes to call him to go, that was the condition in verse 20. So, the Lord sends an angel to stand in his way. God is going to use a miracle to get his attention. The donkey, symbolic of Balaam’s stubbornness, sees the angel standing with a sword drawn in his hand (symbolic of how Balaam would die-Num 31.8) and turns off the road, and goes into a field. So, Balaam struck her. Then the angel stood in a narrow path of a vineyard, with a wall on both sides of the path through the vineyard. When the donkey saw the angel she pressed herself against the wall, hurting Balaam’s foot (v 24.25). He strikes her again.
Then the angel stood in another narrow place (v 26) and there was no way to turn to the right or to the left. The donkey saw him, and she just decided to lay down under Balaam. This caused him some embarrassment. So, he struck her with his stick. The “wall” being referred to in v 24-25 is thought by some to be the “heap” set up by Jacob and Laban in Gen 31.52. In “Hadar Zekenim” it says they put a sword in the heap. Balaam, who may have been Laban’s grandson was being paid to cross the mound to curse Israel, breaking the covenant. He was killed with this sword in Num 31.8 and Josh 13.22 (it says he was killed with “the” sword, a definite sword).
So we learn that Balaam doesn’t understand what is going on, so he beats the animal. Then the animal talks back to him. The donkey has more insight than Balaam did, a prophet. A donkey talks and he doesn’t even notice because he is caught up with himself. This so-called “seer” could not even discern the presence of the angel.
How many times have we come across people who say “God told me” this or that? And yet, upon close examination, they have not heard from God or even know him, or his word. Now many times has God spoken to us through the news, earthquakes, wildfires and disasters? We should take a longer look at events and try to see the divine force standing with an outstretched sword. But, we don’t in many cases, and we strike out at the closest “donkey” who moves us (a teacher, etc).
The donkey is trying to save Balaam’s life. He should have concluded that the same God that gave him his power of speech is the same God who gave the donkey the power of speech. Balaam was not using his power of speech correctly, and the Lord opened his eyes (Num 22.31). The angel says that he has come out as an “adversary ” (a satan) against Balaam because he was “contrary to me.” This is a case of the angel being a “shaliach” of God, a sent one, an agent who speaks the words of the Lord exactly. The donkey saw the angel three times and saved him (Num 22.33). In Num 22.35, Balaam tells the angel that he has sinned and he will turn back. However, the angel tells Balaam he can go but he is not to curse Israel. He is to “speak only the word which I shall tell you.” Balaam will do what the Lord wants, not what Balak wants.
Prophets are not for sale but Balaam is, and men can exploit God’s ways for their own purposes. We see people talking about the festivals and Jewish thought, but they exploit these things for their own gain. They say to themselves, “What do the people need and how can i make a buck off of it.” They will try to get around what God said to make money or promote themselves. What is important to understand here is a person can be on his way to sin and will not be able to see what is in front of his eyes, like Balaam.
Balaam is going to go to three places (Num 22.41, 23.14, 23.28). He will build seven altars at each spot with a bull and ram offered at each altar This will be a total of 21 bulls and 21 rams. Cursing is expensive. In Num 22.41, Baal is mentioned, so let’s talk for a moment about the Canaanite gods.
The main god of the Canaanites was “El” and he had a brother named Dagon.” The son of Dagon is Baal (son of God) and he is “prince” and “Lord of the earth” and a “storm god.” There is another son to El called “Mot” and he is the god of “death.” Another god is “Yam” and he is “prince of the sea” and his place is in the abyss. He will confront Baal. If Baal fought Yam and prevailed, then we have the seasons of the year. But if Mot prevailed over Baal, then famine would happen. Everything they saw fit this story and it explained the natural occurrences like floods, droughts, wind, rain, snow, the moon and the sun.
The God of Israel was seen as a competitor to this pantheon and that is why he has some of the same titles (prince, son of God, Lord of the earth). Psa 24.11 says that the earth belongs to the Lord and all that it contains. Yehovah combats the “gods” to take what rightfully belongs to him. This goes on today. Money decides what is or isn’t done. Religious men want to do things so that people will come and give them money, or they don’t want to do something because people won’t come and give them money.
We see this battle of Monotheism versus Polytheism in the Exodus. Competing “powers” or “gods” against Yehovah who has all the power. Polytheism is in direct conflict with Yehovah. Pharaoh was seen as a god and he is in competition with the God of the Hebrews. Besides, Pharaoh had never heard of this “Yehovah” before. The Canaanites believed in a “son of God” and a “prince” who was “Lord of the earth.” Now, here comes Israel with the one true God and people like Balak are threatened (like Pharaoh). The Canaanites are usurping the honor, praise and worship that only belonged to Yehovah. That is the foundational problem with false gods. Balaam joins forces with people who believe in Baal. They can’t distinguish between a false god and the true God. Balaam will try and “fit in” for money.
Has “Baal” gone away today? Not really. This belief is based on fear. Decisions are based on money, not the truth from Scripture. The truth will not be taught because they would lose their congregation, so they teach what people want to hear, for money. Their livelihood depends on the people. If the people get upset, they leave and they lose money and the pastor doesn’t get paid. This isn’t just an ancient story, it happens today. Believers must take a stand and speak the truth, and they must not compromise the truth for the sake of money. When Israel went into the land they told the inhabitants that if they wanted peace with them, Israel will leave them alone. They could stay in their cities. However, if they chose to fight, they would kill all of them. Balaam chooses to fight God, but he will bless Israel instead of cursing them.
Balaam’s prophecies in Numbers 23 and 24 are very messianic and some of the most insightful prophecies in the Scripture. We will learn about Israel, Gog and Magog/Russia, Europe and the False Messiah and his destruction, the redemption, part of what Balaam said is used in Jewish prayer, and much more. We will look a these in our next study. We can figure out what he wanted to curse by looking at what he blesses. In Part 26 we will pick up here.