SUNDAY SERMON: Balaam’s Donkey

Rev. Stephen Baldwin

OT: Numbers 22.21-39

Balaam’s Donkey

Some people bring out the worst in us. Amen? Balaam wasn’t a good guy, but when he was hired by Balak (a big bad guy who was king of a place called Moab and scared of the Israelites)…well, that brought out the worst in him. Here’s what happened. 

It was the end of the exodus as the Israelites wandered the wilderness under the leadership of Moses for 40 years. Over that time period, they had good times and bad. But all in all, they were emerging from the wilderness stronger than ever. They defeated two kings along the way, solidifying their power and frightening others that they might be next. 

One such frightened king, who was not an Israelite and not particularly powerful but very much wanted to keep ruling over his small kingdom, was a guy named Balak. The Israelites were nearby, and he didn’t want to chance battling them. So he decided to try something…unconventional. 

He tries to hire a well-known prophet named Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam prays about it…and God tells him not to do it. So Balaam turns down Balak. 

The king, like most kings, doesn’t like being told no. Balak sends gifts and high-ranking officials and well-known priests to try and convince Balaam to take the job. Balaam is persuaded by the recruitment, and agrees to go. 

You might say, “But I thought you said God didn’t want you to go, Balaam? Didn’t you pray about it and say no?” 

You would be correct, but it seems Balaam’s faithfulness had a price. He was offered riches and glory, and he abandoned his commitment to God. 

While God is certainly gracious, God is also just. And God was serious when God told Balaam not to go. So when Balaam goes, God sends an angel to stop him. While we think of angels as being sweet and innocent, this one was sent ready for battle, sword and all. 

Balaam saddled his donkey and made his way down the road with Balak’s princes and priests. The angel appears in the road, and the donkey sees it. 

Wanting to protect his master, the donkey turns off the road into a field. Balaam doesn’t see the angel. Doesn’t know what in the world his stubborn donkey is doing, so Balaam beats him with his fist and tells him to get back on the road. 

The angel of the Lord is drawing near, standing in a narrow path with walls on both sides. Still wanting to protect his master, the donkey tries to squeeze by the angel up against the wall. It hurts Balaam’s foot, so he beats him once again. 

The angel has had enough and corners Balaam on his donkey. Ever faithful, the donkey does the only thing left to do. He stops walking. He lays down, so that Balaam will go no further and not be endangered. But Balaam still doesn’t see the angel, and he beats the donkey a third time. He says angrily, “You’ve made a fool of me! If I had a sword I’d kill you right now!” 

And then the unthinkable happens. The donkey speaks. “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

Then Balaam’s eyes are opened, he sees the angel, and he realizes his donkey saved him. He begs forgiveness of the angel and of the donkey, for going in the first place when God told him not to and for beating the donkey when he was only trying to protect him. 

After a lot of back and forth, God tells Balaam to continue the journey. Go to Balak. Go to the Israelites. But only say what I tell you to say. And when the time comes, Balaam blesses the Israelites rather than cursing them, foiling Balak’s big bad plan. 

This is yet another example of why the Bible is the most interesting book you’ll ever find. Before today, did you know the Bible had a talking donkey? What a wonderful story. 

I love the devotion, the tenacity, the creativity, and the stubbornness of Balaam’s donkey. He will not give up on his mission, no matter how rotten his master is. It reminds all of us of the responsibility we have to those who are by our side each day. Our kids, our spouses, our family, our friends…they watch every move we make and will stop at nothing to defend us…it’s our responsibility to be good to them. 

But perhaps even more striking is the devotion, tenacity, creativity, and the stubbornness of God. God uses every circumstance for good. God uses Balak’s bad intentions for the good of the Israelites. God uses Balaam’s bad behavior towards the donkey for his own good. God turns every frustration and mistake and bad break into an opportunity to turn it all around. 

So the next time you are frustrated things aren’t going your way, think of Balaam’s donkey. The next time you can’t seem to catch a break, think of Balaam’s donkey. The next time someone is out to get you, think of Balaam’s donkey. God is always making a way out of no way. Amen.

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