224- Numbers 22 – Balaam Introduced
Do you know the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt”? According Wordnik.com (https://www.wordnik.com/words/contempt), contempt means, “The feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless; scorn.” I think all too often when we encounter a familiar passage of scripture we become dismissive thinking, “I’ve heard this stuff so many times it’s worthless for me to pay attention.
You may be thinking, “everybody knows the story of the talking donkey. I know what Mark is going to say, ‘if God can use a talking donkey, then God can use you….blah, blah, blah!” If that’s what you are thinking, let me take a minute to address your thoughts. I would submit that very few believers really know the so called story of Balaam and the talking donkey. All they know is that the donkey wasn’t acting right, Balaam beat her (oh, you didn’t know the donkey was female?) on three different occasions, then the donkey spoke. So many, many people have said, “if God can use a talking donkey, then He can certainly use you!”
Let me plead with you, if that’s what you know of the story, and if that’s the application you came up with please hear me out and study the passage for yourself, because in my humble opinion it’s way off base! You will not hear me make such a Yahweh insulting statement! You might find this hard to believe, but the talking donkey is not the main aspect of the story. But we will get there (hint: Numbers 22:32 is closer).
But before we get to the talking donkey, we need to be introduced to Balaam the man. If you’re still with me, let’s dive in.
5 Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me!
6 Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the diviner’s fee in their hand, and they came to Balaam and spoke to him the words of Balak.
You’ll notice I bolded the name Pethor in verse five, because it tells us where Balaam is from, which is actually Mesopotamia.
4 because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.
Mesopotamia is found in what is known as the fertile crescent between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. If you look at the map I’ve included you’ll notice that this region is very significant biblically. The city of Ur is in that area, which is where Abram (later named Abraham) was when Yahweh called him out. You’ll find Nineveh there. Remember the prophet Jonah? Assyria – the Assyrias conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC (much later than our passage), and of course Babylon – the Babylonians took Daniel, his three friends, and other young Hebrew boys in 605 BC, and later the entire nation into captivity in 586 BC. None of these places in the fertile crescent were Godly. As a matter of fact, they are all pagan nations. This is where Balaam is from, he is not an Israelite. He is also not from Moab or Midian.
In verse six I’ve highlighted two phrases. “…curse this people for me…” and “I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed”. Isn’t it interesting that King Balak is not recognizing Balaam as a prophet of God. He only knows that when Balaam blesses or curses, that person is blessed or cursed. Verse seven indicates that Balaam was a diviner for hire. Yes, but there’s one little phrase in a future verse that gives me pause.
18 Then Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord [Yahweh] my God, to do less or more.
Balaam calls God his God! I would submit that this is why there is the “Angel of the LORD” encounter, which includes the donkey’s mouth being opened by Yahweh. But as we’ll see later, Balaam certainly has his problems requiring Yahweh’s intervention.
Balaam and his talking donkey are not a cute children’s story. But rather, read and understood correctly, a very terrifying and sobering passage of scripture where Yahweh God reveals some very powerful things to us.
By the way, verse seven is proof that the alliance Balak suggested in verse four between Moab and Midian did actually come into existence. It doesn’t matter how many nations stand against Yahweh’s people! Yahweh God will always preserve His people. Keep that in mind as you read and study yet future Bible prophecy.
God is powerful! Yahweh God is so worthy of our praise! Though we spend all of our lives and an eternity expressing worship and praise to Him, it can never be enough!