226 – Numbers 22 – Malak Yahweh
Continuing our study of the book of Numbers, we find ourselves still in chapter twenty two. In this familiar story, we know something about King Balak, the Moabites he rules, and the Midianites who joined him in alliance against Israel. We were introduced to the diviner for hire named Balaam. Let’s pick up the narrative starting in verse twenty two.
Numbers 22:22-27 (LEB)
22 But God became angry because he was going, and the angel of Yahweh stood in the road as an adversary to him; he was riding on his donkey, and two servants were with him.
23 The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand, and the donkey turned aside from the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back to the road.
24 The angel of Yahweh stood in the narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on either side.
25 When the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, she pressed herself into the wall, and she pressed the foot of Balaam into the wall, so he struck her again.
26 Then the angel of Yahweh went further ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was not a way to turn aside to the right or left.
27 When the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, she lay down under Balaam, so Balaam became angry, and he struck the donkey with his staff.
Today I’d like to spend some time considering the participants in this particular section of the narrative. I’ve bolded them to make it a little easier to identify them in the text. Listed they are:
- God [Elohim]
- Angel of Yahweh
- Two servants (of Balaam)
- Female donkey
The second word in verse twenty-two is the Hebrew plural form of the word for God, Elohim. The form of the word is plural; it is used in a singular fashion in the sentence meaning that it is not expressing the concept of many gods, but rather one God in a plural form. More clearly the use of the word Elohim in this whole chapter is indicating all three persons of the triune God.
Interestingly, when we look at previous verses in the chapter when the entourages are trying to convince Balaam to accompany them Balaam, calls God Yahweh (LORD). But when Moses is writing the account of God talking to Balaam he does not use the word Yahweh, but rather the word Elohim.
“So what?”, you may ask. I think we need to always keep in mind the intentionality of the word of God. In other words, the way things are said and the (original language) words selected to say them are not haphazard but rather carefully inspired by God. I think this difference becomes important. Looking at verse twenty-two we might summarize it this way, the trinity became angry and sent the Angel of Yahweh…
Angel of Yahweh
Though it may not be new information to most, I think it is important to unpack “Angel of Yahweh” and discover the meaning. Our English word angel is actually a word pulled into English from the Greek word Angelos (ἄγγελος) which means messenger. The Hebrew word used is Malak (מַלְאָךְ) and also means messenger. When we see the word angel in the Bible, whether it is in the Old Testament or New Testament, our minds automatically conclude spiritual beings. I think we should challenge that automatic conclusion much more often than we do. Let the word mean what it does, messenger, and let the textual context tell you what kind of messenger.
If we did the work to compare scripture with scripture I think it becomes clear that the Angel of Yahweh here is actually a physical manifestation of the second person of the trinity. Consider what John had to say about it in John chapter one.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 This one was in the beginning with God.
14 And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Balaam and his donkey had an encounter with the pre-incarnate Christ who had a sword in His hand! Yet when we relate the account the focus seems to always be on a donkey that talked instead of the far more wondrous account of Yahweh Jesus terrifying Balaam and his donkey.
We already talked about Balaam so we’ll end with the two servants. The two servants of Balaam take no active role in the narrative. It is, however, easy to conclude that they were eyewitnesses to the account described in this chapter. It’s interesting to me that nothing is said about King Balaak’s procession, which leads me to believe that they were out ahead of Balaam’s party and did not witness the incident.
It seems when God speaks in the Old Testament He does so through the member of the trinity (or Godhead) known as the Word of God, who would become the Son of God known as Jesus in the New Testament.
Isn’t God amazing? He truly is worthy of all praise, worship, and adoration. Do you know Him?
All Scripture quotations from Harris, W. Hall, III et al., eds. The Lexham English Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012. Print.
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