Did you know there was a real, live, talking donkey in the bible?
Did you know that Kefa (Peter) made a reference to this talking donkey in his 2nd letter (2nd Peter)? You may be wondering how a talking donkey can possibly teach you anything of value.
You may be surprised . . .
Before we can continue our study in 2nd Kefa (Peter), we need to catch up on some history. We learned in the post YES! One man CAN make a difference!, that God destroyed the world with a flood:
As a WARNING to those in the FUTURE
to THOSE that would live UNGODLY lives . . .
We learned that God regretted making humankind.
We learned that His heart was grieved.
the people on earth were very wicked,
that all the imaginings of their hearts were always of evil only
But one man, Noach (Noah), found favor in God’s eyes because he was a preacher of righteousness.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
The preacher Noach, had 3 sons: Shem, Ham, and Yefet (Japheth).
Noach was a “man of the ground” or “farmer” if you will.
Noach planted a vineyard, drank a lot of wine and got drunk.
In his drunkenness (sometimes you get hot as a result), he uncovered himself and became exposed – naked. His son Ham, saw this:
Genesis 9:22 (NASB)
22 Ham, the father of Canaan,
saw the nakedness of his father,
and told his two brothers outside.
This is where we learn a little about the heart of Ham. Ham could have shown respect for his father and just covered him up . . . but he didn’t. He went to tell his two brothers outside.
Apparently his gaze was not a mere harmless notice or an accidental glance. The verb used here has such force that some say it means “he gazed with satisfaction.”
Walter C. Kaiser et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 117.
This verse is the subject of much debate over the last 2000 years. Some of it so degenerate, that it makes one wonder why man finds it so pleasurable to sensationalize the text by reading into it the most immoral things he can imagine. Ironically, this is the kind of thought process that caused God to regret making humankind and grieved his heart because:
all the imaginings of their hearts were always of evil only.
I can imagine that after building an ark that took a very long time to build – that being on that ark and feeding animals morning, noon and night – having to follow the orders of the patriarch of the family took their toll on Ham. He lost sight of the blessing of being spared by God and instead felt sorry for himself. I imagine that being a preachers son meant living to a standard that Ham was tired of living up to. I imagine that when Ham saw his father drunk and naked, he viewed his father with smug satisfaction. I can imagine him thinking to himself or saying to his brothers, “So this is how a preacher of righteousness acts?” In that moment seeing his father drunk and naked, I imagine that Ham became self-righteous. I imagine he thought to himself, “my drunk, naked father thinks he is all that, but he is no better than me.”
Did his brothers come in to gaze with smug satisfaction at their naked father as well? NO!
Genesis 9:23 (CJB)
23 Shem and Yefet took a cloak,
put it over both their shoulders,
and, walking backward,
went in and covered their naked father.
Their faces were turned away,
so that they did not see their father lying there shamefully exposed.
Quite the opposite of Ham. Ham SAW, Shem and Yefet DID NOT SEE.
Being exposed – nakedness, is something in the text that is to be avoided. It is why there were to be no steps to Adonai’s altar (steps might cause you to expose yourself accidentally):
Exodus 20:26 (CJB)
26 Likewise, you are not to use steps to go up to my altar;
so that you won’t be indecently uncovered.’”
With this is mind, try to understand the what happened next . . . Noach sobered up. The text says he knew what Ham had done. Was this because Shem and Yefet told him? Was it because Noach was coherent enough in his drunkenness to see Ham staring at him or making fun of him? The text doesn’t tell us, it just says he knew.
Genesis 9:24-27 (CJB)
24 When Noach awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him.
25 He said,“Cursed be Kena‘an; he will be a servant of servants to his brothers.”
26 Then he said, “Blessed be Adonai, the God of Shem; Kena‘an will be their servant.
27 May God enlarge Yefet; he will live in the tents of Shem, but Kena‘an will be their servant.”
Ham’s youngest son Canaan received a curse. Noach could not curse Ham because Ham had already been blessed by God:
Genesis 9:1 (CJB)
1 God blessed Noach and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.
This is the point where history uses the Curse of Canaan to justify slavery. That black skin is a curse from God to be exploited for selfish gain. The utter nonsense associated with legitimizing slavery as a result of Canaan’s curse is an entire subject in and of itself and beyond the scope of this post.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
I have given you a brief history so that we could discuss Balaam. The story of Balaam is fairly straight forward. This is how our background above ties in:
The Israelites defeat the Amorites. The Amorites are from the lands of Syria and Canaan. Canaan is the son of Ham. Ham is one of the sons of Noach (Noah).
When the Israelites set up camp in the plains of Moab, the king of Moab and all his people were terrified. After all, the Israelites had defeated the Amorites and were now on their doorstep.
Numbers 22:1 (CJB)
1 Then the people of Isra’el traveled on and camped
in the plains of Mo’av beyond the Yarden River, opposite Yericho.
The king of Moab is a guy by the name of Balak son of Zippor. Balak talks with the Midianites (decedents of Midian – a son of Abraham).
Joseph was sold by his brothers to the Midianites.
The Midianites had a priest named Jethro that you may remember was Moshe’s (Moses) father-in-law.
After they get together, they send messengers to get Balaam the son of Beor. They try to convince Balaam to curse them with the following reasoning:
Numbers 22:5-6 (TEV)
5 … “I want you to know that a whole nation has come from Egypt;
its people are spreading out everywhere and threatening to take over our land.
6 They outnumber us, so please come and put a curse on them for me.
Then perhaps we will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land…
What is so special about Balaam that the Moabite and Midianite leadership would seek him out to curse the Israelites? That they would be willing to pay for this curse? Balaam was a guy that practiced divination:
Joshua 13:22 (CJB)
22 … Bil‘am the son of B‘or, who practiced divination.
Balak, the king of Moab, fluffs Balaam’s ego when he has his messengers also state:
Numbers 22:6 (TEV)
6 … I know that when you pronounce a blessing, people are blessed,
and when you pronounce a curse, they are placed under a curse.”
Balaam tells the Moabite leaders to stay the night and he will tell them the next day what the Lord tells him.
God comes to Balaam and tells him not to go with the Moabites and not to curse the Israelites because they are blessed:
Numbers 22:12 (TEV)
12 God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them,
and do not put a curse on the people of Israel,
because they have my blessing.”
Balaam does as God instructs and sends them back to king Balak. King Balak is undeterred and sends an even bigger delegation with promises of even more riches if Balaam will just come curse the Israelites for him. Here is what Balaam says to them:
Numbers 22:18 (TEV)
18 … “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace,
I could not disobey the command
of the LORD my God in even the smallest matter.
Balaam has them spend the night again and God comes to speak with him again. God gives him the following command:
Numbers 22:20 (TEV)
20 …”If these men have come to ask you to go with them,
get ready and go,
but do only what I tell you.”
Here is the part you have to pay attention to. God tells Balaam to go and Balaam goes . . . and God gets angry because Balaam goes.
Numbers 22:21-22 (CJB)
21 (LY: iii) So Bil‘am got up in the morning,
saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Mo’av.
22 But God’s anger flared up because he went, …
Kind of confusing, huh? Is God being passive aggressive? Tons of theories abound on this supposed contradiction. Archibald Thomas makes a simple declaration (that I will paraphrase) in his commentary Hard Sayings of the Bible:
Balaam knew that Israel was blessed. Balaam did NOT tell the delegation that God had said that Israel is blessed by Him. If he had, it probably would have ended the Moabites attempts to have the Israelites cursed by him.
A good question to ask right about now is WHY didn’t he tell them Israel is blessed? As you ponder that question, let’s see what happens to Balaam on his journey.
Numbers 22:21 (CJB)
21 (LY: iii) So Bil‘am got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Mo’av.
Now here is where it gets real interesting. Balaam’s donkey suddenly leaves the road and turns into the fields. Balaam beats the donkey until it turns back to the road. They travel on and the road starts to narrow considerably as it goes between 2 vineyards with stone walls on each side of it. The donkey moves over against one of the stone walls and crushes Balaam’s foot against the wall in the process. Balaam again beats the donkey and they move on. They get to a very narrow place and the donkey just lays down. Balaam flips out and starts beating the donkey with a stick. We may have an anger management issue here. All of a sudden, the donkey speaks up:
“Dude! What have I done to you? Why do you keep beating me?
Balaam is beside himself in anger. He answers the donkey with a chilling threat:
“You have humiliated me in front of the Moabites and made me a laughing stock. If I had a sword right now, I would kill you where you stand!”
The donkey is incredulous that Balaam could be such a ding-dong and asks Balaam the following question:
“Dude, you have ridden me your whole life right? Have I ever done this before?
I am sure this is the point where Balaam has got that confused while you scratch your head look as he states:
“Um, no . . . .”
When my grandson Benjamin was 5 years old, we were doing our daily bible study and I told him this story in much the same way. I did the voices for Balaam and the voices and sound effects for his donkey. Ben turns to me and says:
“Balaam wasn’t very smart, was he DahDah?”
That wasn’t exactly the answer I had expected so I asked Ben why he didn’t think that Balaam was very smart. Without missing a beat, Ben shot back in the most matter of fact statement I may have ever heard:
“If your donkey starts talking to you,
and you don’t know that God is the reason it is talking to you,
you must not be very smart!”
I can tell you that Ben teaches me how to trust God more than anyone I have ever met. Is it not surprising that Yeshua (Jesus) said:
Matthew 18:1-4 (CJB)
1 At that moment the talmidim (disciples)
came to Yeshua (Jesus) and asked,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
2 He called a child to him, stood him among them,
3 and said, “Yes! I tell you that unless you change
and become like little children,
you won’t even enter the Kingdom of Heaven!
4 So the greatest in the Kingdom
is whoever makes himself as humble as this child.
Is my grandson Ben correct about the donkey? Notice what the text says:
Numbers 22:23 (TEV)
23 When the donkey saw the angel standing there holding a sword, it left the road and turned into the fields. Balaam beat the donkey and brought it back onto the road.
Numbers 22:24-25 (TEV)
24 Then the angel stood where the road narrowed between two vineyards and had a stone wall on each side.
25 When the donkey saw the angel, it moved over against the wall and crushed Balaam’s foot against it. Again Balaam beat the donkey.
Numbers 22:26-27 (TEV)
26 Once more the angel moved ahead; he stood in a narrow place where there was no room at all to pass on either side.
27 This time, when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down. Balaam lost his temper and began to beat the donkey with his stick.
Numbers 22:28 (TEV)
28 Then the LORD gave the donkey the power of speech, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you? Why have you beaten me these three times?”
Benjamin didn’t even need to know about the angel to know this was the work of God. So here comes the real question, why didn’t Balaam as well? Ben didn’t know there was an angel in the story and Balaam didn’t know there was an angel. Ben saw the work of God immediately – Balaam only saw a stubborn donkey and even argued with it until . . .
Numbers 22:31 (TEV)
31 Then the LORD let Balaam see the angel
standing there with his sword;
and Balaam threw himself face downward on the ground.
As he is face down, Balaam hears a pronouncement from the Lord that would would send chills up your spine:
Numbers 22:33 (TEV)
33 But your donkey saw me and turned aside three times.
If it hadn’t,
I would have killed you and spared the donkey.”
Balaam is convinced. He gives his first prophecy after 7 altars are built. At his request, 7 bulls and 7 rams are brought to him and one of each are sacrificed on each altar:
Numbers 23:7-10 (TEV)
7 …”Balak king of Moab has brought me
From Syria, from the eastern mountains.
‘Come speak for me,’ he said.
‘Put a curse on the people of Israel.’
8 How can I curse what God has not cursed,
Or speak of doom when the LORD has not?
9 From the high rocks I can see them;
I can watch them from the hills.
They are a nation that lives alone;
They know they are blessed more than other nations.
10 The descendants of Israel are like the dust—
There are too many of them to be counted.
Let me end my days like one of God’s people;
Let me die in peace like the righteous.”
Instead of a curse, Balaam obeys God and blesses the Israelites. They went to a different place and 7 more altars are built. 7 more bulls and 7 more rams are sacrificed and Balaam gives his second prophecy:
Numbers 23:18-24 (TEV)
18 … “Come, Balak son of Zippor,
And listen to what I have to say.
19 God is not like people, who lie;
He is not a human who changes his mind.
Whatever he promises, he does;
He speaks, and it is done.
20 I have been instructed to bless,
And when God blesses, I cannot call it back.
21 I foresee that Israel’s future
Will bring her no misfortune or trouble.
The LORD their God is with them;
They proclaim that he is their king.
22 God has brought them out of Egypt;
He fights for them like a wild ox.
23 There is no magic charm, no witchcraft,
That can be used against the nation of Israel.
Now people will say about Israel,
‘Look what God has done!’
24 The nation of Israel is like a mighty lion:
It doesn’t rest until it has torn and devoured,
Until it has drunk the blood of those it has killed.”
King Balak is desperate! He pleads with Balaam, “If you won’t curse them, would you please stop blessing them?” Balak takes Balaam to yet another place and 7 more altars with the same sacrifices. Here is where an interesting thing takes place:
Numbers 24:1 (TEV)
1 By now Balaam knew that the LORD
wanted him to bless the people of Israel,
so he did not go to look for omens,
as he had done before…
Balaam is finally starting to get it as he gives the third prophecy:
Numbers 24:3-9 (TEV)
3 … “The message of Balaam son of Beor,
The words of the man who can see clearly,
4 Who can hear what God is saying.
With staring eyes I see in a trance
A vision from Almighty God.
5 The tents of Israel are beautiful,
6 Like long rows of palms Or gardens beside a river,
Like aloes planted by the LORD Or cedars beside the water.
7 They will have abundant rainfall
And plant their seed in well-watered fields.
Their king shall be greater than Agag,
And his rule shall be extended far and wide.
8 God brought them out of Egypt;
He fights for them like a wild ox.
They devour their enemies,
Crush their bones, smash their arrows.
9 The nation is like a mighty lion;
When it is sleeping, no one dares wake it.
Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed,
And whoever curses Israel will be cursed.”
Balak is angry now! He sends Balaam home without a reward. Before Balaam goes, he warns Balak about his future with these final prophecies:
Numbers 24:15-24 (TEV)
15 … “The message of Balaam son of Beor,
The words of the man who can see clearly,
16 Who can hear what God is saying
And receive the knowledge that comes from the Most High.
With staring eyes I see in a trance
A vision from Almighty God.
17 I look into the future,
And I see the nation of Israel.
A king, like a bright star,
will arise in that nation.
Like a comet he will come from Israel.
He will strike the leaders of Moab
And beat down all the people of Seth.
18 He will conquer his enemies in Edom
And make their land his property,
While Israel continues victorious.
19 The nation of Israel will trample them down
And wipe out the last survivors.”
20 Then in his vision Balaam saw the Amalekites and uttered this prophecy:
“Amalek was the most powerful nation of all,
But at the end it will perish forever.”
21 In his vision he saw the Kenites, and uttered this prophecy:
“The place where you live is secure,
Safe as a nest set high on a cliff,
22 But you Kenites will be destroyed
When Assyria takes you captive.”
23 Balaam uttered this prophecy:
“Who are these people gathering in the north?
24 Invaders will sail from Cyprus;
They will conquer Assyria and Eber,
But they, in turn, will perish forever.”
– – – – – – – – – – – –
This is a long post I know. The history was and is necessary before we can approach our study in 2nd Kefa (Peter).
2 Peter 2:15 (CJB)
15 These people have left the straight way
and wandered off to follow
the way of Bil‘am Ben-B‘or,
who loved the wages of doing harm
Notice what Dr Craig Keener writes about Balaam in his Bible Background Commentary:
According to Jewish tradition and the most likely interpretation of the Old Testament, Balaam was a dishonorable character. For the sake of money, Balaam had led the Israelites into cultic prostitution with the Midianites, bringing God’s judgment on them and leading to his own death (Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:22).
Numbers 31:8 (CJB)
8 They killed the kings of Midyan along with the others who were slain — Evi, Rekem, Tzur, Hur and Reva, the five kings of Midyan. They also killed Bil‘am the son of B‘or with the sword.
Joshua 13:22 (CJB)
22 Along with the others the people of Isra’el killed with the sword, they also struck down Bil‘am the son of B‘or, who practiced divination.
Jewish literature considered him the ultimate prophet (and sometimes philosopher) of the pagans but did not reduce his role in Israel’s sexual offense. His attempt to make Israel sin was considered worse than any other nation’s military attack on them because it brought God’s judgment against them. The contrast between “the way of Balaam” and the “right way” reflects the common ancient image of two paths, one leading the righteous or wise to life, the other leading the foolish to destruction.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary – New Testament, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “2 Peter 2:1-22 Damnation of Immoral Teachers”.
Notice also what Dr David Stern writes about Balaam in his Jewish New Testament Commentary:
Bilʿam Ben-Bʿor (Balaam, son of Beor) was bribed by Balak, the king of Moab, to “curse Jacob and denounce Israel” (Numbers 22:6, 23:7) when they were on their way to the Promised Land; but Bilʿam was rebuked for his sin when God spoke through his donkey (Numbers 22:22ff.). Bilʿam then spoke a blessing on Israel which included the Messianic promise of the “star out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17; see above, 1:19N). According to the Mishna,
“The characteristics of the talmidim of Bil’am the wicked are an evil eye [i.e., stinginess or greed; see Mt 6:22-23&N], a haughty spirit and a proud soul…. [They] inherit Gey-Hinnom and descend to the pit of destruction.” (Avot 5:19)
For more on Bil’am see Rv 2:14N.
Revelation 2:14 (CJB)
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: you have some people who hold to the teaching of Bil‘am, who taught Balak to set a trap for the people of Isra’el, so that they would eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and commit sexual sin.
David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, (Clarksville, Maryland: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1992), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 760.
This finally leads us to the Complete Biblical Library Commentary on Balaam which ties our study of 2nd Kefa (Peter) to these earlier historical events nicely:
Balaam has become known in history as a man who sought to make personal gain at the expense of his ministry (see Numbers 22-24). He is a perfect example of what Peter was dealing with. Balaam sought to manipulate truth so as not to deny it, but to use it for his own advantage. He was not all bad, and much of his message was true; however, he finally lost out completely. He became numbered with the enemies who, according to his own prophecy, were marked for destruction, and his sad end is told in Numbers 31:8. Peter said the false teachers had abandoned the right road. They had gone astray by following in the footsteps of Balaam, the prophet who commercialized his gift. He sought the reward offered by Balak, “the wages of unrighteousness.” He loved earthly things more than heavenly things. “Loved” is from agapaō, an intense kind of love, the word used in 2 Timothy 4:10: “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” The final wages of sin is death, though the present pay may seem desirable.
Thoralf Gilbrant, ed., The Complete Biblical Library – Hebrews-Jude, (Springfield, IL: World Library Press, Inc., 1989), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 343.
And so we learn that Balaam was rebuked for his sin – his insanity (his madness) restrained by a dumb beast – a donkey:
2 Peter 2:16 (CJB)
16 but was rebuked for his sin —
a dumb beast of burden spoke out with a human voice
and restrained the prophet’s insanity!
Balaam was killed with a sword. He chose the wide gate and the broad road. He was greedy. He didn’t listen to God until he was faced with a talking donkey and the threat of death. Even this face to face meeting with death didn’t change him for very long because at his advice, the people of Israel broke faith with God:
Numbers 31:16 (CJB)
16 Why, these are the ones who —
because of Bil‘am’s advice —
caused the people of Isra’el to rebel,
breaking faith with Adonai in the P‘or incident,
so that the plague broke out among Adonai’s community!
Balaam is the prototype of the false teacher.
They lead people astray – down the wide path – towards destruction prophesied about long ago by Balaam himself. And you know what, in the end, they are not the problem, the people that gather them around them and listen to them are.
I encourage you to read my post They are NOT THE PROBLEM . . .
There is an old saying in investigative journalism, “follow the money!” If we do that, it leads us right to the health and wealth doctrines of today and the false teachers that profit from it just like Balaam did. Kefa (Peter) isn’t done, but we will break for today with the following from Y’hudah (Jude) who may have said it best:
Jude 1:11 (CJB)
11 Woe to them,
in that they have walked the road of Kayin (Cain),
they have given themselves over for money
to the error of Bil‘am (Balaam),
they have been destroyed in the rebellion of Korach (Korah).