Balaam's Donkey Spoke
"Balaam the son of Bosor . . . loved the wages of unrighteousness." (2 Peter 2:15)
A great deal is said these days about the bottom line. Generally speaking, this has to do with financial matters, and of course they have some importance, and should have, to everyone. However there is another "bottom line" that is much more important, and often it is sadly neglected. How is it with my soul and yours? Where will we spend eternity? We can know with assurance, through faith in the shed blood of Christ, the answer to these most important of all questions.
Recently I did something that many would say was foolish. I picked up a young man of nineteen on the interstate, and gave him a ride to the next exit, where he lived. He had been brought up as a Catholic, he said, but he did not now go to church or have any interest whatsoever in religion.
I told the young man about two people who had died, not so long ago: one a little girl of about ten who had come to saving faith in Christ not long before that time, in one of our student chapel services at Belleview Christian schools. The other was a young man who had had opportunity to "make his calling and election sure," as we read in 2nd Peter, and evidently had failed to do so. The little girl was ready to meet the Lord. What about the young man that had seemed to pass up his opportunity to seek and find salvation, until it was eternally too late?
By the time we had just about reached the exit the young hitchhiker was interested in, and our conversation was almost over, I encouraged him to give attention to the most urgent matter in life, the matter of his soul's salvation. I pray and trust that he will do so.
The Bible character I am thinking about, as you have noticed in the title chosen, is a shadowy figure named Balaam. There seem to be some very commendable and favorable things about him that should not be overlooked, but also some flaws of character that are not exactly uncommon today. For one thing, he seemed to have an inordinate love of money. Is that not something we often notice today? If the economy seems to be prospering, if there are plenty of jobs, if our service men and women are not engaging in warfare overseas, then nothing else is worthy of much attention.
Moral issues, even when they relate to the highest levels of government, at the national, state or local levels, should not concern us, many people suggest. "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone," they say, neglecting to add what is most important in Jesus' confrontation with the Pharisees. You will remember what He said to the woman in question: "Go thy way and sin no more!" That is hardly acceptance of a life of carelessness and sin.
Moses was still alive, but most of the people of the Children of Israel who had left Egypt were now dead. They had rebelled against Moses, and the Lord had "sent fiery serpents among" them, and many had died. This was when the Lord told Moses to make "a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole," and those that looked upon it, having been bitten by a serpent, lived. This, as you know, was a type of Christ, who died on the cross for your sins and mine.
Then the Israelites, wishing to travel through the land of Sihon, king of the Amorites, not even drinking water from their wells, were refused passage, and Sihon and his people came out and fought against Israel-- and were soundly defeated! The same thing happened with Og, king of Bashan, and the Israelites were able to possess that part of the land that the Lord had promised to Abraham. It was at this point that Balaam came on the scene. (Numbers 22:5)
No doubt you remember the account. Balak, the king of Moab, seeing what had happened to the two other kings, Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, decided that he might be next on the list to be defeated. He had heard of Balaam, who must have had a great reputation, far and wide, as one who could either bless or curse individuals and even nations. Balak sent word to the elders of his neighbors, the Midianites, and they and the elders of Moab journeyed to the home of Balaam, perhaps a considerable distance. With them these "top leaders" took "the rewards of divination," or, as the Living Bible phrases it: "money in their hands." (Numbers 22:7)
When the elders arrived and explained that they wanted him to go with them and curse Israel, that they might be able to "drive them out of the land," Balaam asked them to spend the night. During the night God appeared unto Balaam and said: "Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not the curse the people: for they are blessed." (v. 13)
Early the next morning Balaam gave the elders of Moab and Midian his answer, one that did not please them: "The Lord refuseth to give me leave to go with you." The details are not given, but evidently Balaam was hankering after the silver and gold the elders had offered him. Yet, he did not go with them at that time.
Then King Balak sent more, and more honorable princes! They were to promise Balaam very great honor, and would do for him whatever he wished, if only he would curse Israel. When the new group arrived and made their offer, regardless of what he may have truly felt, he said to them: "If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more." If he had "sent the princes packing" at once, the outcome for him might have been different. Instead, he urged them to stay overnight, and he would see what the Lord would instruct him to do.
Seeing the attitude of Balaam, the Lord allowed him to go with the princes, yet His "anger was kindled because he went." (v. 22) Then it was that the angel of the Lord stood in the way, his sword drawn, and the animal Balaam was riding on was enabled by the Lord to see the angel, even if Balaam did not! That is remarkable, of course, and it is even more remarkable that after another incident, in which the animal, passing through a narrow place, fell down under Balaam, and was beaten as a result, it was enabled to speak words of rebuke to her owner.
Balaam then "said unto the angel of the Lord, I have sinned . . . I will get me back again." Now that he was on his way, however, it was the Lord's will for him to go with the princes, not to curse Israel, but to bless Israel. "How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied? (23:8)
A little later he says something that shows the tragic implications of having a good understanding of the right way, and yet the strong desire to do something for material gain, regardless of the consequences. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" Should that not be the earnest desire, nay, determination of everyone? Yet this is not what happened to Balaam, as we shall see.
Later Balaam was given more to say concerning Israel:
The Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them. God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn [wild ox, in some translations]. Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought! (vv. 22-23)
By this time King Balak had enough, or too much, of Balaam, for it was all blessing, and no cursing of Israel, but he tried one last time, to gain his desire against the Lord's people. This time Balaam had a great vision of the future happiness of Israel, which give a beautiful prophecy of the coming kingdom of Christ. The vision ends with these words: "He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee."
Shortly after this Balaam is permitted to have a further glimpse into the future concerning the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel . . . and Israel shall do valiantly." (vv. 17-18) Read all of this wonderful passage for yourself. It is well worth considering and meditating on.
In the next chapter we read a description of distressing events. Even though Balaam had not been permitted to curse Israel in his words, he evidently found a way to do so by means of advice he gave to Balak. There were beautiful young women among his people, and Israel committed "whoredom with the daughters of Moab." Later on, as you will remember, even Solomon, the "wisest man that ever lived," was led into sin by some of the heathen princesses he married. (See 1 Kings 11:4) Is there not good reason today to be watchful and careful in this area of relationships?
Along with their immoral conduct with the women of Moab, the Israelites attended "the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods." Isn't that shocking, after all the Lord had brought them through! Before it was all over twenty four thousand had died in a plague. We find just a few words of explanation of the part Balaam played in all of this in Numbers 31:16.
How did this man die, who seemed to have such a good and commendable desire for the right kind of death? Shortly before Moses turned over his responsibilities as leader of the children of Israel to Joshua, who was a type of Jesus, and whose name is equivalent to Jesus, he was instructed of the Lord to send the Israelites into battle against the Midianites. By this time there were a number of other kings that were to involved in the battle, some five kings of Midian, and we are given their names. All of them, we read in 31:8, were slain in this battle. At the end of the verse it is simply stated: "Balaam also the son of Beor ["Bosor" in Greek] they slew with the sword."
This man who was seemingly so eager to "die the death of the righteous," because of his desire for the wealth and honor offered him by King Balak died ignominiously with the enemies of God's people. He had had a wonderful vision of the coming Messiah, and could have allied himself with the people of God, and shared with them his understanding of the way in which God intended to bless them, but he passed that all up to follow after the honors promised by a heathen king, and "the gold that perisheth."
True riches are found only in Jesus Christ. Whether He sees fit to give us little or much of this world's goods, let us strive to use it to the best of our ability for the upbuilding of His Kingdom and the salvation of souls, and not allow ourselves to be trapped into a life of selfishness and greed that can bring, as it brought to Balaam and multitudes of others, only disappointment and tragedy in the end.