Numbers 22


‘Then the Israelites travelled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho. Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites. The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak said: “A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.” The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said. “Spend the night here,” Balaam said to them, “and I will report back to you with the answer the LORD gives me.” So the Moabite officials stayed with him. God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?” Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: ‘A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.’” But God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.” The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s officials, “Go back to your own country, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” So the Moabite officials returned to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.” Then Balak sent other officials, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said: “This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.” But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God. Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the LORD will tell me.” That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” Numbers 22:1-20

Balak Summons Balaam

In this chapter we read that Israel wasn’t only battling with other nations physically, but also morally. Balaam was a Gentile who was known by Balak, the king of Moab.

He appears to be a religious leader and a prophet, 2 Peter 2:15-16, but a part from what we have recorded here, we don’t know much about him. We do know that he was a leader who was very happy to get paid to say whatever someone wanted him to say, Jude 11 / Revelation 2:14.

It appears that Israel’s plan to take over the land had become well known throughout Palestine. When news got to Barak, everyone in the region was gripped by fear because they knew that no one could defeat the Israelites.

The Canaanites appears to be living in peace with one another, hence why there were many cities built in that area. Here we read, that the peace they had wasn’t that great because they wouldn’t come together to fight Israel.

Israel had no intentions of destroying Moab, Deuteronomy 2:9, however, Balak, unfortunately for him, didn’t know this, and so, he hired Balaam to pronounce a curse upon Israel.

Remember, Balaam was religious leader who was happy to get paid to preach whatever anyone wanted him to preach if the price was right, Jude 11.

The first delegation from king Balak arrived and God told Balaam to have nothing to do with them. God’s initial words to Balaam were, ‘do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed’.

After Balaam enquired with the Lord as to what they should do, the Lord answered Balak’s messengers and told Balaam that he shouldn’t go with them. However, Balaam who was open to the seduction of money, eventually gave in to the request of Balak.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Balaam must surely have known that God’s blessing was on the people with whose marvellous march forth from Egypt he was acquainted, Exodus 15:14 / Exodus 18:1 / Joshua 2:9, and from whom he had himself probably learned much, (compare the language of Numbers 23:12 with Genesis 13:6, and that of Numbers 24:9 with Genesis 49:9). But his reply to the messengers next morning Numbers 22:13, betrays the desire to venture to the utmost of that which God would not forbid rather than to carry out God’s will in hearty sincerity.’

Notice all the officials got involved in the bribing of Balaam, however, despite saying, if he was offered silver and gold, he wouldn’t go, he still went ahead anyway. After the first visit another, more prestigious delegation came with great riches.

Balaam wanted to go with them and God allowed him to go. Balaam lusted after the riches and prestige offered to him and God gave him over to his own sin. God warned Balaam to turn back when he was on the way to see Balak. Yet his heart was set on the rich reward King Balak promised and he continued on.

Balaam even ignored a talking donkey, sent to warn him to turn back. Jude tells us that some people today are like Balaam, they are greedy, they are covetous, and willing to do any dishonourable thing whatever for the sake of money.

Balaam’s Donkey

‘Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again. Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “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?” “No,” he said. Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown. The angel of the LORD asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.” Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.” The angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials. When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. Balak said to Balaam, “Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn’t you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?” “Well, I have come to you now,” Balaam replied. “But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” Then Balaam went with Balak to Kiriath Huzoth. Balak sacrificed cattle and sheep and gave some to Balaam and the officials who were with him. The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal, and from there he could see the outskirts of the Israelite camp.’ Numbers 22:21-41

Balaam got up from bed very early in the morning for his long journey. He would be travelling with the prince from Moab. ‘Wow what an honour!’ he thought to himself, not even thinking that God may be very angry because of his disobedience.

Balaam leaped up on his trusted donkey, and along with his two servants followed right behind the prince. Everything was great, and I’m sure Balaam would have had a big smile on his face.

Here we read that God approached Balaam in three different ways, to remind him of his position in relation to Balak and the Israelites.

1. The first obstacle to prevent Balaam going to Balak came from an angel who could be seen only by the donkey, Numbers 20:16.

The angel stood in the road in order to restrict the passage of Balaam. The donkey saw an angel of the Lord with a sharp sword right there in the middle of the path, blocking the way. And so, instead of going straight ahead, she ran into a nearby field to avoid being hurt by the sword, but Balaam didn’t see anything.

He was very upset that his donkey would do such a thing. ‘How embarrassing!’ he thought, ‘you bad donkey’, and so, Balaam yelled as he beat her with a stick. Finally, he was able to get the sore donkey back on to the path.

2. The second effort to prevent Balaam was when the angel stood in the road in the vineyard in order to block again the passage of Balaam.

After going a little further, they came to a narrow passage with steep walls of rock on both sides. The donkey once again saw the angel of the Lord blocking the way. So she moved as close to the wall as possible to avoid being hurt by the sword.

But as she did, Balaam’s foot was crushed against the rocks, and he became very angry again. ‘You dumb donkey!’ Balaam yelled, as he beat her several more times with a stick.

3. The third effort of God to stop Balaam was when the angel stood in a narrow passage where it was impossible for the donkey to pass.

A little further, along the way, the angel of the Lord appeared again. Balaam still couldn’t see the angel, but the donkey could. There was no way to turn this time and the donkey thought to herself, ‘what can I do now? I can’t go left, I can’t go right, and I can’t even back up.’ She did the only thing possible and sat down right there on the path. ‘What a stupid donkey!’ Balaam cried out as he beat her even harder than before.

Notice despite these three efforts, Balaam complained to the donkey and unmercifully struck his donkey, 2 Peter 2:16. At this point he hadn’t seen the angel, but we can only imagine what was going through Balaam’s mind when the donkey started speaking to him.

Suddenly, the donkey turned to Balaam, and opened her mouth and said, ‘Hey! What did I do to you that you should beat me three times with a stick?’

For some reason, Balaam wasn’t impressed to hear a donkey talk. He only answered, ‘you made me look like a fool, not following the path, and crushing me against the wall, then sitting down like a stubborn old mule. If I only had a sword, I’d stick it in you right now’.

‘Why are you saying this?’ the donkey replied. ‘Haven’t I been faithful to you all these years, have I ever tried to harm you or make you look foolish?” Just then, Balaam saw the angel of the Lord standing there in the road. He fell to his knees and put his face very low to the ground to show his respect.

Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Balaam, ‘why are you beating your donkey? She saw me in the path and didn’t come near because she knew I would strike you with my sword. You asked me before if you could go to Moab, and I said, NO Balaam! But you went anyway. You asked for my guidance, and I tried to guide you to do the right thing, but you did not listen.’

Then Balaam realised he had sinned against the Lord. He would continue on his journey with the prince after all, but God would not let him curse His people.

The Word of the Lord was final, NO Balaam! Balaam knew that he has done wrong when he said, ‘I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.’

Did God want Balaam to go to Moab? No, He didn’t, but Balaam disobeyed God and just went right on ahead and done what he wanted to do.

And so angel of the Lord with a sword in his hand showed up on the road but only the donkey could see the angel. It wasn’t until after the donkey spoke to him, did he realise the angel was there.

After a sacrifice, Balak called upon Balaam to do what he hired him to do, that is, curse Israel, to rob them of their spiritual strength, so they could be defeated in battle.

Balaam again protests that this wasn’t in his hands. We don’t know if he really believed this, or if he just said this to cover his own back just in case he failed. If he failed, he would easily just blame God.

Go To Numbers 23


"And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Matthew 28:20