A large number of Israelites were about to walk through Moabite land with their animals on the way to the Promised Land. The leader of the Moabite people, King Balak, was afraid for such a large group of people to walk through his territory. As a result, Balak hired Balaam, a prophet and seer of the Divine, to curse the Hebrew people. Balaam asks God about this idea. Balaam gets his donkey and rides towards the Hebrew people in order to curse them. This is what God does in response.”
Numbers 22:22-35 (NRSV)
God’s anger was kindled because Balaam was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again. Then the angel of the Lord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way 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 Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” And he said, “No.”
Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face. The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.” The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but speak only what I tell you to speak.” So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.
Bible Story Continued
The next morning, Balaam tells King Balak to build him seven altars and then sacrifice seven bulls and seven rams. Despite the sacrificial offerings, God tells Balaam what to say and then Balaam blessesthe Hebrew people. Balak is annoyed. King Balak tries a second time, moving to a new place, building new altars and making new sacrifices. A second time Balaam can only bless the Hebrew people. King Balak is even more annoyed. King Balak decides to try a third time, again moving to a new place, building new altars and making new sacrifices. A third time Balaam can only bless the Hebrew people and he even curses King Balak! Finally, both King Balak and Balaam give up on cursing the Hebrew people. No matter the circumstances, our loving God is always working towards goodness in and around us. In this instance, Balaam’s lack of cursing gave better space for God to work.”
Digging Deeper Questions
Have you ever been going in one direction and then discovered you went the wrong way? How does that feel?
What do you think makes something good?
How is God bringing goodness into your life right now?
Balaam eventually speaks with God before going to curse the Hebrew people. Have you ever checked with God before you did something? Why did you do that?
How would you feel if you had a talking animal set you straight in your ways?
How can we recognize God’s goodness unfolding around us without angels, talking donkeys or other miracles?
Have you ever been asked to do something when you felt you had no or little choice in the matter? How does that feel?
God prevents Balaam from cursing the Israelites. What do you think this reveals about God?
Do you think God still works to bring goodness into the world, even while bad things are happening to us? Why or why not?
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