Thursday, February 18, 2010

When a donkey'd better listen!

As I am reading through the book of Numbers I come across stories of disobedience, punishment, leprosy, plagues, earthquakes, killer snakes and on and on. It can get quite depressing at times. I sometimes find myself saying "Why are you doing this to these people Lord?" or "Why don't you dense Israelites get it?" As I am reading all of this negative stuff I come across the story of Balak and Balaam in Numbers 22. This is a story that when you read it you are not sure if you should laugh or cry or both. Let me try to summarize the story. Balak was the king of Moab. As Moses and the Israelites approached Moab, Balak saw how many people there were and got very nervous thinking that maybe they would attack him. He called on Balaam, a prophet, to put a curse on them. Balaam said (paraphrased) Let me talk to God and see what He says. If He is ok with me cursing them then I will curse them, however if He is not ok with me cursing them then I will not do it. Well, God says no you cannot curse those people because I have blessed them. Had Balaam simply told Balak what God said and walked away things probably would have been fine for Balaam. However, as with many of us, when we don't like what God says we try to figure out if we can get God to change His mind. Maybe if I rephrase my question, or maybe if I give God a few days to think about it He will see the error of His way and realize that my way is really the better way. This is exactly what Balaam did but guess what, God did not change His mind. God does not change His mind. He knows the consequences of our actions even before we decide to do the wrong thing. 

Numbers 23: 19- God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

After Balaam goes to God a second time God has not changed His mind about not letting him curse Israel but he allows Balaam to go to Balak. Balaam saddles his donkey and sets out for his meeting with Balak.  Along the way God sends the angel of the LORD to block the donkey's path three times. Balaam does not see the angel but the donkey does and gets frightened each time. When the donkey encounters the Angel of the LORD she reacts in a way that really gets on Balaam's nerves, one time she lies down, one time she presses Balaam up against the wall injuring his foot and one time she turns off the path she is on. Each time the donkey does this, Balaam beats her. What happens next is funny but sad. God opens the mouth of the donkey and she and Balaam begin a dilogue:

Numbers 22: 28-34 - 28 Then the LORD opened the donkey's mouth, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?" 29 Balaam answered the donkey, "You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now." 30 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.  31 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. 32 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. 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her." 34 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."

How crazy is this? Verse 29 makes it sound as if Balaam always talks to donkeys. He did not say "What is going on here?", or "Who is talking, surely it is not the donkey?" Balaam's mind was so focused on getting what he wanted, it seems as though he lost touch with reality. As I read this I thought about my desire to get what I want, my desire to ignore what God is telling me. But look at what God says in verse 32 - I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. God did not want Balaam to go down the path he was going down and God took drastic measures to stop him. The angel of  the LORD said He would have killed Balaam if the donkey had not done what she did. From the time God put man on the earth we have been defying God and disobeying Him. We have been going exactly where God does not want us to go. Instead of just letting us go with no hope of getting off the wrong path, He took drastic measures to save us. This culminated at the cross some 2000 years ago. 

Later in Numbers 23 God uses Balaam in a mighty way to show Balak how God is going to bless the nation of Israel. Story after story in the Bible shows us how God does not cast us aside when we blow it, He gives us a second chance just like He gave Balaam a second chance, just like He gave Peter a second chance, just like He gave Paul a second chance, and on and on. God is a God of second and third and forth chances. Don't wait for a talking donkey to confront you, if you are on the wrong path confess it to God and get back on track. God would love to use you in a might way.

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