Friday

“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.” (v. 31)

Numbers 22:15-35 Friday 13 May 2016

Psalm: Psalm 91

Background

These verses are the heart of a much longer story - if you havetime, read from Numbers 22:1 - 24:13 which, whilst beingserious in its content, is surely intentionally comic in itspresentation; enjoy it!

There are four central characters:

  • Balak, King of Moab, a land which has long been an enemy ofIsrael
  • Balaam, apparently a diviner from Syria, who prophesies formoney and is known for his accuracy but is not of the Hebrewpeople
  • Balaam's donkey, the hero
  • the angel of the Lord, representing Yahweh, the God of theIsraelites

Balak is afraid of attack from Israel, so sends messengers andmoney to Balaam asking him to prophecy against Israel, to curse thethreatening armies. Despite repeated invitations and escalatingbribes, Balaam refuses to do so. That Balaam's reason for this isrooted in apparent conversations with Yahweh is absolutelyremarkable for, as noted above, Balaam is not a Hebrew, not one ofthe people of Israel, but a foreigner. Possibly his refusals areexpressed in this way because it is the conviction of thestory-teller that Yahweh must be the God consulted by Balaam.However Balaam's words in verse 18 have come about they aresignificant. (Old Testament figures as great as Moses (Numbers 20:11) and Saul (1Samuel 15:19) should take note.)

Having refused even an unlimited reward (verse 18), Balaam isvisited by God in the night and told to return with the messengersafter all. This he does, riding on his donkey. Immediately God'smind does a reverse, and suddenly the angel of the Lord is sent tooppose Balaam's progress. Three times he does so, blocking the pathof Balaam. Each time the donkey, but not Balaam, sees the angel andtakes measures to avoid him, detouring into a field, squeezinground by a wall (hurting Balaam's' foot) and, finally when there isno alternative route, lying down in the road. On each occasion theperception of the beast is unjustly rewarded with a beating fromits master. Righteously indignant the donkey now addresses Balaamquestioning the beatings. Surely Balaam's response to this shouldbe amazement that his donkey can speak but there is no hint ofthat, rather he answers him rationally, justifying his harshtreatment! An exchange of logic follows in which Balaam agrees thatthe donkey's apparently recalcitrant behaviour is out ofcharacter.

One wonders where this all might end, but thankfully the Lordnow opens Balaam's eyes, so the angel of the Lord becomes visibleto him as well, and, like the animal, his response is to fall onhis face. The angel addresses Balaam in words which echo his ownrebuke to the donkey ("I would have killed you" (v. 33)), Balaamconfesses his sin (not recognising the presence of God?) and offersto return home. In a bizarre ending to a bizarre tale, however, heis bidden to continue - the final result being unaltered from theoutset. Reading into the subsequent chapters reveals that theseexperiences of the donkey are further paralleled in Balak'sexperience with Balaam.


To Ponder

  • This story forms one link in a distinguished chain in Scripturewhere God is revealed in unlikely people (cf Isaiah45:1, Matthew 2:1 for just two examples). How can webe better prepared for the unexpected?!
  • Can you think of times when, for some reason, you have notrecognised the presence of God? What happened?
  • Reflect on verse 3 of 'There is no moment of my life' (StF 482) wherethe writer catches something of the paradox of sight andblindness. 


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