Israel’s 40 years of desert wandering were almost over. God’s people were moving north along the eastern boundary of Moab. Soon they would turn west and wage war against the land of Canaan.
Balak, king of Moab, felt trapped and afraid. What if the formidable Israelites invaded and seized his territory? Perhaps Balak had trusted that Sihon and Og would defeat the Hebrews, but Israel’s easy victory over these Amorite kings crushed his hopes.
Since Moab’s army was no match for Israel, Balak turned to a darker power. He sent messengers to Pethor, a village by the river Euphrates. The famous diviner Balaam lived there. If rewarded with a large sum, would he come to Moab and curse Israel?
Balaam was a man of divided loyalties. He respected the Lord but also loved money. The invitation to curse Israel stirred up conflicting desires. God didn’t want Balaam to curse his people – but Balaam wanted the handsome reward. Would the Lord reconsider?
God relented. Balaam was to accompany the princes of Moab, but he was to submit to divine direction. He was to say only what the Lord revealed to him. “Go,” however, was the only thing the diviner seemed to hear. He eagerly mounted his donkey and began the journey to Moab.
Balaam’s shameless greed made God angry. The Lord sent an angel to block his way. The donkey saw the angel with his drawn sword and turned out of the road. Balaam struck her. Then the angel stood on a narrow path between vineyards. The donkey pressed Balaam’s foot against the vineyard wall. He struck her again. The angel appeared on the path once more, this time in a place so tight that turning was impossible. The donkey lay down under Balaam. Infuriated, he struck her with his staff.
Then God did a strange thing. He gave the donkey speech. She asked Balaam why he was mistreating her. Balaam said that she had made a fool of him. He wished that he had a sword in his hand so that he could kill her.
That’s when Balaam saw the angel with the drawn sword. He instantly realized that the donkey had saved his life. He bowed his head and prostrated himself. Then the angel of the Lord repeated the animal’s question: “Why have you struck your donkey these three times?” (Num. 22:32).
Why have you struck your donkey? Thought-provoking question. Why do people mistreat animals? Balaam’s anger seems to be the issue. He’s so frustrated that he argues with his donkey instead of wondering at her speech. Anyone who mistreats animals or children has a terrible anger problem. If that’s you, ask God for forgiveness and seek professional help.