This is a story that leaves you scratching your head because in vs. 21 we have God telling Balaam to go ahead and go see Balak, the king of Moab, even though he had told him not to go previously. Wait, first let’s set the stage. Israel is striking fear in all the people that it comes across. It’s next target was going to be Moab and the king and people of Moab were terrified because Israel was about to come up against them. So the king looks out and tries to find allies. He finds Balaam who was kind of a David figure, someone well respected as a soldier but didn’t really have nation under his care. This would be David before he became king, of course.
Balak, the king of Moab, approaches Balaam and tells him of the danger of the Israelites and that he will pay him if he were to come to his aid. As result Balaam starts out to see what proposal he is offering. God stops him and tells him to turn around in vs.13. So he does. Then later God tells him to go ahead with the people of Moab to visit the king just to see what he wants in vs.21. So he does. But then we read in vs.22 that God is pretty upset because Balaam decided to go, so somehow there is a disconnect here. Balaam didn’t get the second message that he should not go, but he is about to get that message.
Balaam, a donkey, and an angel walk into a bar… I know, that sounds like a bad joke but that is where we find ourselves in this chapter as God reveals himself through an angel but not to Balaam, but rather to his donkey. Stay with me on this one. The donkey sees an angel stopping its path, but that angel is not able to be seen by Balaam.
There is an incredible interchange between the donkey and Balaam that is worth looking at. At a certain point, after he had been beaten three times by his master, he says to his master (yes, we have a talking donkey in this story). “Have you ridden me all your life?” “Yes”. “Have I ever acted in this way before?” “No”. “Then don’t you think something peculiar is happening now that maybe, just maybe you should investigate?” Then Balaam has his eyes opened and he is able to see the angel guarding the way.
It seems like we often forget to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially people that we have known all of our life to be reliable and dependent, but then it only takes one strike and they are out. It only takes one time and we stop trusting them or thinking that they are the same people. This is a strong call to us today to not only give people the benefit of the doubt but ask questions when things seem to go in a direction that is not normal, or not usual from what you would expect from an individual.