Now this narrative is rather lengthy, covering two chapters or more, so I'll break it into easy-to-digest pieces.
Israel, shortly after the exodus, was camped on the plains of Moab. Moab, being rather unused to such a large force travelling peacefully, was terrified of the Hebrews. King Balak got it into his head to ask the local prophet to curse Israel. This prophet was Balaam, and he was a prophet of God.
Naturally, God was rather peeved with Balak. He ordered Balaam not to go anywhere with Balak. Balaam refused at first, but upon being asked a second time, he told the messengers "tell you what... stay here tonight and I'll ask God if it's okay." Fully aware that the plan was to curse Israel.
At this point, God became angry with Balaam. He told him to go ahead and go, rather in the manner of saying "Fine. Do whatever you want."
So Balaam saddled up his faithful donkey and went to meet Balak. On the way, the donkey saw a dreadful apparition.
It is unclear whether what the donkey saw was one of the Lord's angels or God himself ("Angel of the Lord" often means that God himself appeared on Earth) I've always heard that it was God Himself, but that's not really important.
Seeing the spirit in front of her forbidding passage, the donkey turned to the side and went into a field. Balaam responded by striking her.
Once they were back on the path, the angel of the Lord appeared again, this time between two walled vineyards. Being unable to continue, the donkey responded to Balaam driving her forward by pressing up against the wall, injuring his foot. Again, Balaam beat her.
A third time, the angel of the Lord appeared in a place so narrow that the only way she could obey his warnings was to fall to her knees. Again, Balaam responded by hitting her.
As she patiently endured this abuse, she received a very unique and special blessing. She was given the ability to speak. The first thing she did with this gift was to demand of Balaam why he was hitting her.
To his credit, Balaam did not freak out. He answered plainly. "You made a fool out of me in front of everyone! If I had a sword, I'd kill you where you kneel!"
The donkey looked him squarely in the eye and said "You've ridden me ever since you got me to this day. Have you ever known me to do anything like this before?"
Balaam responds sheepishly. "Uh... no."
I expect she would have gone on to say "What makes you think I would have done this without darn good reason?" But at that moment, God enhances Balaam's sight so that he, too, can see what his donkey is seeing. As soon as he did, he fell on his face, scared witless.
The Angel of the Lord is furious over Balaam's treatment of the donkey even more than at his determination to go curse Israel. "Had she not turned away", he says. "I would have killed you and spared her." He then sends Balaam on his way with the warning "Say ONLY what I tell you!"
I believe that the angel is the Lord himself, since He identifies Himself as the source of Balaam's instructions.
From there, Balaam meets Balak and the two of them go out to curse Israel, but each time Balam opens his mouth, he blesses Israel instead. Four times this happens. What isn't recounted in this narrative is that Balaam took Balak aside and said "If you really want to neutralize this threat, send your women in to intermarry with them and turn these guys to idolatry."
I have always found Balaam's donkey to be one of the most inspiring women in the bible. I only wish we knew her name so that we could properly hold her up as an example. But like Noah's wife, she shall remain nameless this side of Heaven.
What a stark contrast between these two individuals. On one paw, you have Balaam, son of Beor. He's a prophet of God. He has fame, he has money, he has servants, he has the king of Moab offering him bribes. On the other paw, here's a lowly donkey, not even human. She's got nothing to her name. In fact she doesn't even appear to have a name. Nobody knows who she is. She has no power. Nothing.
Yet centuries later, when her story is told, she is honored and her master debased. why?
Let's look at some of the things we can learn from her life.
First of all, let's give her a name. There have been a few names chosen for her by her admirers. Mandy is one. I'd like to call her Jasmine. I don't know why, it just seems like a nice name for a lady donkey. I know that wasn't her real name, but calling her "Balaam's donkey" all the time just doesn't seem right. Not when she was so much better than him.
The first thing I notice about Jasmine is that she was faithful. It's a wonderful thing to have a faithful donkey. One fellow in India said "It is better to have a loyal donkey than a wife." She didn't complain about her circumstances. She was content to be exactly who, where and what she was, doing the job that had been given to her. (And yes... animals are perfectly capable of complaining without using words. My rat does this by jumping out of my hands and running under a bookshelf.)
She also withstood abuse without fighting back. But she was not a doormat. When she gained the power to speak, she boldly, yet politely, corrected her master.
Despite being loyal and faithful to her master, Jasmine's greatest obedience was to God. In obeying God as she did, she honored Him in a very special way. In a land where you had a god for this and a god for that, where you had to sacrifice to one idol to get a decent crop of potatoes and another if you were having trouble going potty, Jasmine accepts God's authority, thus acknowledging Him as HER God. This drives home the message that Yaweh is not like other gods. He is THE God of everything. Humans, donkeys and everything else.
But what interests me the most in this story is the way Jasmine served God even though she had nothing. Her master was a prophet of God, yet he used his position and power to do evil in God's sight. Jasmine had nothing, yet she honored God where Balaam had failed. To this day, she is an example to us.
Who among us has said that they cannot serve God because of some lack? Is it because you don't have the skills? Because you can't speak well? Because you're not smart enough? Because you don't have the money?
God is not concerned about our ability. Jasmine proves that. He gives ability to people as He sees fit. He gave Moses the power to perform miracles. He gave Solomon his wisdom. He gave Samson his super-strength. He gave Methuselah a lifespan of nearly a millenium. He gave Jasmine the ability she needed when she needed it. If God can give a donkey the power to speak the language of the moabites, why should there be any limitation to what He can give you?
According to one preacher, Jasmine served the shortest career as a prophet ever recorded in the bible. She is responsible for saving Balaam's life (at least until he sided with the moabites in battle and was killed) and possibly even altering the course of history. Of course, we know that God would not have honored curses upon Israel, but because her actions resulted in a change in Balaam's actions, information was revealed to Balak which may have changed the way the world saw israel. Of course, Moab still attacked them, but it might have changed a number of hearts. Perhaps the Gibeonites heard about what Balaam said. Perhaps the words found their way to Ruth, a moabite woman who was adopted into Israel and became an ancestor of Jesus.
That's another lesson we can learn from Jasmine. The size of your audience isn't what's important. She touched countless lives and continues to touch lives today because she preached a message of repentance to a single person in just a few sentences.
I will never be the pastor of a megachurch. (At least, I hope not!) I see at most fifteen names on this screen every saturday, usually much less. And I will confess to you that sometimes I get discouraged when there is a very small turnout. But I am not here to be popular. I am here to minister to those who need it. A lot of times, that means reaching out to people who have been so badly beaten by the balaams of the church that they won't set foot in a church buildings. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.
God places us in the situations He wants us in. He gives us the abilities we need. Sometimes we have to work pretty darn hard to obtain them, but if we are obedient, we get them. The result is that God's work is done. It may not be what we have in mind, but God is no fool. He knows how to accomplish what He sets out to do.
Jasmine was aware of a very important principle that Balaam was not. Being a donkey, this principle was probably second nature to her. It is our responsibility to conform to God's wishes, not His to conform to ours. Balaam wanted to see if God would change His mind overnight. Jasmine obeyed His wishes on the spot.
How often do we try to coax God into allowing something we know He doesn't approve of? I know I do it all too frequently. We won't get into what that entails as it may embarrass some of you, especially me.
Jasmine demonstrates that it is never more dangerous or foolish to do anything than to be for what God is against and against what He's for. This is as true today as it was in her time.
She also showed Balaam that just because God allows something doesn't mean you have His permission to do it, nor that there won't be dire consequences in the future. Balaam really needed to learn this lesson, as it is said that he was also into sorcery. ...and not academically like yours truly.
Look at all the things that God allows to go on today. Abortion... Euthanasia... Deviant sexuality... Slavery (yes, it still exists) Religious persecution... politically motivated starvation... Does God approve of these things? No. He allows us to do them because we are free. But woe to those who practce these things. Some of them are going to make Balaam seem lucky to have died in battle.
We know what happened to Balaam. He sided with the moabites against Israel and was killed with the rest of the fighters.
I often wonder whatever became of Jasmine. I like to think that she was taken as spoil by the Hebrews and given a good home. Perhaps she even got to keep the power of speech. The book never says she lost it. I am certain God saw to it that she was not left to fend for herself. after all, He cared about her and respected her.
I believe that Jasmine lives in Heaven today. Not being of the line of Adam, she would have no knowledge of right and wrong and therefore no need of salvation, being incapable of sin. Though I believe that even if she did require salvation, she would have put her faith in God without hesitation. Her life was worth more to God than Balaam's. I can't see Him just letting her vanish into nothing. I imagine she entertains a large number of visitors daily, along with a very contrite Balaam who might be working as her stablehand, if he's there at all.
In any event, she is hailed as one of the great heroes of the bible, a true honor, to be sure.
My challenge to you this week is to be like Balaam's donkey.
If you have not accepted Christ, do as she did and submit yourself to Him without hesitation.
If you have, learn to live as she did. Be content with your situation, whatever it is. Do not be afraid to do what is right. Be ready to obey God whatever He has you do, and when you do, be ready to receive His reciprocated honor and blessing.
Pastor Oren Otter
April 8, 2006
1 Corinthians 1:20-29
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
28 He chose the lowly things of thisthis world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are,
29 so that no one may boast before him.