Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Balaam and His Donkey

Balaam and His Donkey

This is Christ the King Sunday. The last Sunday in our church calendar year. This Sunday reminds us that the ultimate understanding of our Lord Jesus is as our King, our ruler, the ultimate authority in our life. Today before the beginning of a new church year, before we begin our wonderful season of Advent, we take a moment to remember who this baby we will celebrate turns out to be - Christ Jesus who ascends to the throne and sits at the right hand of God and from there we are to see Jesus as our King - the one to whom we look to rule all aspects of our lives.
A while back during one of the Bible Study classes the passage we were looking out referenced this man named Balaam and someone suggested we have a message on Balaam because they didn’t know who he was. And when I thought about this Christ the King Sunday, for some reason Balaam came to mind because the account of Balaam’s life teaches us the importance of giving Jesus our allegiance as king, the importance of paying attention to Jesus’ rule in our lives.
So let’s look at this man named Balaam. It is significant that the people of God are a real peripheral part of this story. The Hebrews are mentioned, but they don’t have a key part in what is going on. That’s part of the point of the story – that God can use even people that are not part of the people of God, people who are not even believers in the one true God to do what he needs done or to teach us something important about being God’s people. About through someone outside of God’s people to teach us how we really need to look to God for our instruction and our obedience. Balaam was not a Hebrew, he was not a believer in God, in fact he was not even a worshipper of idols. Balaam was a free lance giver of blessings and curses and would work with any group of people who worshipped whatever god. It appears that Balaam was sort of the world renowned blesser and curser. This was a time in history when people truly believed that certain people could bless or curse others and it would really happen. So you would hire Balaam to bless or curse an individual you knew, or leaders of countries would hire him to bless or curse other countries and it seemed to work! Balaam was known to be the best in his field!
As our story about Balaam begins, the Hebrew people are in the process of the conquest of the Promised Land. Remember they wandered through the desert of the Sinai for 40 years on their way to the promised land – the land of Israel today - but God didn’t just give them the land, they had to go in and militarily conquer it. Of course, God told them he would help them as long as they called on him to help and trusted in how he told them they should defeat certain cities and certain nations. The Hebrew’s were doing a pretty good job of defeating the people who were there and occupying the land and so the leaders of neighboring countries were getting nervous as to whether or not these people of God were going to come after them next. The King of Moab was one such king. He was scared of these people of God and scared of what they were going to do to him and to his country should they decide to come and invade his nation. So the King of Moab, a man named Balak, decided to hire Balaam to come and curse the Hebrew people so if they did invade his nation of Moab they would fail. So the King of Moab sent an envoy to Balaam to ask Balaam to come to Moab and curse the people of God.
So the team from the King of Moab arrives at Balaam’s house and tells him what they want to hire Balaam to come and curse the Israelites. You see the Israelites are camped on the border of Moab and Balak is really getting nervous. But Balaam is very serious about his work and so he tells the envoy that he must spend some time in a trance to see if this was really what he was supposed to be doing. So Balaam goes into a special room and into his trance and comes back to the envoy and tells them that the God of the Hebrew people spoke to him and that the Hebrews were endowed with a special blessing that Balaam did not have the power to reverse. These people, Balaam said, were ‘uncursable.’ So the envoy travels back to Moab and reports to Balak the King.
Balak assumes that Balaam is just playing hard to get and that he had just not offered Balaam enough money, so Balak sends the envoy back with a sweeter deal to try and entice Balaam to come and curse God’s people. Not

only was Balaam going to be given a large sum of money, but when he got to Moab, it would also be given a position of the highest honor in the nation and the power that goes with such an honor. But Balaam, it appears is a man of integrity and he will only bless or curse if the god of whatever people he is dealing with will allow him to do so. Keep in mind that Balaam believes in everyone’s gods, no god is better or worse than the other, and works and listens to them all. So for Balaam, the Lord God of the Hebrew people, our God, is just another god to him. But this time when Balaam goes into his trance to talk to this God of the Hebrews, the one who had told him not to go last time, now tells Balaam to go ahead and go to Moab – but God tells Balaam, Balaam is to say exactly what God tells him to say and Balaam is to be completely obedient to God whatever God tells him to do. So Balaam tells the team from Moab to go and tell King Balak that he will come. The team of ambassadors goes back to Moab and in the meantime Balaam prepares to head out. He gets out his donkey and packs an overnight bag and then Balaam and his donkey head out to Moab.
Now it appears as if Balaam has had a change of heart along the journey. The money and power sound good to him and so he’s thinking that regardless what this god had said to him, he was going to go ahead and curse the Hebrews. And this makes God angry. So Balaam is riding his donkey and all of a sudden the donkey veers off the road and into a field. Turns out the donkey had seen an angel standing in the middle of the road with a big sword ready to kill Balaam – but Balaam hadn’t seen this angel and couldn’t figure out what the donkey was doing and he began to beat the poor donkey who bypasses the angel by going in the field and now continues down the road. You’ve heard that old saying “No good deed goes unpunished”. That is what is happening here. God is trying to get Balaam’s attention to get him to do what he had said he would do and not curse Israel, but Balaam isn’t paying attention – yet the donkey is and for saving Balaam’s life, he gets beaten. A little while farther down the road, the same thing happens again. But this time they are in a narrow part of the path and the angel is standing to one side with his big sword, and the donkey is just able to squeeze by the angel but it so doing, Balaam’s leg is grazed by a retaining wall. Here again, the donkey has saved Balaam’s life and Balaam beats and curses the donkey for grazing his leg against the wall. The donkey continues on with Balaam on his back through an even narrower path, and the sword yielding angel is standing in the middle of the road and the path is so narrow the donkey cannot get around this angel this time so to save Balaam’s life, the donkey just lays down. Well Balaam just loses it and begins screaming at the donkey and beating him and telling him to get up and get going and all manner of nasty words toward this donkey when the donkey turns his head around to Balaam and says, “What is your problem? I have been your donkey for years and have traveled numerous times with you and have always taken you where you need to go. Don’t you figure something odd is going on here if
I am acting this way? Don’t you have any faith in me at all?”
At this moment Balaam looks up and sees the angel and his sword and realizes that this poor donkey has been trying all along just to save Balaam’s life. The angel says to Balaam, the God of the Hebrew people has sent me to remind you that you are only to do what God tells you to do. With this new experience, Balaam learned not only the power of this Hebrew God, but that he really needed to do what he had promised to do all along and go to Moab and do only what this God led him to do.
The point for us being, that we are often blind to what God is trying to get us to do. We just blunder along, trying to do things our way, ignoring what God what wants us to do; even though God sends us message after message, God speaks to us through happenings or our thoughts or other people and we just don’t get it because we are so focused on doing what we want or doing it our way. So we are blinded to what is right in front of us, just like Baalam.
Jesus our King sends us his spirit which is all around us and trying to guide us to live as his people and he tells us that if we will just pay attention, if we will just listen to him then things will work out the way they should. So when all the normal ways to get our attention don’t work, he will try something foolish or unexpected like a talking donkey…….
The story of Balaam reminds us that if we would just open our eyes and our ears, if we would just spend some time considering Jesus the king of our life, if we would just listen to him, then we would know that Jesus is always there leading us and guiding us and instructing us in the way we should go – and we could avoid a lot of the turmoil we feel within ourselves – if we would just pay attention to the leadership and care of our King. He is there, we just have to look and repeat who he is! Amen!