Our story, which can be found in more detail in Numbers 22-25, goes something like this (for the ‘entire scoop’ you are encouraged to read it for yourself!):
There once was a man named Balak. He was king of a place called Moab. The Moabites were enemies of God’s chosen people, the Israelites. King Balak of Moab was afraid of these Israelites and sought for a way to destroy them. He knew of a man of great prominence in the community, whose name was Balaam. In short, when Balaam spoke, people listened. He was, you might say, like some of those ‘financial advisors’ are on Wall Street. When they say, ‘Don’t invest in a certain company,’ people don’t invest. That one ‘word’ could destroy the whole company! Balak sought for a way to destroy the Israelite people, and so offered Balaam money in order to ‘curse’ the people for him. In other words, in today’s terms, you might say that Balak was trying to bribe a very influencial financial advisor to say, ‘Don’t invest’ in a certain company! In this case, that ‘company’ of people was the Israelites!
Balaam was ‘into’ the money … he wanted that money pretty badly and was willing to do what Balak asked. Knowing this, God ‘intercepted’ Balaam and told him, ‘You shall not go with them [with the messengers of Balak in order to see Balak and curse the Israelites]. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed!’ (Numbers 22:12) God forbad Balaam from even going because he knew that the motives of Balaam’s heart were impure. But the messengers of Balak kept ‘pushing’ Balaam to come. So Balaam decided to ‘ask God again’ if he could go. You can imagine Balaam being like a child to his father. His father said, ‘Don’t go’ the first time, but Balaam refused to go along with that! He still wanted to go! Surprisingly, this time, God said, ‘Go … but only the word which I speak to you — that you shall do.’ (Numbers 22:20). In this, you might say, God was now giving a ‘concession’. God’s ‘best’ then, was that Balaam not go.
Later on, we read that, as Balaam was riding his donkey to see Balak, that the ‘angel of the Lord’ stood in the way in order to prevent Balaam from going any further. It even says that God’s anger was aroused because he went! (Numbers 22:22) A simple explanation for this is that Balaam still wasn’t ‘pure in heart’ in terms of his motives for going, by the time he got on that donkey. Like a good father who disciplines those whom he loves (see Hebrews 12), God set his face against Balaam because he knew that what Balaam still wanted to do was not right: In the end, it would not be good for Balaam, or for anybody, if Balaam ‘got away’ with cursing the people (especially since God had said earlier that whomever curses the Israelites will themselves be cursed!). God then sent his angel to ‘stop him dead in his tracks’. The problem was, Balaam could not see the angel! Now here’s the point.
The donkey was able to see the angel all right, and so came to a stop and lay down (rather than getting killed by the angel, who had a rather large sword drawn in his hand!). Balaam didn’t see this, and so took his anger out on the donkey. In all, Balaam struck his donkey three times. If you have read the story, you will know that what follows is ‘very unusual’: The donkey talks to Balaam. The question is: Why? Why does Balaam’s donkey talk to Balaam? I would like to suggest that the real ‘person’ who was doing the ‘talking’ was not the donkey, but God himself. God was merely using the donkey’s voice as his chosen ‘mouthpiece’. The evidence to strongly suggest this is that the first words of the angel (once Balam recognized him) were essentially the identical words that the donkey also spoke.
First words of the donkey: ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ (Numbers 22:28)
First words of the angel, once Balaam’s eyes were opened: ‘Why have you struck your donkey these three times?’ (Numbers 22:32)
What’s the point? The point is, that when God said to Balaam, ‘Go … but only the word which I speak to you — that you shall do,’ it is evident that Balaam heard the ‘go’ part of God’s concession, but seemed to have failed to have ‘heard’ the ‘only the word which I speak to you — that you shall do’ part (and that is why God was against him — he knew that Balaam was about to do the opposite to which he had just commanded him). So God intercepted him. But God, in his graciousness, wanted to ‘reach’ Balaam’s heart. He knew that he (God) did not have much ‘favor’ with Balaam at that point. In other words, Balaam was not really in a ‘listening mode’ with God, but rather a ‘doing his own thing’ mode! How then could God ‘reach’ this seemingly ‘unreachable’ person? Ah …. this is where the donkey part comes in beautifully. You see, Balaam’s real ‘friend’ at this point was not God, but the donkey! God then spoke through the mouth of the donkey (the one that Balaam would listen to), knowing that this would be a better method to be able to ‘reach’ Balaam’s seemingly ‘unreachable’ heart!
At some point along the way (we hope!), Balaam’s mind was ‘alerted’ to the fact that ‘donkeys don’t speak!’ And so, the ‘clue’ had been given that ‘God was in this somehow’. It was at this point that Balaam’s spiritual eyes were opened up wide, and he saw the angel of the Lord, standing right there, with sword drawn! God had gotten his message across. ‘Balaam … what is in your heart?’ This was God’s ‘main’ question. ‘Why are you going? What do you want? Are you pursuing me or the money? Balaam, are you serving me?’ If you are familiar with Matthew 6:33, you will know that it says, ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’
In concluding, I’d like to say that I think this passage speaks a lot about God’s desire to ‘reach us’ in our deep insides and to help us understand what is making us tick. He uses whatever circumstances are at his disposal to speak with us, to get us to ‘open up and be real’ with him — for the purposes of helping us to serve him better, more effectively, and ‘to the absolute fullest of our potential’ (praise God!).
The other thing is that, as Christians who have the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to be ‘God’s mouthpiece’ to others in much the same way that the donkey was ‘God’s mouthpiece’ to Balaam (yes, believe it or not!). As an example, many people won’t come to church — they would rather stay at work late and just ‘work work work’ till they drop! To them, ‘that is what is important’. Well, as ‘God’s mouthpiece’ who also happen to be working with some of these people, he wants to use us to ‘invade the workplace’ as it were, and reach these people for Christ! We do it slowly, pursuasively, without ‘pushing’ Christ on people. Yet, we will see ‘supernaturally’ (yes!) doors opening wide for us to literally ‘present Christ’ to many of those around us. We must, in fact, ‘see with spiritual eyes’ who it is that God has given us opportunity to share with.
May God so bless us, and enable us to be his ‘talking mouthpiece,’ so like Paul himself wrote to the Corinthians, we may also speak to others, ‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us, we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God!’ (2 Corinthians 5:20)