Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Look at the Life of Balaam, Part 4

Leslie Basham: When God allows something difficult in your life, you could look at it as His gift to you. Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: If our way is perverse before God, what a mercy it is when God sets out to oppose us in that way. Isn't that what we need?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, October 8, 2015.

Have you heard the Bible story about the talking donkey? If God can speak that way, what wonders might He have for your life? We'll explore that as Nancy continues the series "Blessings and Curses: A Look at the Life of Balaam." We're on day four of this seven-part series.

Nancy: Well, today we get to the part of the story of Balaam that everybody's familiar with, if they're familiar with any part of it. It's about the talking donkey, right? Just for those who may not have been with us the last few sessions, you can go back and get it all at ReviveOurHearts.com.

You remember that Balak, the King of Moab, wants to curse the Israelites to diminish them, to diminish the threat, the possibility, of them coming and taking over Moab . . . which they were not going to do anyway, but Balak doesn't know that. So he sends to Balaam (the names are easy to confuse).

Balaam was a false prophet, the New Testament tells us, who lived about four hundred miles north of Moab in Mesopotamia, near the Euphrates River. He was a soothsayer; he was a sorcerer, and he had a reputation for being able to do magical incantations and to verbalize curses that would actually inflict damage or harm on people.

So Balaam asked the Lord, "Shall I go?" And God said, what? "No! Don't go. Don't curse these people, for I have blessed them." But Balaam really wants to go, why? Money! He loves money. He loves fame; he loves prestige; he loves honor, and he has a chance to get all of that if he will do this job. This is what he does for a living—divination—and Balak's offering him a lot of money.

So Balaam asks God again, "Can I go?" And this time, in His permissive will, God says, "Okay, you can go." But it wasn't God's revealed, or perceptive will. Balaam is having his own way. So God sends an angel—and we think the angel is probably a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ Himself—who stands in the way of that donkey and his rider, Balaam.

At first, the donkey sees the angel, Balaam doesn't. Balaam is angry at the donkey because the donkey is not moving forward. Neither would you if you saw an angel of the Lord with a sword in his hand,headed your direction! So the donkey has more sense, more insight, than Balaam does at this point.

Now we come to Numbers 22:28, what is yet another miracle in this whole story. It's a story that's about God. God can do and will do whatever He needs to do to accomplish His eternal purposes, even in this case doing what He does in verse 28: "Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam . . ." So, the donkey talks!

This is not fiction; this is not folklore; this is not a fairytale. This is a true account. God works around and in spite of and beyond the normal course of nature, the normal course of things, and enables this animal to talk to Balaam. The donkey says, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?"

And Balaam said to the donkey, "Because you have made a fool of me." Now, it's actually Balaam who is making a fool of himself, as we've seen in this passage. Balaam continues, "I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you" (v. 29) This donkey that is keeping him from doing what he thinks he wants to do is standing in his way, and Balaam has not yet seen the angel. He just thinks his donkey is being stubborn.

Commenting on this passage, 2 Peter 2:16 tells us: "[Balaam] was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness." The prophet was going crazy. He was losing it. He was angry; he was out of control.

And so God stepped into the situation (God had already stepped into the situation in the form of this angel) by making a speechless donkey speak with a human voice and thereby restraining the prophet from his lunacy, from his madness.

Well, Balaam is so furious and so irrational at this point that it doesn't strike him as odd to be carrying on a conversation with his donkey. He's completely oblivious to the fact that the angel of the Lord, perhaps Christ Himself, is standing in front of him with a sword in his hand!

That angel could easily have killed Balaam. In fact, down in verse 33 (we haven't gotten there yet) the angel says that he was prepared to do just that, to kill Balaam, if the donkey tried to plow through this roadblock. And Balaam is oblivious to how God how is trying to protect him, to hedge up his way, to hem in his way, so that God can get his attention.

And now, Balaam curses the donkey! He's been sent to curse the Israelites. God has said, "Don't curse them, because I want to bless them," but he curses the donkey.

You say, "Well, I don't see any cursing."

He says to the donkey, "I wish you were dead!"

That's a curse . . . words that are intended to inflict harm or that express a desire for harm or damage to another person, or in this case to a donkey. Now, Balaam has given the impression to this point (if you just are reading the text on the surface) that he is a godly man. He says, "The Lord my God."

He prays twice; he says, "Let me see what God will say." He said God came to him, God spoke to him. You might read all this and think, This is a godly man. But what he says now reveals his true heart. As Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34).

Words spoken under pressure reveal your real heart, whether you are wise or foolish, whether you are godly or ungodly—wicked. It's not the words that I speak in this room when I've got all these nicely prepared study notes and we've got an audience. I know I'm making an impression on you and leaving an image. I'm not going to curse you with my words today, likely. I pray God I wouldn't! But it's in the heat of the moment, off the platform, behind the scenes when other people don't see or know. It's the things you say to your animal when you get mad that reveal what's really in your heart.

When you squeeze a lemon, what comes out? What kind of juice? Lemon juice. What comes out when it's squeezed is a give-away, a dead give-away, to what's inside. Now, that lemon might look like an orange or it might be painted green and look like a pear or something. But it's not what it looks like that tells what it really is. It's what happens when it gets squeezed.

So the question is, when you get squeezed, when I get squeezed, what comes out? When something's not going my way, when there are restraints in my life, when things are hemming me in, when the road is narrow, when I'm exhausted, when somebody in my life is speaking words that are harsh or hasty or is not being kind. What comes out when you get squeezed?

You say, "Well, I wouldn't have talked that way if my two-year-old wouldn't have filled the dryer with water or painted the living room furniture with butter. She just made me that way!" No, God used that child, like this donkey in Balaam's life, to squeeze you, to press you in, to draw a reaction out of you that reveals what was in your heart all along! So Balaam's heart is being revealed.

Now, what Balaam doesn't realize is that the donkey is actually blessing him. Balaam's cursing the donkey; the donkey is blessing Balaam. It never occurred to Balaam that God is trying to stop him from making this trip. Is God perhaps trying to stop you from heading a wrong direction? Then don't curse the circumstance, don't blast the people who are making your way difficult. Step back and say, "Maybe God is trying to get my attention."

Balaam said, "If I could, I'd kill you!" to the donkey. This is what ungodly people want to do to those who challenge their evil ways, those who put up obstacles to their evil ways. You see this in our culture all the time. The culture is essentially saying, "If we could, we'd get rid of you Christians because you bug us, you bother us, you're in our way. You keep giving us this moral stuff, and you keep calling us to repentance, saying we're wrong. We don't want anybody to point out or say anything is wrong about our way."

So they want to get rid of us. In some parts of the world they are literally getting rid of Christians. "If I could, I'd kill you!" That explains a lot of the anger toward believers today. But Balaam's words, Balaam's anger, is making plain for everyone to see the heart connection between anger and murder (which Jesus talked about in Matthew 5: not only the act, but also the angry words . . . and Balaam is showing that connection).

Well, verse 30, "The donkey said to Balaam, 'Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?' And [Balaam] said, 'No.'" Now, in the King James translation he says, "Naaaayyy." [laughter] I thank Dr. Ligon Duncan for pointing that out in his sermons on Numbers.

In this case, it's the donkey that is the one making sense. He's the one with the voice of reason. And in effect, the donkey is saying to Balaam, "Look, something unusual is going on here! This has never happened before. You're the one who's supposed to be able to discern the times. You're the prophet, the seer—but you are clueless on this one!"

So much human cursing is unreasonable—it's unfounded; it's senseless; it's undeserved; it's foolish; it's based on inaccurate assumptions, not having all the facts. So when others curse you, when our pagan culture curses Christians, remember that sometimes it has nothing at all to do with us. It has to do with what's going on in their own hearts and their desire to have their own way.

It's easy for us to get angry and, so to speak, curse others because we can't see what God is doing. We want to get rid of what we think is the problem or the obstacle, which may actually be God's way of protecting us (as this angel was, in Balaam's case).

Then, Numbers 22:31 says, "Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand." As I've read this passage, my prayer has been, "Oh, Lord. Open my eyes to see You in my circumstances and to see what You are doing!" Ask God to open your eyes.

"And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, 'Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me'" (v. 32). There should be no uncertainty now about what God thinks about what Balaam is doing.

"Your way is perverse before me." This is Christ speaking. Balaam's sin was against God, and the root sin was the love of money. He loved gain from wrongdoing, 2 Peter tells us. So if our way is perverse before God, what a mercy it is when God sets out to oppose us in that way.

Isn't that what we need and what we want, deep down, if we really belong to Him? If my way is perverse before God, twisted, contrary to His Word, I don't want Him to let me keep going, heading down that foolish road. I want Him to oppose me; I want Him to love me enough to stop me in my tracks . . . and you do as well.

Numbers 22:33–34 the angel continues speaking, "'The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.'" The angel is saying in other words, "The donkey that you cursed, that you struck, that you were so angry with, actually protected your life and blessed you."

"Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, 'I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.' And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, 'Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.' So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak" (vv. 34–35).

So, is Balaam truly repentant? He says, "I have sinned!" I don't think so. God had told him not to go. God had told him that what he was doing was perverse in God's eyes. And now Balaam says, "If it is evil in your sight . . ." I don't think he's repentant.

So in response to Balaam's determined stubborn hard heart (you think of donkeys as being stubborn? Balaam is the real stubborn one in this case), God says, "Okay, have it your way." He gives him over to his sinful desires, sends him on a path of judgment, and that's why we should pray, "God, if You're not pleased with the direction I'm heading, please don't let me go that way. Please!"

Now, God is going to turn Balaam's efforts to curse the Israelites into a means of blessing for the Israelites. So who's in control? God is! Don't forget it as you read this story, and as you live your own story.

Well, Balaam finally arrives before Balak, the King of Moab. Numbers 22:36: "When Balak heard that Balaam had come, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, on the border formed by the Arnon, at the extremity of the border. And Balak said to Balaam, 'Did I not send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I not able to honor you?'"

That's just what Balaam wanted to hear, right? He wanted, he craved, human honor more than he wanted the reward of pleasing and obeying God.

"Balaam said to Balak, 'Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.' [He's learning something. He's learning he's not really in control.] Then Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth. And Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent for Balaam and for the princes who were with him. and in the morning Balak took Balaam and brought him up to Bamoth-baal, and from there he saw a fraction of the people [the people of Israel]" (vv. 39–41).

So now Balak repeatedly tries to get Balaam to curse Israel. There are going to be three rounds here, in Numbers chapters 23 and 24. Balaam utters four prophecies—sometimes called "utterances" or "oracles," they mean the same thing.

Each time, in spite of the fact that he's being paid handsomely to curse the Israelites, what comes out is not a curse, but what? A blessing!

Numbers 23:1-4: "And Balaam said to Balak, 'Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.' Balak did as Balaam had said. And Balak and Balaam offered on each altar [seven altars] a bull and a ram. And Balaam said to Balak, 'Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go. Perhaps the Lord will come to meet me, and whatever he shows me I will tell you.' And he went to a bare height, and God met Balaam. And Balaam said to him, 'I have arranged the seven altars and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.'"

Now, Balaam is still practicing pagan religion. This thing of seven altars, this is not God's way. He's using omens (we'll see this in a later part of the passage); he's using magical arts; he's using natural means to try to get supernatural revelation. This is what the occult does. We see it in many different ways that people practice it today.

But sometimes through those means, they actually can hear a word from God, gotten through forbidden means. This is very dangerous! So, here, Balaam uses these pagan means and then, verse 5: "And [God] the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth and said, 'Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.'" The Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth—the same Lord who put words in the donkey's mouth.

This says to me that it is possible to be spiritually gifted and to speak God's Word but not to be spiritually mature or have a holy life. The fact that someone speaks, at times, the Word of God, does not necessarily make them a godly person. We need to remember that, because that's the nature of so much deception today.

There are a lot of counterfeit false prophets, teachers in the so-called Christian world today—some whose books you can buy in Christian bookstores, some that you can hear on religious TV or radio, but who are false prophets, in some cases, who are deceived at best. They will sometimes say true things that are in God's Word, which is why we need to be biblically discerning and wise.

I'm thinking of a situation I've been dealing with recently. It relates to a so-called Christian worker who had a public ministry and was considered extremely effective. Many people were saved and discipled through his teaching, but as it turned out, he was not a holy man. He was a fraud. He did not have a genuine walk with God, and he has ended up doing incredible damage to those he had shepherded and to the reputation of Christ among a lot of lost people.

It's tragic! And he came to mind as I was doing this study on Balaam. Now, I'm not saying that he is like Balaam in every respect, but I think it's a modern-day example. It's possible to be proclaiming the truth of God's Word while profaning that truth in your life.

God spoke through Balaam's donkey, God spoke through Balaam. He sometimes speaks through unsanctified instruments. Listen, the fact that I speak the Word of God to you does not assure you of the condition of my heart. Only God knows that, and only God knows (and the Holy Spirit as He reveals it to me) if I am living a life that is consistent with what I'm teaching to you.

It's a serious thing. That's why James 3:1 says, "Don't let many of you be teachers," because the judgment will be more serious, more rigorous, for those who have taught the Word of God but not lived according to it. The fact that God is using you in some sense is not necessarily evidence of a genuine walk with God or of a holy heart.

Numbers 23:6–7, "And he returned to him, and behold, he and all the princes of Moab were standing beside his burnt offering. And Balaam took up his discourse and said . . ." Before we read what he said, just a reminder that Balaam is a false prophet, but God uses him in this instance to proclaim words that are from God and that are true.

He wants to say a curse on Israel—that's what he's being paid to do—but instead, what comes out, under the inspiration and control of the Holy Spirit, beyond himself, are words of blessing. So we have here, beginning in verse 7, Balaam's first of four prophecies or oracles.

"From Aram Balak has brought me, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains: 'Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!'" That's what Balak had said to Balaam. Balaam is repeating that call, that challenge. Why is it that Balak wanted Israel to be cursed? Let's remind ourselves . . . because Balak knew that the source of Israel's strength was supernatural.

He wants to strip them by means of these words of cursing of spiritual strength so they can be defeated in battle. In response to that, now with God putting words in his mouth. As if he can't help himself, Balaam says, "How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?" (23:8)

I just wonder, when Balaam said this, if he was looking around like, Who said that?! This is not what he wanted to say. He wanted to get the money, and what he was being paid to do was curse Israel. But what comes out are these words, "How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?"

When we pick back up in the next session, we will continue with this first oracle, but let me just stop there for a moment and say, if you are a child of God, God has determined to bless you, and no one—no one!—can successfully curse you. They may say harmful words, they may say hurtful words, destructive words, but those words cannot take root in your soul and impact or change your life if God wants to bless you.

God's blessing in your life is stronger than any curse that anyone can put upon you. Think about that as you think about the difficult people in your life, the people who speak angry hateful words against you—the people in our culture who speak disparaging hateful words about Christ and Christ-followers.

Remember that if God chooses to bless you, their curses cannot take. God is in ultimate control and no one and nothing can touch you apart from His permission.

So, oh Lord we thank you, mid-stream in this prophecy here, for that assurance that if You have chosen to bless us no one can curse us. So we receive Your blessing, the blessing of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus the Son, amen. 

Leslie: Did you realize the story of a greedy prophet and a talking donkey can have such big ramifications on our lives? Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing us how this story relates to our consistency. Does the way you live match the way you talk? God's Word is very practical, and I love how Nancy pulls the life and truth out from the Bible and makes it real for us in 2015.

If you appreciate that, too, you can be part of this ministry and keep the teaching coming each weekday. We rely on gifts from listeners just like you. When you support the ministry this month with a gift of any size, we'll show our thanks by giving you the 2016 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar.

The theme this year is "Cry Out!" Each month you'll read a quote about crying out to God in prayer. These quotes are from women with a passion for prayer, people like Joni Eareckson Tada, Ann Graham Lotz, Shirley Dobson, and our host, Nancy, just to mention a few.

I think you'll appreciate the artwork and enjoy putting this year-long call to prayer in your home. Ask for the calendar "Cry Out!" when you call with your donation of any size. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. We'll send one calendar per household for your gift.

As a child of God, do you have to be afraid of evil curses, of magic or bad luck? That's tomorrow's question. Nancy will take you back to the story of Balaam next time on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.