About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapter 22

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ch. 21:1-20   ch. 21:21-40

Balak Summons Balaam (ch. 22:1 - 20)


Verse 1 tells us that Israel camped along the Jordan River.  This would be on the east side of the river.


In verses 3 and 4 we see king Balak.  He is terrified about Israel camping on his doorstep.  Israel had just undergone three decisive battles.  The number of Israelis and their power really scared him.  Verse 4 is a good descriptive way to express Balak and his people's fear.  They say that Israel will "lick them up" like an ox licks up the grass.  These people are agricultural people so they are expressing the fears in a way that is understandable to them.  They're simply afraid of being wiped out by Israel.


In verses 4 and 5 we see that Balak sent for a man named Balaam who lived near the river.  Most scholars understand this river to be the Euphrates River, which would have been about three hundred and sixty miles away to the east.  Balaam was a well known eastern mystic or polytheistic prophet.  That is, he believed in more than one god, as did all cultures back then. 


In verses 6 and 7 we see that Balak asked Balaam to curse Israel so he could fight them and win the battle.  Such a tactic of war sounds very strange to a modern person, but people living back then were much more superstitious than people today.  Everyone believed in some kind of deity or deities.  This seemed to be Balak's only hope.


Note the word "divination" in verse 7.  Simply put, this is the process by which people attempted to get in touch with the gods in order to obtain answers or help them do something.  Babylonians civilizations perfected this into an art, of which Balaam would have been one such person.


We also note in verse 7 that Balak was willing to pay Balaam for his services, which was probably a pretty hefty fee since Balaam had to come from such a long distance away, about three hundred and sixty miles. 


In verse 8 Balaam tells those whom Balak had sent to spend the night while he enquires of the Lord to see what he should do.  The word "Lord" here is "Yahweh".  The question should be asked, was Balaam really asking Yahweh, the God of Israel for an answer"?  Being a polytheistic prophet, he probably acknowledged the existence of Yahweh, so he might well have been asking for His assistance in this matter.


The text portrays Balaam to be a real prophet, not a phony.  The question is, "was he a demonic prophet or a godly prophet"?  There's somewhat of a division among Bible teachers on this point.  It is pretty clear that he consults the real God in this chapter and God answers him.  That does not prove he is a godly man.  It only proves God listened to him and answered him, and I would say for the benefit of Israel. 


Whatever the status of Balaam was, God came to him in verse 9 and spoke to him.  God initiates the conversation by asking who these men were who came to Balaam.  Of course, God knew who these men were.  If He didn't know, He would not be God.  God seems to always do this.  If you study the Old Testament, you will note that He often  asks questions that He knows the answer to.  He often times makes us verbalize our thoughts.  He just wants to converse with us.


In verse 11 Balaam answers God and tells him who these men are.    


In verse 12 God explicitly told Balaam not to go with Balak's men and not to put a curse on Israel because they were His people.  This whole passage is hard for many to figure out.  It appears that Balaam had some kind of power, sufficient power to put a curse on Israel, and that is why God said no.  Again, this raises the question, "who was this man named Balaam, and how and why did he have such power"? 


One thing we know is that Balaam came from an area very close to where Abraham came from.  There might well have been remnants of people who were not polytheistic but believed in one God, but this is very speculative, and Abraham lived hundreds of years prior to this.


We see Balaam obeying God in verse 13.  So far so good for Balaam.  He told the men to return to Balak without him. 


In verses 14 to 17 we see the men returning to Balak with Balaam's answer.  Balak was not satisfied with the refusal so he sent more men, more in numbers, and more in influence to try to change Balaam's mind.  Balak was even willing to pay Balaam lots of money.


Balaam still refuses in verse 18.  He said that he could not go against the command of the Lord His God.  This confuses the matter somewhat about Balaam and what god he really worshipped.  He called "Yahweh", the God of Israel, "his" God.  Here is a non-Jew claiming allegiance to the God of Israel.  It might be that since God spoke to him, that he believed the God of Israel to be the only true God, or at least one of many true gods. 


God clearly told Balaam what he was to do, and that was to do nothing.  But, in verse 19 Balaam asks the men to stay a night and he would see if God would speak to him again.  Just why Balaam took this position isn't really certain.  Maybe he was being polite, or maybe he was beginning to waver.  I don't know.  There is debate among Bible teachers over this point, and really, over all of what is associated with Balaam. 


We see in verse 21 that God did speak to Balaam again, and what He says only adds to the confusion of this event.  God told Balaam that since these men came to him, he could go with them but do only what He told him to do.  It appears that God had a change of mind, or else this was his plan all along.  I don't believe God changed His mind, or ever will change his mind, as seen later when He speaks to Balaam.


Balaam's Donkey (ch. 22:21 - 41)


In verse 20 God told Balaam that he could go with Balak's men.  So, in verses 21 and 22 Balaam does just that, although the text says that God was angry with Balaam when He went.  There appears to be a problem here.  First God says it is okay for Balaam to go and then when he goes, God is angry with him when he goes. 


This is how I see the situation.  Yes, God did tell Balaam that he could go, but He also told Balaam that he must do exactly as He says.  It appears to me that the reason why God was angry in verse 22 is because Balaam did something God didn't tell him to do.  What that was, we don't know.  The text does not say.  To me, that is the only explanation why God could have been angry with Balaam.  We do note later on that God viewed Balaam as being reckless, and so this might well have something to do with what is going on here.


In verses 22 and 23 we note that God sent "the angel of the Lord" to stop Balaam.  The angel of the Lord should be seen as pre-incarnate Jesus.  As I have been saying throughout my commentary  Most conservative Bible teachers agree with this.


In verse 23 we note two things.  The donkey that Balaam was riding saw the angel of the Lord with a drawn sword and so she ran off the road and into a field.  We also learn that Balaam was upset at the donkey and so he hit her.   


We wonder what was going through Balaam's mind.  Did he not see the angel of the Lord?  According to verse 31, he did not see the angel.   Only the donkey saw the angel.  This tells us something about angels, whether they be ordinary angels, or the angel of the Lord.  When they appear on earth, some people can see them and some can't.  We will learn later that Balaam could not see the angel because God closed his eyes to seeing him.  God can hide angels from some and not to others. 


One thing we should note here is that the angel of the Lord had a sword in His hand as He often does.  Again, I note that in most cases in the Old Testament that when you see the angel of the Lord, the angel is pre-incarnate Jesus.  Jesus is thus seen with a sword in His hand.  In one real sense of the word, Jesus is a man of war, as He is portrayed in the book of Revelation.    


From verses 23 to 29 Balaam hits his donkey three times.  When the donkey first sees the angel she goes into a field.  Balaam hits her.  She gets back on the path.  She sees the angel again and bumps into a vineyard wall and hurts Balaam's foot.  She gets hit again.  The donkey tries to move down the path but is prevented by the angel and Balaam hits her again.  The donkey clearly does not want to walk down this path.


A miracle takes place in verse 28.  The donkey speaks to Balaam.  Now this is where liberal Bible scholars have trouble.  This is one reason why they see that the Bible, and especially the Old Testament is a number of made up stories with a moral meaning to them.  How can a donkey talk?  The point is simple.  If you don't believe God can perform miracles, you can't believe this story is true.  If you can't believe this story is true, then you can't believe the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus, and at that point, you're not a Christian, and you've missed the whole point to the Bible.  If God is God, He can do whatever He wants.


The donkey asks Balaam why he has beaten her.  Balaam must have been extremely surprised to here his donkey talk to him, but he wasn't so surprised that he didn't answer her.  In verse 29 he tells the donkey that she made a fool of him and if he had a sword he'd kill her on the spot. 


This shows us a bit of who Balaam was.  If a donkey could make a fool of him, that is, in his eyes, then he is very self-centered and very much interested in his self image.  Many people who are like this are really insecure and so they try to make up for their insecurity by promoting themselves more than they should.


In verse 30 the donkey answers Balaam with a pretty smart answer.  She basically says that she has been his donkey all along, and the actions she just took were unusual for her, so there must have been a reason for her actions.  Balaam agreed.


At this point, in verse 31, God opens the eyes of Balaam to the angel.  He falls face down on the ground before the angel.  Again we see the nature of angels appearing to man.  I said earlier that when angels appear on earth, some people see them and some don't, as in this case.  The donkey saw the angel but Balaam didn't.  This is because God hid the angel from Balaam's eyes.  Verse 31 tells us that God opened Balaam's eyes so he could see the angel of the Lord.  This is how God hides angels from some and not others.


We noted in verse 20 that God allowed Balaam to leave with Balak's men.  Then we noted that God was angry with Balaam when he left.  We asked why this was the case.  My answer was that it wasn't the leaving that bothered God but something else that Balaam did when he left that we don't know of.  Here in verse 32 we have a clue to answer this question.  God opposed Balaam because he "was being reckless".   He was not taking God's command to obey him every step of the way.  God specifically told Balaam he could leave, but had to do exactly as God told him along the way.  It is clear that Balaam did not obey God in this matter and that God perceived this as being reckless.  God was upset with Balaam for this, as well as being upset with the donkey and hitting her for no reason.  We see God's concern for animals here.


Balaam viewed the donkey's actions as being rebellious, which wasn't in her nature.  In verse 33 God points out that the donkey was actually attempting to save his life by steering him away from the sword that was in the hand of the angel. 


Balaam was not sensitive to what was happening around him.  He was probably too caught up in his own self to have any idea of the presence of an angel.  We can do the same.  We can be so caught up with ourselves that we fail to see signs from the Lord around us.  We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit enough that we can read and understand the signs He places in our lives, signs that appear to be ordinary and natural, yet have profound significance.


In verse 34 Balaam admits he has sinned.  His lack of being sensitive was a sin.  He told the Lord that he would turn back and go home.  Lack of sensitivity is a sin, and that's something we should realize. 


God answered Balaam in verse 35 with the same thing He said in verse 20.  God tells Balaam to go, but Balaam is only to say what God tells him to say.  In other words, stop being reckless and pay attention to what I say. 


In verses 36 and 37 we see that Balak is upset with Balaam because Balaam did not come to him the first time he asked.  He now tells Balaam that he would not reward him.  In other words, Balaam would not be paid for the service he would render.


In verse 38 Balaam basically tells Balak, "well, I'm here now, lets get things under way".   He might have been suggesting that since he was here, he should be paid.  Balaam did tell Balak that he could only say what the Lord told him to say, and if Balak understood who the Lord was, then that might not have pleased him. 


We note in verses 39 to the end of the chapter that Balak killed some cattle for a sacrifice.  We should understand that it was not just Israel that offered sacrifices.  All cultures offered sacrifices to their gods. 


It is my belief that as far back as Adam and Eve, God told man to offer sacrifices for their sin.  That is why Cain and Abel offered their sacrifices.  Yet over the years man distorted God's commands concerning sacrifices and offered them to other gods in a way not acceptable to God.  If is for this reason that the Law of Moses speaks to the issue of sacrifices.  God was simply telling Moses and Israel to start sacrificing in the way He wanted done since the days of Adam and Eve.  They were to be an example to all the other nations of the world in all aspects of religious life.  Sacrifices were just one aspect that God wanted changed n the world.  The problem is that Israel failed in their responsibility most of the time to represent God and His ways to the world.

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