The first time I read the Bible, it was like reading a normal book, so I just went through as quickly as possible, this, as you can imagine is somewhat different. Each night I look at the day number and wonder if it is worth doing it this way. I think it is, each day the number gets higher, and we get a little further, and we have time to think about things in small doses, rather than trying to process the whole book of Numbers in a night. So tonight…
Numbers 22 – 24
On my first reading of the Bible, the story of Balaam was unfamiliar to me, and it really intrigued me. Balaam isn’t a man of God, but a sorcerer, yet he knows of the Hebrew deity. In the Hebrew text, the term Yahweh is used by Balaam when he goes off to consult, not the more generic El, or Elohim, this was definitely the Hebrew God. He seems in many ways to have a relationship with God, but he’s clearly not obedient to laws regarding magic, and God is willing to communicate through him.
Obviously the talking donkey is a key talking point here, did it really talk? According to the text God “opened the mouth of the donkey” (NKJV), so it would be difficult to argue body language. As a horse trainer, I talk of horses talking to me, but not in the same sense as this text talks about it. So the big question many ask is, “what was he on? That must be good stuff.” This isn’t anything particularly mind boggling considering the various miracles we’ve seen so far. The main issue isn’t that the text tells us that the donkey talked (think Shrek), but that Balaam wasn’t in the least bit surprised, did this happen often? Perhaps as a magician, Balaam was used to odd stuff happening and the donkey talking was less peculiar than other stuff he’d seen.
But let’s take a step back to how we arrived at talking donkeys. God told Balaam to go with the kings men, and then got angry that he’d gone, and sent an angel. This seems slightly unreasonable.
Balaam had been told not to go, that is clear, but when offered more, he decided to try again. The directive to go seems to have been more about God allowing Balaam some level of free will, “I’ve said no, but go anyway, and I’ll tell you what to do.” This seems to have been Balaam’s major issue as a prophet, he was using the gift for personal gain. Once he went, God was angry, since he exercised his will, contrary to God’s will, so God sent the Angel to drive home the point of not cursing Israel.
Chapter 24 opens with something I want to close with. Balaam didn’t seek to use sorcery in this case. Sorcery is an attempt to get supernatural forces to act in your favour, or at least that’s how I understand it regarding to ancient Near Eastern religions. Balaam had the incident with the angel, and either didn’t want to upset Yahweh, or was fully aware that he wouldn’t be able to manipulate this particular entity.
What are your thoughts?
Please give the reading through the Bible page a look if you haven’t already, there are some background posts and the index to this reading plan. Share it with others who you think can benefit from Reading the Bible.