Numbers 22:1-41 October 20, 2013
Pastor Louis Prontnicki “Who’s in Charge Here?”
Did you hear the one about the king, the wizard, and the donkey? Here’s a story that is both very funny and yet deadly serious. See if you can identify with any of the characters in the story.
A. Who are the main characters in Numbers 22?
He’s the king of Moab, yet is fearful of these Israelites who have moved in next door and outnumber his people. He’s looking for a religious manipulator to put a curse on these people. He believes he can use his wealth to buy favor to keep his rule as king propped up.
His worldview has room for spiritual power, but a kind that can be manipulated. He sees religion as something to use to get your way. For Balak, the idea of blessing and curse is just a tool to get your own way. He thinks that he can get the results he desires by manipulating some religious rituals
He’s a seer, a prophet, a soothsayer, a fortune-teller, who lived in what is present day Iraq, who had a far-reaching reputation for being able to put curses on people/ nations. Archeological discoveries in 1967 in Northern Jordan reveal that Balaam indeed was a person of renown who had a reputation as a seer and an exorcist.
Balaam is a complex character. He seems to have one foot in Balak’s world and the other foot in Israel’s world. We see him as a pagan sorcerer and also as a Biblical prophet. Perhaps he even feels pulled between the two different worlds? He embodies the clash between two very different ways of envisioning and responding to God and gods.
Balaam has three encounters with the Lord (22:7-14 “Do not go”); (22:15-20 “Go, but say only what I tell you to say”); and (22:21-35 Where his donkey has more spiritual awareness than he does!) On this last, three-fold encounter, we see Balaam’s spiritual blindness and stubbornness. If anyone should have been able to discern spiritual truth in the actions of animals, it should have been Balaam! That was his profession, his specialty! But no; he is blind and unthinking.
The story within the story (of Balaam, his donkey, and the Angel of the Lord) mocks Balaam’s ability as a seer, exposing the wisdom of men as foolishness. (I Cor. 1)
On first reading, Balaam appears in a positive light: despite financial rewards, he insists on listening to God and saying only what the Lord allows him to say.
He will have something that appears to be a “Damascus Road experience” (Acts 9, with Saul/ Paul), but does change his heart? Later, in Numbers 23-24, the Lord will use him to declare that God’s promises to Abraham are being fulfilled in the history of Israel.
3. Balaam’s Donkey
The Lord allows this lowly beast of burden to see what the seer cannot see (three times!), and the Lord opens her mouth to speak what the prophet could not say! A talking donkey? Is this a fable? Why doesn’t Balaam jump out of his saddle when his donkey speaks to him? Was he accustomed to strange occurrences like this? One thing is clear: If God Himself can speak through the mouth of a pagan prophet, can He not speak through an animal?
4. The Angel of the Lord
Ten times we read of the Angel of the Lord in vv. 22-35. Who is He? He is the pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God. That is, before the eternal Son of God took on flesh at the incarnation, He appeared in the OT as the Angel of the Lord: Divine, yet distinct from the LORD.
And what is the role of the Angel of the Lord here, among this king, this seer, and this donkey? Not only does He appear in front of Balaam’s donkey and stop Balaam’s forward progress (three times); He also opens the mouth of the donkey so that she speaks with a human voice, and she has a conversation with Balaam, even reasoning with the seer (v. 30)! [This is the earliest record of a GPS with a human voice, telling the driver he’s going the wrong way.]
But far more important is that the Angel of the Lord is clearly portrayed as the One who is totally in control of the situation and of the characters. He’s the One with the sword in his hand (vv. 23, 31). He’s the One blocking traffic. He’s the One who commands Balaam to “speak only what I tell you” when he goes to see king Balak (v. 35) The Angel of the Lord is in charge, and all must bow low before Him (v. 31) and obey His commands (v. 38)
B. Where do we see these characters today?
1. Balak is a person with political/ military power, who sees his control slipping away. Not only is he afraid of the numerous Israelites; his real fear is that he is being exposed as being powerless, as he is unable to do anything about these circumstances. But he thinks money talks, and that he can buy his way to security and remaining in control.
Examples: President Obama and our country’s recent gridlock; Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad and his country’s civil war; or it could be you, when your control over your life/ health/ finances/ circumstances/ children is slipping away…and your powerlessness is exposed, and you look weak and not in control. And what are you tempted to do? Get advice from a consultant… turn to “religious rituals” and get God to help you get control again…put more money in the offering plate and say a few more prayers, and God will be working for you again…. trust is what you do have (money/ skill/ resources) to “buy” what you need, to put you in control again. Are you like King Balak?
2. Balaam is a person with spiritual and religious power, who thinks he’s in control. He thinks he has the power to bless and curse people and nations. He’s famous because he has successfully cast spells on people and nations. Kings and rich people seek him out for his services, because he seems to have power over life and death, over fertility and battles, and is able to cast out spirits and perform miracles. He can command large fees for his services. He knows how to play people and play the system. He can be all things to all people in order to get people’s money and look powerful in their eyes.
But in Numbers 22 this self-confident highly-paid spiritual consultant is shown up by an ass! And he is so sure of himself that he misses the obvious, not once, not twice, but three times. He, like Balak, is exposed for what he is: a smooth operator who tries to live in two worlds at the same time. The NT writers in particular tear him apart for what he really is.
Examples: I hesitate to name individuals simply because I don’t know these people’s hearts. But let me suggest certain people who are often cast in the role of Balaam. Perhaps a person such as Oprah (sometimes called a ‘high priestess” because of her power and influence).
Or how about this person: Lou Prontnicki. He’s a person with spiritual and religious power. It looks like he’s in control at Maple Glen Church and at Phil-Mont Christian Academy.
People come to him and ask him to pray for the sick, and sometimes they are healed! And people even pay him to perform religious services! Oh yes, Pastor Lou Prontnicki can think he’s in control. And he can live in two worlds so smoothly: praying and preaching and blessing people on the one hand, while seeking his own comfort and people’s honor and the world’s approval on the other hand.
He can be so willfully blind to the Lord’s will. He can miss the obvious truths of the gospel because he’s riding on his donkey and he’s thinking of how much other people need his services.
And so the Lord has to use an ass to get his attention.
Maybe you are like Pastor Prontnicki? Perhaps the warnings of scripture about Balaam apply to you as well?
3. The Donkey
The donkey only knows that she is a lowly animal used to carry supplies and transport people.
So who or what is the donkey that the Lord might be using in your life? Who or what surprising person (a pagan co-worker?) –or animal (your dog, cat, or even the birds of the air) – or machine (your computer, your car) – is God using to try and catch your attention?
God used my unbelieving cousin to get my attention when I thought I was a believer, but was only talking a good talk.
God uses little children to innocently rebuke us, doesn’t He? God uses the painful comments of a person radically opposed to the gospel to expose our lack of love and faith, doesn’t he?
I Cor. 1:27-32 “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
4. The Angel of the Lord
“Who has the power to bless and curse?” That is the central question which underlies the action.
All the other characters learn that the Lord cannot be controlled or manipulated; in fact, He is high above and sovereign over their religious rituals, their power plays, and their play-acting.
However, though God is above any manipulation, He also chooses to be intimately involved with us, as He listens to us, and is passionately concerned to bless us – especially in all the fullness of the blessing of Christ!
Christ, the Son of God, still controls everything.
Col. 1:15-20 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
So… who’s in charge here? Who is in charge of your life, your circumstances, and your future?