From the Donkey's Mouth
I remembered the story of Balaam - at least part of it. The part I remembered was of Balaam walking along the road with his donkey and the donkey keeps stopping. Balaam repeatedly beats the animal until it moves forward again. Finally after the third such incident and Balaam being quite incensed, the donkey turns and talks.
Now in today's word we are quite comfortable with anthropomorphized animals so a talking donkey (I'm thinking Eddie Murphy in Shrek) is no big deal.
But to Balaam it was a BIG deal especially when the donkey says there's a big scary angel blocking the road with his sword drawn.
So I kinda thought maybe that was a fitting story representing my stubbornness resisting God's message when all around me are telling me to listen. So I found Balaam in Numbers 22 and when I read the whole story all I could do was shake my head.
First off Balaam is an Old Testament prophet (but not an Israelite who happen to be marching out of Egypt to take over the promised land and killing the folks who already live there). The local king sent for Balaam to curse these invaders. Balaam makes them wait overnight for his decision on whether to return to the king with them.
9 God came to Balaam and asked, “Who are these men with you?”Now this kinda seems like a dumb question to me. Maybe it's mean to be a trick question. Anyway, Balaam tells God who they are and why they are at his house and God says not to go to the king. Balaam sends the king's messengers packing, but soon they are back with an even bigger speaking engagement fee for Balaam.
OK this is puzzlement number 2 and 3 for me. But God can change his mind - twice. Oh, and not bother telling Balaam that he changed his mind again after he told him it was ok to go. Now comes the part I remember with the donkey. God told Balaam to go to the king but along the road he sends an invisible angle that only the donkey can see.18 But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. 19 Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.”20 That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” 21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.
31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.Puzzlement number 4 - if God wanted to stop Balaam, why choose an invisible angel???? But the story has one more surprise. Balaam tells God, he'll go back home, no problem.
32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.[a] 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”
35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.So God tells Balaam to go ahead and go to the king. WHAT ????
What's the point of this story? That God is fickle and just because he tells us one thing at night, don't be surprised that he changed his mind the next morning... and didn't tell you. And then threaten to kill you for disobeying a command he never spoke to you. Now we don't know Balaam's heart and maybe that plays into things here, but that's not an obvious inference.
I did check the Matthew Henry commentary and it infers several pages of explanation from the very few verses. It reads from the point of view that since God can't make mistakes AND the story is absolutely true something else was going on - obviously Balaam was a greedy sinful guy that God was exasperated with. But the God I believe in is patient to a fault. I prefer to believe that the writer of this left out a lot of the pertinent detail and allowed us to miss the moral of the story which requires considerable assumptions to get to the Matthew Henry explanation. How about assuming that God's perfect and the guy that wrote this wasn't?
The Henry commentary also faults the king for fighting the Israelites as they could have lived side by side in harmony. Just like today... er.
In the end, what matter if Balaam did curse the Israelites to his last breath? It wasn't going to thwart God's plan.
Well, needless to say this story didn't fit my decision process with God one bit. And it illustrated one more reason that I am not a Bible literalist. I can't conceive of a God that would have done such a thing. It reads like an episode of Punked.
If you feel I am being irreverent and cynical, I can agree to that to make a point. I refuse to just sit back and nod. God's ok with me asking questions - how else do we become more enlightened.
As for talking animals, I guess I'll think twice if my cat ever looks me in the eye and says "an angel is going to kill you unless you change my litter box."
Labels: scripture critique