Did you ever study Antony and Cleopatra? If so do you remember the famous alliterative speech of Enobarbus as he describes the Egyptian queen? You know it. “The barge she sat in like a burnish’d throne, burn’d on the water.” Well in today’s chapter we find out how Balak and Balaam end up going to Bamoth Baal. I’m not even joking!
Our nomadic Israelites, and don’t forget that there are over 600,000 of them, have set up camp on the river Jordan opposite Jericho. Balak is the leader in Moab and is horrified that the Israelites have decided to camp there. By now they have the reputation of being fierce warriors with a string of victories under their belts.
Balak does what anyone would do. He sends a message to Balaam son of Boer asking him to come and put a curse on the Israelites. Balaam asks God what he should do. God tells him that he can go but he can only say what God tells him to say because the Israelites are blessed.
Balaam sets off on his donkey but an angel appears (to the donkey) and blocks his path a number of times until the scared animal sits down. Balaam gets angry and beats the donkey. Then the angel appears to Balaam and tells him off for beating the donkey. He explains that the donkey was trying to save Balaam’s life by taking him on a safer route.
When Ballam meets Balak they go up to Bamoth Ball where there is a splendid view of the offending Israelite camp.
This is quite an unusual and welcome cliff-hanger because we won’t find out what happens next until Chapter 23. My money is on Balaam saying something really wise and Balak making a paradigm shift*.
*A paradigm shift is a fundamental change in basic concepts and experimental practices. (I know you knew this but my editor is fussy).
When we read about a donkey in the bible we think of Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It is the humble beast of burden. A symbol of everything ordinary, functional and unpretentious. In modern times it would be the difference between arriving in a Limousine to arriving in a [insert make and model of your neighbour’s car here].
The important point is that Balaam is intent on his journey but is not in tune to the fact that God wants him to go a different way. Jesus talks about a scorpion and an egg. He says that a child may want a scorpion to play with because it looks interesting but the parent knows that it is dangerous and rightly says no. The child doesn’t understand the decision and is disappointed but the parent is right. It’s the same here. Because we have free will we can go in any direction but not all directions are good for us. Not every direction is one that God wants us to travel on.
When we look back at our lives, can we see where God has nudged us in the right direction? Perhaps there was a job that we wanted but didn’t get? Perhaps there was job that we didn’t want and we ended up getting it !? Anyway, I hope that you feel that where you are now is where God wants you to be. If you don’t feel that then perhaps it is time to check where your donkey is going and who is really driving it?
One of the challenges of being an independent adult is that you have to regulate your own behaviours. For example you get to choose what to eat. Latest research shows that over 50% of people have not decided what to eat in the evening until at least 4pm on that day. People ask themselves what they fancy tonight and then go to a shop and get whatever has taken that fancy for that evening. Or they even order from home via Deliveroo or Ubereats. As self-regulating adults we are constantly thinking about what we should and shouldn’t eat, what is good for us, what is bad for us, what is going to make us ashamed of ourselves, what is going to leave us feeling hungry and unsatisfied. And that is just food!
Jesus tells us not to worry about what we eat and drink but trust in God and do your best each day.
Ok. I’ll try it. I shall try to worry less and trust more. You coming with?