|Rembrandt's sketch of Old Testament story|
of Balaam, his talking donkey & the destroying angel
Numbers 22-23, 31
When the children of Israel neared the promised land, the Lord commanded them to conquer several kingdoms. As a result, the people living in the promised land greatly feared the Israelites, especially the Moabites. Balak, the Moabite king, knew that a man named Balaam was a prophet, and the king hoped that Balaam might use his power to curse the Israelites.
Balak sent his elders and princes to Balaam with gifts and treasures to pay for the cursing of Israel. The gifts were enticing, and Balaam wanted them, but he knew that he must pray for Heavenly Father’s guidance.
In answer to Balaam’s prayer the Lord said, “Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed.”
The next morning Balaam refused to curse Israel and sent the Moabites away. But King Balak would not give up. He sent more princes to Balaam. This time he promised Balaam more than just riches: “Let nothing, I pray thee, hinder thee from coming unto me:
“For I will promote thee unto very great honour, and I will do whatsoever thou sayest unto me.”
But Balaam refused again, saying, “If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I [could] not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.”
However, Balaam did invite the Moabites to stay with him that night. Excited by the promise of riches and power, Balaam secretly hoped the Lord would change His mind and permit him to go to Balak.
After much pleading with the Lord, Balaam was told that if the Moabites asked him again to go to Moab, he was to go. But even then he was to do only as the Lord directed him. Balaam was so anxious to go that he arose in the morning, saddled his donkey, and set out with the princes of Moab.
The Lord was angry with Balaam for his disobedience. He sent an angel with a sword to stand before Balaam in the road. The donkey saw the angel and stopped, but Balaam could not see him and did not understand why the donkey had stopped. Balaam hit the donkey and urged it on. The donkey went only a short distance and saw the angel standing in the road between two walls. Because there was no room to turn aside, the donkey turned into the wall and Balaam’s foot was crushed. Still unable to see the angel himself, Balaam angrily hit the donkey again. Farther down the road the angel again appeared before them at a narrow part of the path. The donkey could not turn in any direction, so it fell to the ground. Balaam was very angry indeed and hit the donkey with his staff.
Then the Lord caused the donkey to speak: “What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?”
Balaam angrily answered, “Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.”
The donkey responded, “Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee?”
“Nay,” Balaam replied.
Then the Lord allowed Balaam to see the angel in the road. Balaam finally understood his donkey’s behavior. Ashamed, he bowed his head and fell to the ground. The angel rebuked him, explained that the donkey had saved his life, and counseled him to obey God’s words. Balaam admitted, “I have sinned.”The angel told him: “Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee … thou shalt speak.” Balaam went on to Moab, where Balak continued to coax and promise him great wealth and power if he would curse Israel, but Balaam refused. However, because Balaam wanted the approval of the Moabites, he told them other ways they could harm the Israelites. Some time later Balaam was killed by the Israelites.