In our last post, we began to see the foundation for the temptations that led to Balaam’s anger. He is being offered approval, distinction, and prosperity by King Balak. Aren’t those three things that we all want?
Little by little, Balaam’s underlying motives are being scratched. His itch of importance, pride, and comfort are being stroked. They are his idols and he doesn’t really desire to please God. And at the core of every disobedience is the belief that God doesn’t really want our best (just ask Eve). Balaam must have actually believed that he must provide for himself because otherwise what happens next wouldn’t have happened. He gets angry.
Anger means we’re believing we’re in charge. We must provide for ourselves. And what we seek for our best is being blocked. Or we must protect ourselves from being exposed. Provision and protection: the two main themes of anger. Let’s see what happens to Balaam.
In Numbers 22:23 we read, “When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way.”
He’s angry because his goal is being blocked. He’s headed to see the Moabite King Balak knowing there’s the possibility that God could change his mind again. He changed his mind before (it seems). Maybe He’ll change his mind again and allow Balaam to curse the Israelites. And then Balaam will get the approval, distinction, and prosperity he craves.
The donkey is blocking the fulfillment of his goals. He strikes the poor donkey in his frustration. He believes the donkey is his problem, but his real “problem” is God and His will. We are so good at hitting the messenger of God’s will or getting angry at the circumstances that are blocking the fulfillment of what we believe we need–even though God is sovereignly designing the situation. Not really believing God is in charge, we strike out in anger because it’s threatening to think our needs won’t be met. Because God just doesn’t know what’s best.
Balaam continues to be angry and strikes the donkey again. Numbers 22:28-29 tells us next,
And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.”
The ESV gives this wording: “Because you have made a fool of me.” The Amplified Bible says this: “Because you have ridiculed and provoked me!”
Earlier in the text a little noticed fact is included which we wouldn’t consider important but it is: “Now he [Balaam] was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him” (verse 22).
Balaam is not alone. Not only is the angel of the Lord there (who Balaam can’t see), Balaam’s servants are there. Balaam’s unexpressed vow to not be seen as a fool, or a person deserving to be mocked or ridiculed, is being exposed. After all, aren’t those the opposite of being approved, distinguished and prosperous?
Balaam not only wants to be and have those things, he wants to be seen that way too. It’s not just about who he is but how others regard him. And as much as he wants the King of Moab to bestow those things upon him, he also must want his servants to regard him as such. No one wants servants around who gossip and belittle you behind your back. How demeaning for an insecure man—for a man whose eyes are on the approval of others rather than the approval of Almighty God.
And so Balaam strikes the donkey because he feels shamed and ridiculed. And he blames the donkey for his anger: “Stupid donkey! You provoked me! If only you hadn’t disobeyed me, I wouldn’t have to hit you. My anger is justified. It’s all your fault!”
Let’s pause to reflect. I, personally, want to be seen as perfect, dependable, and knowledgeable. What makes me angry? When my actions reveal me as imperfect, undependable, and stupid. If I don’t surrender to allowing God to expose me, I protect myself and try to provide for my own needs through anger.
How do you want to be seen? What makes you angry or frustrated when your goals are blocked or you are exposed in a way that embarrasses you or makes you appear as a fool? It happens to every single one of us because God wants us to look to Him for what defines us and for what is best for us. He’s using our circumstances to mold us into the image of Jesus—even when we’re being ridiculed.
These are hard things. Thanks for thinking through them. More next time.
(Image found at http://celatum.com/donkey-ecuador/)