Scripture: Numbers 22:21-38
Key verse: (38) “Do I have power to say anything? The word God puts in my mouth, that is what I must say.”
Reflection: If you don’t read the whole passage today, this devotional will not make sense. It’s a great story — “Balaam’s Ass” in the King James Version of the Bible. The Moabite King Balak has seen what Israel did to the Amorites, defeating them in battle and taking their lands. So, he decides to call on a Babylonian witch doctor, Balaam, to come pronounce a curse on Israel. Babylonians were known for the art of divination. King Balak would have assumed Balaam the Babylonian would provide a curse to serve Moab’s purposes. He cannot imagine a world where Balaam wouldn’t do exactly what Balak demanded of him.
For his part, Balaam is willing to play along. For the right price, he’ll do whatever Balak wants him to do. That brings us to today’s reading. Balaam is riding his donkey to go put a curse on Israel when an angel of the Lord blocks the way. The donkey can see the angel, Balaam cannot. This is meant to be a humorous irony. “Even a donkey knows…” After two attempts to get around the angel that injure Balaam, and a third moment when the donkey simply lies down in the middle of the road, the Lord empowers the donkey to speak. He says, “What have I ever done to you? Why do you keep beating me? Have I ever steered you wrong?” Balaam is forced to respond, “No.” Then God opens his eyes and he sees the angel with a sword and he realizes that the donkey saved him from being killed. The angel commands Balaam to do what God tells him to do, not what Balak tells him to do. Ultimately, that’s what Balaam does. When Balak tells him to curse Israel, he refuses to do so. Instead, he blesses Israel, and ultimately pronounces judgment against Moab in the final of four oracles.
How often do we try to use God to justify our desires, to make God’s will fit into life as we want to live it? How often do we invoke God’s blessings upon our efforts, even if they are not aligned with God’s will? How might our eyes be opened to see God’s real purposes in our world? How do we know what they really are?
We might never meet a talking donkey, but we do have the stories of Scripture to tell us who God is and how God works. We have Jesus Christ, who as fully divine shows us the same, and who as fully human shows us what it means to be a human being. He shows us the way that is the truth about life. He is the word God gives us that is what we must say, whether or not the Balaks of the world like it.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Divine Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life. Amen.”
The Prayer of St. Francis
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].