Summary: It is in the narrow places of life, the places where we are closed in and helpless that we may experience the healing presence of God, often at the bitter or beter end.
The story found in the Book of Numbers about Balaam and his ass is one of the difficult passages in the Old Testament. For some folks, it is clear evidence that the Scriptures are an ancient relic that has absolutely no meaning for us today. For others, it is a clear sign of the miraculous within the Scriptures. How do we deal with a passage that has an animal talking?
First, let us look at the setting of the story The children of Israel were moving like a conquering army through what we call today the Holy Land. To acquire that land, they had to conquer each tribe as they moved through it. King Balak, of Moab, became very frightened as he saw this approach-ing army. He summoned to his court Balaam, who was a seer, visionary prophet or soothsayer. When Balaam first received the message from the king of Moab, he realized that Balak wanted him to place a curse on Israel to harm them. After he prayed for guidance, God told him not to go, so he refused Balak’s summons. Balak, however, felt that all Balaam needed was simply more inducement. He offered Balaam bigger and better possessions if he would come and curse the Israelites. Balaam responded, “Although Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God, to do less or more” (Num. 22:18). However, he said, he would pray about the matter a though he had received a message that God was not going to but bless them. The second time God directed him to go anyway talk to the king of Moab.
On his journey Balaam had to travel on a narrow road to get to Moab. The animal on which he was riding saw an angel with a flaming sword standing in the pathway and tried to get off the path. This happened 3 times, until finally the animal found itself in such a narrow place there was no room either to turn around or to get off the road. So it just lay down Balaam got up and hit the animal angrily At this point the animal spoke.
The ancient Israelites hearing or reading this story must have found it hilarious, a wonderful piece of narrative folklore. The fact that Balaam did not
seem surprised or express any wonder at the animals ability to speak indicates
the nature of this ancient drama. The important thing for the original audience was the message and not the medium of the message.
In several other places in the Scriptures one reads about trees speaking and snakes talking; here an ass talks. To the Israelites, this story would have been filled with humor. Balaam, who was pompous and overly confident, was not an Israelite, yet he was depicted as being used by the God of Israel. His own animal had to tell this pompous religious seer about the presence of God, because he was unable to see God in his path.
Our problem is that often we cannot hear a story because we take it too literally We seek to make the story historical instead of hearing the ancient message delivered through the medium of humorous folklore to an ancient people. Many of us often miss the truth about the presence of God. because we get bogged down in the impossibility of an animal’s talking The important point here is not that the animal spoke but what it had to say.