Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi:
1. There are some things that you don’t have to pray about.
In answer to Balaam’s question, ‘Can I go and earn some big bucks from Balak by cursing Your people?’ God has said ‘No, you may not go with them, and no, you may not curse My people.’ And you know what? Balaam doesn’t really need to pray about that any more. God has already said it in His word. He does not have to pray to ascertain the will of God. God’s will has been made crystal clear, unambiguously, in and by His word. And so, my friends, when God has spoken in His word, we don’t have to pray about it.
When God has told you in His word no or yes, He means it. Surely that is one of the lessons that we find out when Balaam is going back a second time after having been offered more money to curse, and asking God again. Surely that is wasted breath and effort, because he already knows what God wants him to do. And what he’s actually doing is revealing the power of the sinful desires of his heart.
2. Apart from a work of grace in our hearts, dumb animals are more sensitive to the presence and will of God than we are.
Isn’t it fascinating that in this passage the donkey sees and perceives and responds appropriately to the presence of the sword-wielding angel of the Lord before the seer does? He’s a prophet! He can “see” the future! But he can’t see the angel of the Lord with a sword right in front of him. But the donkey can, and she does exactly what an intelligent being would do. The first time, she heads into the field! And the next time she scrunches up against the wall. And then when there’s no place to go, she’s on the floor! But it’s only subsequently that the “seer’s” eyes are opened to the presence of the Lord.
Why did Balaam not turn back? Why didn’t he listen to the first time? Because Balaam didn’t want to. Dead sinners don’t have the free will to stop sinning…because they don’t want to. Apart from a work of grace in our hearts, dumb animals are more sensitive to the presence and will of God than we are.
3. The truth of God’s word is not dependent upon our esteem of the messenger.
God can use a donkey if He wants to. God will sometimes use messengers to bring a message whose persons or character seem incongruent with the message and the majesty of God. Isn’t that what we learn in verses 28-30 as this donkey starts talking some common sense? Some common sense that Balaam really needs to understand and implement himself? The donkey is an instrument of the Lord, and God can use a donkey if He wants to.
4. When your donkey speaks to you, it will forever change your relationship with your donkey
Moses is showing you this evil, powerful sorcerer having a conversation with his donkey. What’s Moses doing? Moses is showing you how God mocks the would-be curser of Israel by depicting him as engaged in a heated debate with a domestic animal.
Can you imagine this? Your five-year-old is sitting next to you as Moses is telling the story, and suddenly the tug comes on the robe—
“Daddy! Daddy! Moses just said that that pagan prophet was arguing with his donkey!”
“Right, right, honey, that’s exactly…”
“And his donkey’s winning the argument!”
“Ex…ex..exactly, honey! That’s precisely the point.”
That’s what the enemies of God and the enemies of His people, however nefarious, however great their mastery of the dark arts—that’s what they’re like in comparison to the sovereign power of the living God. They’re a mockery.
5. The one great lesson is this: God is assuring Israel in this story of His sovereignty over the sorcerer.
Verse 32, God issues His judgment of Balaam.
Verse 35. Then God instructs Balaam for the second time, in almost the exact language that He used the last time. The angel of the Lord in verse 35 says what? “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.”…. “Go on with the men, but you cannot curse them.” God in His sovereign decree confirms the wicked desires of Balaam’s heart to accomplish the purposes of God’s sovereign will. And so you see His sovereignty over the sorcerer in His instruction of Balaam.
Verse 38. It’s a hilarious scene! ‘What kept you so long?’ Balak says to him. And Balaam is going, ‘You don’t know what kind of a day I’ve had! Just watch it, buddy! You don’t know…I’ve had an angel try and kill me three times, my foot is crushed…’ and then he says, ‘Look, I came to you, but I don’t have the power of my own to speak anything. The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak. I’ve come to you Balak, but here’s the deal. I can’t do anything against the children of Israel that their God doesn’t let me do.’ Now can you imagine Balak’s response to this? ‘Well, what kind of a sorcerer are you? I hired you to curse these people! What do you mean, you have to ask their God before you curse them?’
No, Balaam in verse 38 is acknowledging his own subservience to God. Moses is putting in his own mouth – what? An acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God.
What’s the message for you?
If you’re resting and trusting in Jesus Christ alone, you are never merely the victim of circumstances, because our God is not limited by circumstances. Even if those circumstances are false prophets arrayed against you for your destruction, they cannot thwart His sovereignty. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck you from His hand.
Adapted from a sermon by Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, on Numbers 22:22-40 “Balaam’s Ass”
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