God can use an unusual mouthpiece to get our attention.
The importance of the mouthpiece
I used to play clarinet — way back in the day. One of the most important parts of the clarinet is the small, thin reed you attach to the mouthpiece. It is critical that this reed is wet before you try to play.
It’s so important that the first thing you do when you open up your clarinet case to play is: put the reed in your mouth. Then while you assemble the various pieces of your instrument, your saliva can soak into the reed and make it easier for it to vibrate correctly to get the best sound. Without the reed, there will be no sound from the mouthpiece at all. The mouthpiece must have the reed – now wet and ready – for it to work and music to come forth.
Some backstory for motive
We’re looking at Numbers 22-24 today and how God’s message can come from unexpected places. Like from the mouth of a Satanist. (We’ll get to the talking donkey in a minute.)
Israel moved into the Moabite’s land, and their king, Balak, freaked out at the sheer number of them. So he sent for Balaam. Balaam was a well-known man for hire. His skill? Seeing the future and using the power of evil to provide blessings or curses FOR A FEE.
King Balak send some junior princes and riches to pay for a curse on Israel. Balaam knows Israel has only one God, so he says he’ll take the night to consider taking the job.
BUT, God speaks directly and plainly to Balaam (Numbers 22:12), “Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.” Balaam sends them back – without telling them what God said.
Why wouldn’t he share this? Because his motive is personal gain – not obedience to God. He’s accustomed to using divination (consulting EVIL spirits for insight) for a fee. The fact that this time the Creator of the Universe was speaking to him doesn’t seem to register.
A second attempt to hire the mouthpiece
King Balak sends more princes with higher ranks and EVEN MORE money. Again, God spoke to Balaam. This time saying he could go because he had been summoned by the king. BUT he could ONLY do what God told him to do.
So Balaam packed up the next morning and left. And God was angry.
Sometimes we miss what God is really saying
First, God’s initial contact was a flat “NO.” He didn’t want or need a Satanist’s help. And if Balaam was going to seek out God’s help, he should take note of what God said.
And, God was basically telling Balaam to wait for the 2nd set of guys to check back with him in the morning. But, Balaam just got up and got ready — skipping that critical step. So, if this mouthpiece was going to be that lax in the little things, how could God trust him in the bigger message? AND, Balaam’s eagerness to go demonstrated his desire to CURSE the very people God had told him were blessed. All because of the financial reward the king had promised.
God blocks the road
God sent THE Angel of the LORD (believed by many scholars to be Jesus before He took human form) to block the road.
But only the donkey can see this imposing figure with His sword drawn. First she got off the road and went into the field. And Balaam beat her.
The second encounter took place on a stretch of road with walls on either side. With nowhere to go, the donkey scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall. And Balaam beat her.
When The Angel of the LORD blocked the road the third time, the path was so narrow that she just plops down. And Balaam beat her.
”Then God opened the donkey’s mouth…” (v.28a) In all transparency, the part of this story I’d always fixated on was this talking donkey. (If one of my animals started talking to me, I’d freak out!)
But Balaam isn’t rattled at all. We know that Satan spoke through (or took the form of) a snake in the Garden of Eden. Most likely, other animals had spoken to Balaam in his work with evil spirits. So, for him, just another day…
Surrender, not repentance
(Verse 31) “Then God opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw The Angel of the LORD standing in the road with His sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.” If you stop reading about Balaam after the talking donkey and conversation with The warrior Angel of the LORD, you miss seeing that this fall-on-your-face posture is more surrender in fear than true repentance.
How do we know? Because he eagerly continues so he can be the mouthpiece for the king and get paid. He stands by as King Balak offers sacrifices of cattle and sheep to Baal. Balak is asking Baal to curse Israel. And here is where the REAL miracle begins.
Mouthpiece for God
The king takes Balaam to location #1, and Balaam tells him to build 7 altars and sacrifice a bull and ram on each. God meets him and gives him a message. And Balaam speaks God’s blessing over Israel!
Then King Balak takes him to a mountain top (location #2) and builds 7 more altars for more bulls and rams. God gives him another message. So Balaam speaks a second blessing! And the king is furious with his hired mouthpiece.
Now they move to a new spot (location #3). The king builds 7 MORE altars and offers a bull and a ram on each.
And everything changed.
This time Balaam finally realized that God didn’t want him to curse Israel, DUH. So he didn’t seek guidance from the altars of Baal during the sacrifice. Instead, he turned his back on them. And God took notice of the change. The Spirit of God came over him, and he began to speak.
Mouthpiece for the Spirit
It’s important to note that God had not yet release Holy Spirit to PERMANENTLY live in every BELIEVER. And Balaam isn’t even a believer! So without going through his usual consultation with evil spirits, Balaam speaks a 3rd blessing over Israel.
King Balak is livid – to the point he pounds his fist. He demands that Balaam go home and gives God credit for Balaam’s words. But before God’s unlikely mouthpiece leaves, he is led to make more rapid-fire prophecies of the destruction of Moab (24:15-19) and Amalek (24:20-24).
How did the king know?
In case you’re wondering how King Balak knew God was behind all Balaam’s blessings, here’s the reason: Balaam kept telling him!
- (Num 22:18) To the king’s servants on their 2nd visit. “Even if Balak gave me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot cross beyond the mouth of Adonai, my God, to do anything small or great!”
- (22:38) To the king when they first meet. “Can I just say anything? I must speak only the message which God puts in my mouth.”
- (23:11) After his 1st blessing. “Mustn’t I speak whatever Adonai puts into my mouth?”
- (23:26) After his 2nd blessing. “Haven’t I told you, ‘All that Adonai says I must do.’”
- (24:12-13)After his 3rd blessing. “Did I knot tell the messengers you sent me, ‘Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the LORD — and I must say only what the LORD says’?”
What it means for me:
- Entire context of Scripture – When I read Scripture, I must read what comes before and after to get a better understanding of what God is trying to say.
- When God tells me ‘No.’ – I shouldn’t continue forward. My obedience is critical to my success – and safety because God only wants the best for me.
- My motives matter – Financial gain at the expense of everything else is a terrible motive.
- God will bless His people – Throughout Scripture we can read how things that others meant for evil become things God uses for good. From throwing Joseph into a pit, to the crucifixion of Christ.
- When I’m blocked – Sometimes God uses extraordinary means to block my disobedience. It may not be a warrior in my physical path or a stubborn, talking donkey, but God can put other obstacles in my way when I’m not fully listening to Him.
- God’s blessings – God’s blessings for His people can come from very unlikely sources. I need to keep my eyes open – and thank Him – no matter the source of His favor.