In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Towards the end of the 40 years in the wilderness Israel meets Balaam. He is a prophet of the Lord from Mesopotamia. (Deut. 23:4) They meet him when their distant relatives—the Moabites, descended of Lot (Gen. 19:36-37), Abraham’s nephew—do not meet them with bread and water (Neh. 13:2), but instead hire a prophet (or diviner, Josh. 13:22) to curse them. (Num. 22:5-6; Deut. 23:3-4) Balaam seems to be an actual prophet of Lord. He has a reputation for being able to actually accomplish things: to bless and curse in the name of the Lord. (Num. 22:6, 8, 18) It is not surprising that there would be prophets of the Lord outside of Israel as some in Moab and elsewhere may have continued to believe in the Lord over the years. Moabites were descended of righteous Lot—righteous (2 Pet. 2:7) not by works but because he believed God and the Lord credited to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:24) He believed the Lord would bless all the families on earth through Abraham’s family by taking on flesh through Abraham’s line (Gen. 12:3), so that He might be crushed for sin (Gen. 3:15), taking the power of sin away, utterly crushing Satan. For the Serpent cannot kill the Son of God. Death has no dominion over Him. (Rom. 6:9) Balaam seems to know this. He is a prophet of the Lord. He even seeks out the Lord, though his ways are bit beyond the pale. (Num. 24:1; 23:1, 14-15, 29-30) But as with so many who start out preaching God’s righteousness in Christ (Acts 20:29-30)—so that some might believe and by the gift of faith have life in His name, through Lord’s graciously crediting you with His righteousness—he had corrupted his ways. (2 Pet. 2:15) He was a prophet for hire. He took money to bless and curse. The Lord promised to bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who cursed him. (Gen. 12:3) The Lord blesses for the sake of Abraham’s family by which all families will be blessed when He became part of the human family, taking on our flesh in the womb of Mary, the virgin daughter of this family.
Balaam is known in the Bible for sinning by preaching for gain, not for Christ. When to live is Christ and to die in Christ is gain. (Phil. 1:21) Not to live now is gain, to preach and be famous is gain. Or, to have a famous preacher at your church is a sure way to gain. But the other thing Balaam is known for is who the Lord sent to preach to him when he was a wayward preacher.
The Lord opened his donkey’s eyes (Num. 22:23) to see the Angel of Lord—God in human form, the second person of the Trinity—standing there with what? A sword in His hand. It’s almost a surprise that sword was not coming from His mouth since the Lord appears other times with a sword coming out of His mouth (Rev. 1:12-16) since His Word is the sword of spirit (Eph. 6:17), and sharper than a two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12), slicing and dicing, judging and pardoning with the precision that only He who searches hearts and minds of all (Jer. 17:10; Rev. 2:23, etc.), who knows all and is justified when He speaks and righteous when He judges has. (Ps. 51:4)
The Angel stands in the donkey’s way. And 3 times the donkey stops. Three times Balaam mistreats his donkey. (Num. 22:23-27) Why? Because he is eager to go get paid. He’s got a primo speaking engagement to get to. But the Lord gives the last word to the donkey. He opens the donkey’s mouth. (Num. 22:28) The donkey shames Balaam. “Haven’t I always been faithful to you? Have I ever treated you this way before?” (Num. 22:30) No. So that by mouth of an ass Balaam sees what he is. And now humbled by preaching the Lord opens his eyes to see how the donkey had triply, Triunely, saved him. (Num. 22:31) For the Lord resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6) And humbled the Lord Himself speaks confirming what donkey spoke. (Num. 22:32-33) The donkey was Balaam’s salvation physically. The donkey’s preaching was Balaam’s salvation spiritually for that third time that the donkey saved his life God’s donkey preacher preached His wayward preacher unto repentance. (Num. 22:34) Back into faith. Balaam repents. Recognizes his wrong. Seeks the Lord and His ways. Becomes a servant of the Lord and His salvation for Israel (Num. 22:35), not cursing as hired, but blessing Israel three times and cursing Balaak who would curse Israel. So that Balaam is a preacher of God’s faithfulness to His own promises. By his preaching Israel is saved. And along with Israel all the world by Abraham’s seed, the son of Eve, taking on our flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary, a daughter of this family. He carried our sin to the cross where it is finished. He rose to preach blessing to all who by faith in Him are sons of Abraham.
In +Jesus name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON