The Rev. Roger Coleman, Pilgrim Chapel: For those of us who come to faith not through study of holy writ or acceptance of revered traditions but by reflection on everyday experiences, the story of Balaam and his donkey offers a confusing hodgepodge of incidents.
As found in the Book of Numbers, the story revolves around a request by King Balek of Maob that Balaam, a prophet, place a curse on the Israelites as they enter the Promised Land. Balaam refuses to do, saying that God has not put words of condemnation in his mouth.
On one occasion, Balaam is confronted by an angel of the Lord who can only be seen by Balaam’s donkey. The donkey falls down and is beaten by his master.
Eventually, Balaam also sees the angel. This results in a blessing rather than a condemnation of the Israelites.
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Later, in an abrupt reversal, the greedy Balaam tells King Balak how he can get the Israelites to curse themselves — entice them with prostitutes and unclean food sacrificed to idols. The Israelites fall for these offers and, as a result, God sends a deadly plague to punish them for their faithlessness.
Balaam is portrayed in the Bible as a wicked man for his betrayal — a Judas of sorts. It strikes me, however, that the real story is not about Balaam but about the Israelites blaming Balaam rather than accepting responsibility for their own rejection of the Lord.
Faith requires personal responsibility. When failures come, it’s time to reflect on our experience, ask for forgiveness, and respond to “God as love,” whether dealing with a difficult ex-spouse or working to protect our children by limiting handguns in urban communities.
Let’s stop blaming Balaam and get our asses moving.
The Rev. Penny Ellwood, Blue Springs Campus pastor, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection: This story from the Bible always makes me think of one of Aesop’s fables. You don’t expect to find a talking donkey in Scripture. So what are we to make of Balaam’s donkey?
In this story, Balaam, a renowned sorcerer, has been summoned by the King of Moab to place a curse on the Israelite people. The king is fearful of the Israelites and wants them cursed so that he might be able to defeat them.
Unfortunately for Balaam, God responds in his dreams with the message that Balaam must not curse the Israelites for they are blessed.
Eventually he heads out on his faithful donkey with the king’s men. I wonder if Balaam may have thought to override God’s message to collect his fee.
Along the way, his donkey encounters an armed angel of God and tries several times to avoid him. Frustrated and unable to see why his donkey keeps disobeying, Balaam beats him.
At that point, the angel of God begins to speak through the donkey, questioning Balaam’s treatment of his faithful service. Unfazed, Balaam responds in anger (not quite the reaction one would have expected to this kind of miracle).
At this point the angel reveals himself and Balaam, seeing his perilous position, quickly relents and agrees to go home.
Surprisingly, God sends Balaam on to the king where, whether Balaam wishes to or not, he is only able to offer a blessing on the Israelites. It doesn’t matter that Balaam goes through all his magic sacrificial rituals.
Which just goes to show that God can use anyone — a donkey or a rebellious sorcerer — to do his will and speak his truth.
You cannot thwart the will of God. I wouldn’t even try.
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