What Does Numbers 22:23 Mean?

When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way.

Numbers 22:23(NASB)
Picture courtesy of John Linnell -Public Domain

Verse of the Day

Despite their complaining attitude and various instances of unbelief and rebellion, Israel were graciously provided for and divinely protected by the Lord during their 40-year wilderness wanderings. The surrounding nations knew what the Lord had done to the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. They had heard how the first-born in Egypt had been struck down by the angel of death before their exodus, and how the Lord had provided for all their needs during their passage through the wilderness.

The Moabites were one of many nations that had been infected with fear of Israel. They had seen how God fought for the Israelites against the Amorites and defeated them (when their king refused permission for the people to pass peacefully through their land). They knew how the Israelites had captured their cities, driven them out of the land, and struck down Sihon, king of the Amorites, Og, king of Bashan, and all their sons and fighting men.

Although Moab had originally traded with Israel they no doubt felt very vulnerable, and instead of giving honour to the Lord, Balak, king of Moab, decided to use sorcery to weaken and defeat Israel's powerful God. He assumed that the great hoard of people on his border would consume all their provisions and so he sent his officers to purchase the services of a sorcerer, and charged him with placing an evil curse on the people of God.

His officers were sent to employ the service of a wicked diviner named Baalam. The 'profiteering' Balaam was more than prepared to carry out this evil plan, but God visited him in the night and forbade him to go to Moab and fulfil Balak's nefarious plan. Initially Balaam refused, realising the immense strength and supernatural power of God was too great a challenge for his inferior strength.

However, Balak sent for Balaam a second time and pleaded with him to travel to Moab and curse God's people. The Lord knew this charlatan had no fear of God. He knew the evil intent of his heart and this time, God permitted the magician to travel to Moab, but commanded the man to only speak the words that God put in his mouth and do only what the Lord instructed him to do.

In the morning, this mercenary man quickly saddled his mule and set out on the journey to Moab, riding his donkey. God was incensed that Balaam was prepared to go and curse Israel in spite of being warned against it. He was angry that despite knowing that God's almighty power was unassailable, this foolish man set out to curse His chosen people.

And so, the Angel of the Lord took His stand on the path that Balaam was travelling on, to oppose him. Balaam was riding his donkey and his two servants were with him: "When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned aside from the way and went into the field, but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the path."

Balaam's avarice blinded his eyes to the Angel of the Lord Who barred his path, and yet the ass was more sensitive to the divine presence. The authority of the Angel was greater than his mercenary master and his big stick, which this man cruelly used to strike the defenceless creature. The angelic Person in his path with the drawn sword in His hand was probably the pre-incarnate Son of God, but the blind prophet had less discernment of spiritual things than this dumb donkey.

Balaam's sinful lust for wealth and material gain utterly blinded him to the things of the Lord. The love of money is a root of many kinds of evil. It can lead to spiritual poverty and lure one into ungodly actions and a destroyed life. Balaam is a perfect example of a man whose love of money brought him to destruction.

What a warning to all of us. What an example of the danger that accompanies the lust for money. A man who could have been greatly used by God to preach truth to a pagan nation, allowed his love of money to destroy his life and tarnish his reputation, and yet the spiritual sensitivity of a little dumb donkey was greater than his master. Indeed, the little animal was not only used by God to show Balaam the destructive nature of covetousness and greed, but is remembered - to this day - as the one in this passage with the greater spiritual awareness. 

My Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank You for the insights from the story of Balaam and his little donkey. Thank You for showing me how destructive a love of money and a lust for wealth can be, blinding people to the truth and impeding spiritual discernment and understanding. Keep me from any lustful thoughts, and give me spiritual discernment and the wisdom to recognise if I am becoming embroiled in anything that may endanger my soul. Open my eyes to see You, my ears to hear Your call, and lead me in the path of righteousness, for Your name’s sake. In Jesus' name, AMEN.

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