S (Scripture): Numbers 22:26 Then the angel of the Lord went farther, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When [Balaam’s] donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she crouched down under Balaam. Then Balaam was angry, and he beat his donkey with a staff.
28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “You have made me look stupid; I wish there were a sword in my hand, for I would kill you right now.” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am not I your donkey that you have ridden ever since I was yours until this day? Have I ever attempted to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” 31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his sword drawn in his hand; so he bowed his head and threw himself down with his face to the ground. 32 The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? Look, I came out to oppose you because what you are doing is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned from me these three times. If she had not turned from me, I would have killed you but saved her alive.” 34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood against me in the road. So now, if it is evil in your sight, I will go back home.” 35 But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you may only speak the word that I will speak to you.” So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.
O (Observation): This story is a bit strange to follow. God’s people are on the march and seeking passage through the Moabite territory. They just go done destroying the Amorites, because they opposed God and God’s people. The Hebrew people want to pass through Moab now, with no fighting. But the Moabites are deathly afraid that the fate of the Amorites will now be their fate, as well.
Because of the fear that captures the people of Moab, their king, Balak, wishes Balaam (a sort of prophet of the Lord) to bring a curse down on God’s people…which he refuses.
To help convince Balaam that he should curse God’s people, Balak tries to persuade him by sending the rich princes of Moab to entice Balaam with money in order to get Balaam to curse God’s people.
God allows Balaam to go with the princes, but strictly warns Balaam that he must say exactly what the Lord tells him to say.
Now…on his way with the princes, God is angered. (Perhaps God sees the riches as Balaam’s motivation, rather than his call as a prophet…). For whatever reason, God is directing Balaam with an Angel.
Who sees the Angel? Balaam’s ass. The donkey sees it and turns away twice. On the third time, the donkey cannot turn, for the path is too narrow.
The Lord finally reveals the Angel to Balaam. Balaam is reminded that God’s presence is here. That God is in control and God’s words – and God’s words alone – are what Balaam is to speak to the Moabite King, Balak.
A (Application): When was the last time that you were reminded of God’s presence? Have you had a major, “in your face” moment? Has God spoken through a strange means to you?
Today I think about the disappointments in my life, and how those were “Balaam’s ass” moments for me.
Failure at my first full-time job turned into a reminder of what God was NOT calling me to do with my life.
Failure as a pastor reminds me that the ministry of Word and Sacrament is not mine to dole out. Rather, I serve the Lord, who shows all of us the way forward.
Failures as a husband reminds me that when God is not at the center of my relationship with my wife, we suffer. But when forgiveness and reconciliation happens between us, we deeply sense the joy that is God’s presence in our lives.
Failures as a leader remind me that God is the one who leads me. And that is sufficient. When God wants me to lead…I will lead. When God wants me to follow…I will follow.
We never know through what means God will speak to us. Rather, our call is to discern what God is saying to us…to determine the grace being poured out into our lives. Then, after discerning that grace, we move forward… confident that God’s grace is what makes our movement possible.
Listen for God’s voice. Perceive it. Share with others what that voice says to you. And move forward.
P (Prayer): Lord, you bewilder us sometimes. But in all ways, you can show us mercy. Help us to discern your ways and your will for us. Guide us as we move forward today. Amen.