From: All God’s Angels
So Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the officials of Moab.
God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now we was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey to turn it back onto the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side.
When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again. Then the angel of the Lord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” And he said, “No.”
Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face. The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.” The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but speak only what I tell you to speak.” So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.
There’s a backstory here. The king of Moab is pressuring Balaam, a Mesopotamian prophet of sorts, to go on a mission to curse the wandering people of Israel before they have the chance to wage war against the Moabites. God wants him to have no part in this scheme, but when Balaam asks a second time, God seems to relent and allow him to go with the king’s henchmen. As Balaam sets out, though, we have the strong impression that God’s first “you shall not go” should have been enough for him. Even with God’s apparent blessing, Balaam seems to be overruling his own conscience. What happens next is as fantastic as it is dramatic.
“The angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as [Balaam’s] adversary.” Here we are faced with a clear truth: in order to guide us, angels must sometimes oppose us. Balaam makes three attempts to lead his donkey around the unseen obstacle, and each attempt leaves him more frustrated. God’s angel counters every one of Balaam’s moves, and the way gets nothing but tighter until it is impossible for Balaam to go any further. If the chief work of an angel is to bring God’s message, then there is no mistaking this one: “Stop!”
But Balaam does miss the message, at least in part because he misses the messenger. Balaam sees only that the animal who has always done his bidding is now acting unruly and stubborn. Balaam does not see the upraised sword. Nor does he see the undoubtedly scowling face of the angel who holds it. How could he? A man whose focus on his own way has “blinded” him to God’s ways isn’t likely to perceive God’s messenger either.
A simple animal, however, whose life is uncluttered by ambitions, ulterior motives, and guilt has no problem seeing the angel blocking the way. The Bible often presents God’s creatures proclaiming his praise and glory (see the psalms especially). Perhaps some have eyes as attuned to Heaven as their voices. Doesn’t it make you wonder what can be seen or at least perceived by the animal kingdom that we human beings miss, perhaps every day?
In his impatience, Balaam struck his donkey for its obstinate refusal to move forward. But who was the real stubborn one? Smart animal actually – choosing to face its master with a staff rather than an angel with a sword. Which one would you rather argue with?
Joking aside, this is a story of God opposing one man’s misguided decisions, and using an angel to carry out his plan. We learn from it, too, that if God cannot get his servant to pay attention, he is not averse to using any means necessary to get the message across. Balaam’s life was saved because an animal saw an angel and was afraid.