Old Testament

The Pentateuch

How did God make Balaam’s journey difficult?

It started with the talking donkey. While Balaam rode his donkey on the road, the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, sword drawn, standing in the middle of the road. So the donkey turned off the road and went into a field. Balaam whipped the donkey to get it back on the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow, walled path. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it brushed against the wall and caused Balaam to scrape his foot. Balaam struck the donkey again. A third time, the angel of the LORD appeared. The donkey could not turn to the right or the left, so it lay down under Balaam. By this time, Balaam was angry. He struck the donkey again. This time, “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.’” (NRSV, Numbers 22:28–30)

After this unusual exchange, God opened the eyes of Balaam so he, too, could see the angel standing there. The angel told Balaam that he could continue on his journey, but that he should only speak to Balak what God told him to speak.


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