Bible Order: Joshua 1–4
Chronological Order: Numbers 29–30
New Testament Only: Mark 10:32–52
The Talking Mule
Just the other day I was flipping channels on the TV when I came across an old movie I remembered watching as a child. It was “Francis the Talking Mule” with Donald O’Connor. It is the story of a 2nd Lieutenant in the South Pacific during WWII who comes across a talking mule that gives him intel about various Japanese efforts to destroy the American position. You can imagine the difficulty Donald faces when telling his superiors that he got his bits of intelligence from a talking mule.
I wonder if the concept for this movie came from a passage of Scripture we read in today’s reading.
Numbers 22:27-30 ESV
“When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she 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 she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”
Do you know what floors me about this Scripture? Nowhere does it say that Balaam just about had a heart attack when the donkey spoke. I mean the donkey says “Hey why did you hit me?” and Balaam says “Because you made a fool of me”. The narrative gives us no sense that Balaam is surprised that his donkey is speaking. Now in the movie I mentioned above a person would be speaking and the donkey would interject something and the other person might keep speaking until they suddenly stop and do a double take; sometimes they’d faint or sit down with trembling limbs.
I have got to say that if I threw a ball for my dog and said “fetch” and the dog turned and looked at me and said, “why don’t YOU go fetch pal”, I’d have to sit down; I’d need a minute to process this. Balaam does not seem to be surprised by the “super-natural”. Of course Balaam has proven himself as one who can clearly hear from God. In our reading today men were sent to Balaam from a king to ask him to come to the king and put a curse on the Israelites so he could defeat them in battle. Balaam had them stay the night so he could inquire of the Lord about this matter. God’s response was to warn Balaam to refuse the kings generous offer.
The king, not used to being told no, sent a second delegation to Balaam and instead of say “Look guys, God already gave me his response on this” he said, “stay the night so I can ask God about this again”. Why did Balaam ask God a second time? I think his greed compelled him to ask again in hope that he could sweet talk God into permission to reap a generous reward. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done something like this. I’ve gone to God in prayer, asked for something I wanted and when God gave me a negative answer I assumed I heard incorrectly thereby allowing me to ask again. When I think of that I’m reminded of a child that keeps saying “Daddy please, Daddy please, Daddy please”.
God gave Balaam permission to go see this king but told him firmly that he had better say only what God told him to say. Take a look at this exchange:
Numbers 22:20-22 ESV
“And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.”
So why did God tell Balaam he could go and then send an angel to kill him? Why was Balaam going on this journey to begin with? He wanted the wealth the king offered him in exchange for a curse on Israel. Do you think he will get paid if he doesn’t put a curse on them? I don’t think Balaam got paid because he was never able to curse Israel as the king had asked. Still Balaam is going with the intention of finding a way around God’s will; he wants the money.
Brothers, do you pretend that God is your Lord only to play mental games with yourself so you can do what you want to do? “Well, the Bible doesn’t specifically say this is a sin”. “If I do it this way it isn’t really disobedience.” Have you not played that game in your own mind when God’s will and what you want have come into conflict? The story of Balaam shows us that we may fool ourselves but we do not fool God. He knows our hearts and disobedience always comes at a price. I hope it doesn’t take a talking mule to get you to see the danger of mental evasion.
Have a blessed day!
Your brother and servant in Christ,
Dying to self, living to serve!
(Originally posted 3/7/11)