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This story is best known from being acted out in children’s Sunday School classes. Everybody loves a talking donkey! What an embarrassment to the seer that he was so blind to God’s presence that he needed to receive insight and protection from his donkey. His impure motives and longing for worldly riches tainted his spiritual perception. In his heart he hoped that God would change His mind and allow him to curse Israel and receive the bounty promised by Balak. God demonstrated His sovereignty in protecting His people and using even a dumb donkey as an instrument to rebuke the unprincipled prophet.

Gordon Wenham: The ass was caught three times between the angel’s sword and Balaam’s stick. Soon Balaam will find himself trapped three times between Balak’s demands and God’s prohibitions. Through his third encounter with God, Balaam was reminded that God wields a sword and that disobedience means death. So he goes on his way fully committed to declaring God’s words rather than submitting to Balak’s wishes (35).

Raymond Brown: The animal had never spoken before and would never do so again. She too was an instrument in the hand of God. It was the Lord who opened both the dumb donkey’s mouth (22:28) and the blind seer’s eyes (22:31). By means of this brilliant story, the Lord presented his people with an encouraging message and some great doctrinal truths. A series of fine theological propositions, however lofty and inspiring, might decay in the dust, but the story of an eloquent donkey would endure forever. She plays a role in a greater drama than anything the most ambitious donkey might begin to imagine.

When God wants to announce great themes, influence multitudes, change lives and shape destinies, he will use whoever and whatever he wishes—a pagan king, a greedy soothsayer, even a voiceless donkey. This compelling narrative is not about what human beings plan but what God achieves. In the unfolding of his will he can use anything or anybody to achieve his righteous ends.

Faithlife Sermons: “When the Lord has clearly revealed his will to us, our role is to accept and follow it, not…asking for a second opinion.”[Roy Gane] If we rebel, God will orchestrate events to bring us back into His will; some of which, could be painful. We also see in Balaam that deliberate sin can blind us to spiritual realities, often to the harm of those around us.

J. Ligon Duncan: God can use a donkey if He wants to. God can use a donkey to prophesy if He wishes. The truth of God’s word is not dependent upon our esteem of the messenger. God will sometimes use messengers to bring a message whose persons or character seem incongruent with the message and the majesty of God.

Isn’t that what we learn in verses 28-30 as this donkey starts talking some common sense? Some common sense that Balaam really needs to understand and implement himself? The donkey is an instrument of the Lord, and God can use a donkey if He wants to.


A. Impure Motives Anger God

“But God was angry because he was going,”

Charlie Garret: “and burned the nostril of God.” It is as if fire shot out of His nose over the events taking place. It is curious that Balaam had been given permission to go, but that now God’s anger is fired up over his going. However, it is apparent, even if not explicitly stated, that the intent by going was to curse Israel. That is why the emissaries had been sent.

MacArthur: Even though God had given Balaam permission to go (v. 20), He knew that his motive was not right. Thus the anger of the Lord burned against Balaam because God knew that he was not yet submissive to what He required.

Faithlife Sermons: Rabbinical tradition teaches that secretly Balaam hopes in his heart that God will eventually allow him to curse the people of Israel. Because of his rebellious heart and attitude, God is angry.

B. Impure Motives Cause God to Stand against You

“and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way

as an adversary against him.”

Eugene Merrill: The Angel of the Lord was a manifestation of the presence of the Lord Himself, that is, He was a theophany. This is clear from the fact that He frequently was equated with Deity and that He was offered and accepted worship, something absolutely forbidden to ordinary angels.

Charlie Garrett: The word satan, or adversary, is introduced into the Bible here. It is one who opposes or an accuser. When it is prefixed by the definite article, it speaks of Satan, the arch-enemy of God.

Here, it is malak Yehovah, or “the Angel of the Lord,” meaning the eternal Christ, who stands in opposition to Balaam.

C. Impure Motives Have an Unimpressive Supporting Cast

“Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him.”




A. (:23) Drawn Sword – Alternate Path — Donkey Goes Into the Field –

First Strike

“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.”

B. (:24-25) Restraining Wall – Avoidance — Donkey Rubs Against the Wall –

Second Strike

“Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he struck her again.”

Charlie Garrett: Thus, this is probably a dividing line between two independent vineyards that people would travel through. On each side would be a gader, or wall. It is another new word signifying a wall or a fence. This was probably of stone which was cleared from fields and used to mark the edge of the property. This would make passage limited.

C. (:26-27) Narrow Space – Acquiescence — Donkey Lies Down –

Third Strike

“And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick.”

Charlie Garrett: “and burned the nostril of Balaam.” It is the same words used above when speaking about the anger of the Lord. The number three in Scripture signifies that which is substantial, complete and entire. The Lord has taken Balaam through the entire course of events in order to alert him to the severity of the situation.



A. (:28) Donkey Protests the Undeserved Beating

“And 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?’”

Who is really the jackass in this scenario?

Timothy Ashley: The same phrase is used of opening a prophet’s mouth in Ezek. 3:27; 33:22. Since speaking animals were apparently unusual in Israel, the narrator makes it clear that this is an act of Yahweh himself. To discuss whether donkeys have sufficient vocal cords to speak overlooks the fact that this is an act of Almighty Yahweh. The question of how the donkey could speak does not concern the narrator.

B. (:29) Balaam Responds in Blind Arrogance – Unaware of the Danger

“Then Balaam said to the donkey, ‘Because you have made a mockery of me!

If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.’”

Charlie Garrett: The word Balaam uses, and which is translated as “abused,” signifies “to go over completely.” It is what one does when he gleans. He goes over an area until it is picked clean. Balaam says, in essence, “You have completely derided me.”

C. (:30) Donkey Reasons on the Basis of His Faithful Service

“And the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?’

And he said, ‘No.’”



A. (:31) AHA Moment for Balaam

1. Balaam Now Sees the Danger

“Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand;”

2. Response of Humiliation and Fear

“and he bowed all the way to the ground.’

B. (:32-33) Argumentation Supporting Rebuke by the Angel of the Lord

1. (:32a) Irrationality of Undeserved Beating

“And the angel of the LORD said to him,

‘Why have you struck your donkey these three times?’”

2. (:32b) Imminent Danger Due to Rebellion

“Behold, I have come out as an adversary,

because your way was contrary to me.”

3. (:33) Intervention by the Donkey Saved Balaam’s Life

“But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.”

C. (:34) Apology that Lacks Conviction

1. Pleading Ignorance of the Lord’s Opposition

“And Balaam said to the angel of the LORD,

‘I have sinned,

for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me.’”

Wiersbe: His words, “I have sinned,” were not evidence of sincere repentance. Pharaoh (Ex. 9:27), King Saul (1 Sam. 15:24, 30; 26:21), and Judas Iscariot (Matt. 27:4) all uttered these words but didn’t turn to God for mercy. What good is it to say pious words if your heart goes right on sinning? Listen to David (2 Sam. 12:13; Ps. 54:4; 2 Sam. 24:10, 17; 1 Chron. 21:8, 17) or the Prodigal Son if you want to hear real confession.

2. Protesting that He does not Wish to Displease the Lord

“Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back.”

Timothy Ashley: The same phrase is used of opening a prophet’s mouth in Ezek. 3:27; 33:22. Since speaking animals were apparently unusual in Israel, the narrator makes it clear that this is an act of Yahweh himself. To discuss whether donkeys have sufficient vocal cords to speak overlooks the fact that this is an act of Almighty Yahweh. The question of how the donkey could speak does not concern the narrator.

D. (:35) Acquiescence with Restriction

“But the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men,

but you shall speak only the word which I shall tell you.’

So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak.”



A. (:36) Rendezvous of Impatience on the Part of Balak

“When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the Arnon border, at the extreme end of the border.”

Charlie Garrett: The king desired to provide a true state visit for Balaam, and so instead of awaiting him to come to his location, he went to the extremity of his territory to meet with him. It shows the importance of the matter to the king. He is anxious to give Balaam great honor in hopes that he will accept it and act in the most favorable manner concerning the situation with Israel.

B. (:37) Reproach for Hesitancy on the Part of Balaam

“Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘Did I not urgently send to you to call you?

Why did you not come to me? Am I really unable to honor you?’”

C. (:38) Reminder of Constraints on the Prophecy on the Part of Balaam

“So Balaam said to Balak, ‘Behold, I have come now to you! Am I able to speak anything at all? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I shall speak.’”

Iain Duguid: It is striking that it was at this point in the story, after he arrived in Moab humbled after the incident with the donkey and reminded that he was not an independent agent, Balaam finally said the words to Balak that he earlier failed to say to his envoys. When Balak asked him why he did not come when the king summoned him (v. 37; the same Hebrew word as before) and said, “Am I not able to honor you?” Balaam replied, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (v. 38). By this point Balaam had, however reluctantly, learned his lesson. Balak had neither the authority to summon him nor the ability to reward him sufficiently to achieve what he wanted. Balaam may not have been happy about this turn of events, as the terseness of his reply to Balak perhaps makes evident, but he recognized that he was not a free agent in this matter. He could only say the words the Lord commanded him to say.

D. (:39-41) Recording of the Preparations for Prophecying

1. (:39) Impressive Site

“And Balaam went with Balak, and they came to Kiriath-huzoth.”

2. (:40) Impressive Sacrifice

“And Balak sacrificed oxen and sheep, and sent some to Balaam

and the leaders who were with him.”

Timothy Ashley: We are probably safest in concluding that these sacrifices were meant to be a kind of welcome for Balaam. Whether they were intended to be thanksgivings for his safe arrival or to seek the good offices of Balak’s gods is not known.

3. (:41) Impressive Staging

“Then it came about in the morning that Balak took Balaam,

and brought him up to the high places of Baal;

and he saw from there a portion of the people.”