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Strange Bible Verses: Numbers 22:8-35

11/07/07

  11:06:13 pm, by Nimble   , 847 words  
Categories: Thoughts, Religion

Strange Bible Verses: Numbers 22:8-35

(NOTE: Update about this story at the end of this post)

There are a number of odd tales in the Bible, but some of them are odder than others.

The tale of Balaam and the talking donkey is an odd one, but not just for the talking donkey. This is a tale of God getting mad when you do what he told you to do.

Get started reading the story in Lego form here.

This is a tale of Balak, the King of Moab, who saw what the Israelites did to the Amorites (Joshua slaughtered the lot of them), and went to seek someone who could curse the Israelites.

Now Balaam was good at this cursing business, so Balak sent emissaries to him. First time, he turned them away, but the second time, when they came back with a more impressive delegation, God told him to go with them:

Numbers 22:20

God came to Balaam during the night and said to him, 'Have not these men come to summon you? Get up and go with them! But do only what I tell you to do.'

So off Balaam goes, just as God told him to. You might think God would be happy about Balaam following his command, but...

Numbers 22:21-22

In the morning, Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and set out with the Moabite dignitaries. His going kindled Yahweh's anger, and the angel of Yahweh took his stand on the road to oppose him.

How DARE he go when God... told him to?

The rest of the story continues pretty much like this: the angel, which is invisible to Balaam, gets in Balaam's way, the donkey tries to avoid it, looking for all the world very disobedient, and Balaam hits it. This happens three times, culminating in Balaam striking the donkey after the donkey just lays down because the angel found a really narrow spot that they couldn't otherwise avoid.

At this point, the donkey starts talking:

Numbers 22:28

Yahweh then gave the donkey the power to talk, and she said to Balaam, 'What harm have I done to you, for you to strike me three times like this?'

Balaam says he's angry, the donkey asks whether she's even done this to him before, and Balaam says no. Then Yahweh lets Balaam see the angel that's been dogging them all this time:

Numbers 22:31

Yahweh then opened Balaam's eyes and he saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, and Balaam bowed his head and threw himself on his face.

Now you find out that were it not for the donkey avoiding the angel, Balaam would be dead right now:

Numbers 22:32-33

The angel of Yahweh said to him, 'Why did you strike your donkey three times like that? You are lucky she turned aside or I would have certainly killed you by now, though I would have spared her.'

Balaam is thinking here that he's done something wrong by going, which seems a pretty sensible thing to be thinking at this point:

Numbers 22:34

Balaam said to the angel of Yahweh, 'I did not know you were standing in the road to oppose me. But if what I am doing displeases you, I will turn back.'

Does the angel let him in on what made God mad? Does it tell him to turn back because he made a mistake? Was it because Balaam forgot his lunch?

No, the angel reiterates the instructions:

Numbers 22:35

The angel of Yahweh said to Balaam, 'Go with these men. But say only what I tell you to say.'

...and so he does.

This seems to be a story of capriciousness. Taken literally, it certainly is. It's hard to make sense of it figuratively.

This is right up there in the odd bunches of stories with Moses and Aaron winning the magic contest with Pharaoh and his magicians because they managed to make lice (or mosquitoes, depending on the version) in round four (Exodus 8:16-19)

UPDATE: Turns out that there is a rather horrible twist to this story a little later on. In Numbers 31:8, he is killed by the Israelites in the course of their massacre of the Midianites. You know, the one where they killed all the men, took the women and children, and then were told it wasn't enough of a massacre unless they killed everything except the virgin girls?

Numbers 31:17-18

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

It really is him, because he is named as the son of Beor in 22:5. Here's verse 31:8:

And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.

All that painstaking saving his life... so that he could be skewered?

1 comment

Comment from: Joe [Visitor]  
Joe

Hi,

In my NKJV, Numbers chapter 22:21 says this

‘And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men come to call you, rise, and go with them; but only the words I speak to you-that you shall do."‘

Whereas your translation says,
‘God came to Balaam during the night and said to him, ‘Have not these men come to summon you? Get up and go with them! But do only what I tell you to do.’

You make it sound like God is one who is contradictory, while if He was then he wouldn’t be God.

I would be interested to know what translation you were using. I think you should try to use the NKJV or KJV in future as everyone agrees that it is more accurate compared to translations like the NIV (nearly inspired version).

I would interested to hear back from you, on what I have just said!

11/25/09 @ 17:54
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