Balaam and the Donkey - Bible Story Summary

A Talking Donkey, a Sorcerer, and God's Unbreakable Promises

Balaam and the Donkey
Balaam and the Donkey. Getty Images

Scripture Reference

Numbers 22-24, 31; Jude 1:11; 2 Peter 2:15.

Balaam and the Donkey - Story Summary

Balaam, a sorcerer, was summoned by King Balak of the Moabites to curse the Israelites as Moses was leading them toward Canaan. Balak promised to pay Balaam handsomely for bringing evil upon the Hebrews, whom he feared.

In the night God came to Balaam, telling him not to curse the Israelites. Balaam sent the king's messengers away.

He did, however, go with a second set of Balak's messengers after being warned by God.

On the way, Balaam's donkey saw the angel of God standing in their path, brandishing a sword. The donkey turned, drawing a beating from Balaam. The second time the animal saw the angel, she pressed against a wall, crushing Balaam's foot. Again he beat the donkey. The third time the donkey saw the angel, she lay down under Balaam, who beat her severely with his staff.

At that, the Lord opened the donkey's mouth and it said to Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?" (Numbers 22:28, NIV)

After Balaam argued with the beast, the Lord opened the sorcerer's eyes so he too could see the angel. The angel scolded Balaam and ordered him to go to Balak but to speak only what God told him.

The king took Balaam to several mountains, ordering him to curse the Israelites on the plains below, but instead the sorcerer gave four oracles, repeating God's covenant of blessing on the Hebrew people.

Finally Balaam prophesied the deaths of pagan kings and a "star" that would come out of Jacob.

Balak sent Balaam home, angry that he had blessed rather than cursed the Jews. Later, the Jews warred against Midian, killing their five kings. They also put Balaam to death by the sword.

Points of Interest from the Story of Balaam and the Donkey

  • Balaam knew God and carried out his commands, but he was an evil man, driven by money rather than love of God.
  • The angel threatened Balaam because Balaam was obeying God in his actions, but in his heart he was rebelling, thinking only of the bribe.
  • The "oracles" of Balaam in Numbers correspond to the blessings God promised to Abraham: Israel will be as numerous as the dust of the earth; the Lord is with Israel; Israel will inherit the promised land; Israel will crush Moab, and from the Jews will come a Messiah.
  • Numbers 31:16 reveals that Balaam enticed the Israelites to turn from God and worship idols.
  • The fact that the angel asked Balaam the same question as the donkey indicates that the Lord was speaking through the donkey.

Questions for Reflection

Are my thoughts consistent with my actions? When I obey God am I doing it grudgingly or out of love for him?

(Sources: www.gotquestions.org; and The New Bible Commentary, edited by G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, and R.T. France.)