When the huge host of wandering Israelites came close to the Moab border, King Balak got nervous. He had heard how strong these people were and he wanted to figure out how to defeat them. His strategy was to hire a diviner named Balaam to put a curse on them. He reasoned that he would be able to rout them if they were under a curse. So, he sent a delegation of high-ranking Moabites to Balaam’s home with his message.
No delegation ever so ill-discharged its mission. They spent the night with the diviner as he consulted the Lord and in the morning Balaam told the great ones that he had heard from Providence and that he could not go with them, explaining that God did not want these people cursed because he had blessed them.
When the delegates got back to Moab and reported what the diviner said, King Balak was disappointed and upset, but he did not give up. He sent a second group, a larger one with more noble people and the promise of financial reward and royal favors. This group also spent the night as Balaam consulted the Lord, who told him to go ahead with the group but that he must speak only what the Lord told him to. But, it is implied by the full counsel of scripture (II Peter, Jude, etc.) that Balaam must have started thinking about the money and favors during the night, because when he took off with the group on his donkey, God, who looks on the heart, was angry and sent an angel with a sword to stand in the road to oppose him.
Perhaps blinded by his own ambition, Balaam does not see the heavenly being, but his jenny does and she shies off into a field. Balaam beats the donkey back onto the road only to have her pin his foot against a wall. He gives her another whacking and shortly she just lies down in the road and he starts in on her again. Then the creature speaks, “Why are you beating me? Am I in the habit of behaving this way?” Balaam has to acknowledge that she is right and then the Lord opens the seer’s eyes to see the angel, who tells Balaam he is on a reckless path.
When Balaam arrives in Moab, he and King Balak make animal sacrifices on a mountain and the diviner speaks about Israel, but no curses are forthcoming. The king takes him to another location, hoping to get a different result, but the same thing happens: the seer blesses Israel and does not put a curse on them. Balak takes him to a third location with the same result. Then he says, go home, you will get no reward from me. I brought you here to curse Israel but you have done nothing but bless them. Balaam said something that may be about like this in today’s vernacular, “I can’t help it.”
That story is in Numbers, but elsewhere in scripture we read about “Balaam’s error” which we take to be seeking favor from men over obedience to God. And, we have become acquainted with the angel’s words that Balaam was on a reckless path, that is, self-seeking over honesty. If our donkey balks, whatever our donkey may be, we had better pay attention. It could be that we are on Balaam’s reckless path of error.