This story, showing clearly God’s sense of humour, and seeming more like one of Aesop’s fables than biblical history, is about the prophet Balaam and his talking donkey. It can be read in Numbers 22–24 and tells us that Balaam got paid for foretelling the future and the manipulation of people for profit. His heart was taken over by thoughts of the profit he could make in the land of Moab. His story shows the deception of pretending to be pious and spiritual while inwardly living a corrupt life. This mixture of wicked motives, pursuit of gain, amorality, and power combined with an outward appearance of the spiritual life ultimately led to his death.
Peter warned against false prophets. “Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness.” (2 Peter 2:15,16)
God sent an angel to warn him that his strategy was totally wrong. His donkey
could see the angel on the road but was invisible to Balaam. The donkey would go no further. Balaam hit the donkey three times! Later on, the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her” (Num. 22:32–33).
I think the three warnings that came directly from the donkey’s mouth also have to do with three important aspects of business life: money, sex, and power.
These three themes were also dealt with by Dostoyevsky in his wonderful book ‘The Idiot.’ Prince Myskin, whom Dostoyevsky portrayed as Christlike, was plunged into the depths of a culture obsessed with money, sex, and power. People could not fathom what was wrong with the prince, who showed absolutely no vanity, greed, lust, envy, or fear whatsoever. They admired his innocence, but his behaviour was so abnormal that they called him the “idiot.” Living a Christian life today is just not normal anymore!
Balaam, the owner of the donkey, who ‘fell in love with the money he could earn by doing wrong,’ was very much influenced by his desire for money at all costs. Jude verse 11 refers to Balaam, who would “do anything for money.” He served the wrong master!
Balaam misused this force toward his own ends, and his talking donkey tried to restrain him from it. In his ambition to put his stamp on society, Balaam enticed the children of Israel to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual sin. (Revelation 2:14) Sexuality is irrevocably combined with worship; when we get married, we promise to honour one another physically -“With my body, I thee worship.”
In their immorality the Israelites started to “indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods” (Num. 25:1–2). Balaam used unnatural sexuality as a method to get the people back into slavery again. “And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey” (Num. 22:28).
The third reason for the donkey contradicting Balaam, is the misuse of spirituality, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).
In Numbers 22–24, Balaam demonstrates how well he, as a prophet, could appraise trends and predict the future. He even predicted the star of Bethlehem (see Num. 24:17). He would have been a very popular guy at the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He would have had the gift of getting insight into God’s handling of the world.
Balaam impressed the local king very much with his insights. He had a spiritual gift, but he could not bear spiritual fruit! This king knew what he wanted to hear from Balaam, so he made Balaam a proposal he could not refuse. Balaam misused his power.
The first warning came when the donkey saw the angel and turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her in an attempt to get her back on track. He knew his enterprise was not on the right track. Are you not on the right track? Are the outcomes of your financial decisions not what they should be? Listen to what God is trying to tell you, through tough circumstances.
The second warning came on a narrow track in between the vineyards, with a wall on both sides. The donkey was afraid when he saw the angel and pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. That must have hurt! Balaam’s enterprise was painful for him. Are your finances hurting you? Physically maybe? Headaches, high blood pressure, too much stress, burnout? Frustrations because of conflicts and lack of motivation? Could this be a warning from God? Turn back to His ways!
The third warning came because the angel stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn at all, either to the right or to the left. The donkey lay down, with Balaam still on her back, wouldn’t go any further and Balaam beat her again. There was no way at all for Balaam’s enterprise to go. He was at his wits’ end and took his sword to kill the animal. Have your finances come to a deadlock? No more cash? Are your creditors on your back, demanding payment? Do you see no way out? Stop, ask the Lord for help in turning your finances around.
Failing forward means to develop a spiritual antenna to pick up the Lord’s guidance.
Failing forward means to maintain integrity; that your financial decisions reflect obedience to Gods’ directives.
Failing forward is to learn to say ‘no’ to financial temptations to stray off course from God’s ways.
Failing forward is to trust God for a way out when your back is against the wall and life is hurting.
Failing forward means realising that God allows certain incidents to happen in our lives to warn us. It seems as if the circumstances are saying, “Stop!” What is it that the Lord wants to tell you? Are you willing to listen?
Read my book “Donkey Business,” in which I use the donkey as a metaphor for our assets. I explain how the Lord can use our assets to His glory.