...but he (Balaam) was rebuked for his own transgression: a dumb ass spake with man's voice and stayed the madness of the prophet. II Peter 2:16
Balaam was a soothsayer with quite the reputation. In fact, one of the most powerful kings in the area, Balak, knows that if Balaam curses someone, they get cursed. Now Balak is in a tight spot with the nation Israel headed his way, dominating everyone in their path, so he figures why not hire Balaam to throw a curse on them so they can't defeat him and his army.
Good plan, but God is not going for it and Balaam knows that. He even tells the king a that God is not going to allow it and that Balak should just accept that reality and make peace with the nation.
But Balak has no Plan B, so he ups the ante until Balaam buckles. This speaks to a powerful aspect of the darkest part of the human heart. Even in the face of God's explicit rejection of a certain request or plan of action, the enemy knows that we all have a price if our hearts are not wholly God's.
Faced with the prospect of profiting from Balak's desperation, Balaam goes to "seek the Lord again" for permission to curse Israel. God says, "go ahead and go" and Balaam saddles his donkey and heads off to the promise of fame and fortune -- no doubt with a sternly pious look on his face.
But God is not pleased and sends an angel with a sword to prevent Balaam from engaging in his "madness." Ironically the only one that can see the angel is the 'dumb ass' that Balaam is riding!
And the ass saw the Angel of Jehovah, and she lay down under Balaam. And the anger of Balaam glowed, and he struck the ass with his staff. And Jehovah opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times? And Balaam said to the ass, Because you have insulted me. If only there were a sword in my hand now I would kill you. Numbers 22:27-29
It is Balaam's reaction that is the indicator that his ambition and greed, his madness, has taken control of him and is leading him to destruction. And it is a powerful warning to us as well!
He couldn't see what was directly in front of him. The angel of the Lord, with a drawn sword, was standing directly in his path and he was completely oblivious. He was so focused on the opportunity that he failed to see the danger in front of him. Ambition has a blinding effect on us. Even if we couch it in "all for the Lord" terms, the bottom line is it is about us. It is what we will get out of it in terms of prestige, place, power or riches. It is about our opportunity to ascend in our minds and the eyes of others, with a little left over for God. And it blinds us to everything else.
Anger is the always the companion of blindness. God put an angel in Balaam's path and his donkey saw it and tried to keep him safe. And the more the Lord tried to back Balaam into a corner, the more the donkey tried to avoid the threat. Balaam's reaction? He got madder and madder and madder until finally in a 'blind' rage he began beating the donkey and wishing with all his heart he had the means to kill him. This is such an accurate depiction of what happens when our plans and/or progress are impeded or frustrated. We start striking out at whatever or whoever gets in the way. And the sad thing...those who are trying hardest to protect us take the worst beating.
He was oblivious to the miracle of obstruction. In a desperate attempt to avoid death at the hands of the angel, the donkey just lays down and gives up. He would rather take a beating then deliver Balaam to the angel. And then...the donkey begins to speak! Now that is truly amazing, but what is even more amazing is that Balaam doesn't stop to wonder at the miracle of a talking donkey. Instead, as if this stuff happens all the time, he engages the poor animal in a diatribe about how insulted he is that the donkey won't faithfully carry him to destruction! Isn't it always the case... we get all caught up in our ambition, mission or madness and we start lashing out at everyone who appears to be hindering that obsession, without ever stopping to think of the miracle that is God's obstructive hand. In His infinite kindness He is saying, "stop, better think this through again because it is not going to end well!" And we're oblivious to the miracle because we are too busy beating and berating the messenger of our deliverance.
So the moral of the story? Sometimes it's better to be a "dumb ass" and respect the barrier God is erecting to protect us from our madness, receiving the warning He is giving us, even when it is being deliver by a dumb ass!