Question 1: What is the point of the Balaam story in Numbers 22 – 24 (or what are its points)? Is Balaam a good guy or a bad guy or what?
The point of the Balaam story is that even though we understand God’s command we can be tempted away from obedience to God. In the story Balaam knows what God’s will is and he appeared to be obedient to the words of God, but he had a desire for the rich and rewards from the king Balak, and he wish God could allow what he wants. Even though God clearly spoke to him not to curse Israelites, he keeps asking again. God revealed His will through the angel and donkey. Though Balaam confess his failure to obey, he continues to go to Balak anyway. The story portrays our attitude toward God’s command. Sometime we ask for God’s will as if we don’t know, but in many ways, God already told us what His wills are, through His words and other revelation. Thus what we need to is not keep asking, but simply follow and obey God. “To obey is better than sacrifice.
Question 2: Where did this story come from in the middle of the Numbers?
As we read this text, we might notice that the context and the nature of the story does not not fit well with the flow of the Numbers. The story of talking donkey and the prophecies of Balaam in chapter 24 seems very different from the rest of the book. Because of this many biblical scholars could not consent with the origin of the story, but many agreed that the story came from different traditions. This is one of the ancient stories that can be found also outside of the Bible, such as Talmud and other ancient literature. Since this is a part of the Bible, we believe this is the word of God and there is a message we need to learn. That’s what is important. You may think the story is a little weird, because of talking donkey and angels with sword, but this is very common style in any other ancient documents. When we read the Scripture, especially the Old Testament, we need to have a perspective that the story was written probably 2500 years ago in a form of oral tradition or myth or legend. That’s why it could be very difficult to understand. However the perspective we need to have is that the story, even though it may sounds strange, it carries the word of God. Thus our focus should be on what the message is and what God wants us to learn from it, not on the style of the story.