21-23 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went off with the noblemen from Moab. As he was going, though, God's anger flared. The angel of God stood in the road to block his way. Balaam was riding his donkey, accompanied by his two servants. When the donkey saw the angel blocking the road and brandishing a sword, she veered off the road into the ditch. Balaam beat the donkey and got her back on the road.
24-25 But as they were going through a vineyard, with a fence on either side, the donkey again saw God's angel blocking the way and veered into the fence, crushing Balaam's foot against the fence. Balaam hit her again.
26-27 God's angel blocked the way yet again - a very narrow passage this time; there was no getting through on the right or left. Seeing the angel, Balaam's donkey sat down under him. Balaam lost his temper; he beat the donkey with his stick.
28 Then God gave speech to the donkey. She said to Balaam: "What have I ever done to you that you have beat me these three times?"
29 Balaam said, "Because you've been playing games with me! If I had a sword I would have killed you by now."
30 The donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your trusty donkey on whom you've ridden for years right up until now? Have I ever done anything like this to you before? Have I?"
He said, "No."
31 Then God helped Balaam see what was going on: He saw God's angel blocking the way, brandishing a sword. Balaam fell to the ground, his face in the dirt.
32-33 God's angel said to him: "Why have you beaten your poor donkey these three times? I have come here to block your way because you're getting way ahead of yourself. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she hadn't, I would have killed you by this time, but not the donkey. I would have let her off."
34 Balaam said to God's angel, "I have sinned. I had no idea you were standing in the road blocking my way. If you don't like what I'm doing, I'll head back."
35 But God's angel said to Balaam, "Go ahead and go with them. But only say what I tell you to sayabsolutely no other word."
Numbers 22:22-35a (The Message)
This is, I have to admit, one of the stranger passages in the Old Testament. And the lesson I'm going to take from it is less than obvious - but stick with me and see if it makes sense to you!
Balaam doesn't fit the plot of the Old Testament: he is introduced to us without explanation as 'a prophet of the Lord', yet he has nothing to do with the people of Israel as far as we know - at this point they are in the Sinai desert whilst Balaam lived on the river Euphrates. When the Israelites at the end of their 40 years wandering round the wilderness turn up on the border of Moab, Balak, the king of Moab, unsurprisingly panics and looks round for anything that might give him an edge in dealing with these invaders. So he sends for Balaam, who presumably has a reputation for being able to bless and curse people and situations, but we know that it is because he is dependent on his knowing God's will.
God warns Balaam before he leaves home that he must 'make sure you do absolutely nothing other than what I tell you.' And now he gets the same message after this encounter with the angel and the donkey.
To finish off the story: Balaam arrives at King Balak and no less than four times proclaims God's blessing on the people of Israel, despite having been summoned to do the opposite. And that, as far as Numbers is concerned, is where the story ends. In the New Testament however Balaam is seen as a very bad example; this is explained in Rev 2 v 14 'You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.' If we carry on in Numbers, the next episode is that the people of Israel are seduced into a pagan orgy (Numbers 25); the idea seems to be that Balaam suggested this as a way for Balak to destroy the Israelites - and God did kill 24,000 as a result of the trick. However the following their very visible repentance God enables the Israelites to destroy the Moabites. But Balaam seems to be held responsible before God for those deaths...
So what on earth does this have to do with us? I want to suggest - drawing from my own experience - that we need to be faithful to obey what God has told us before we start any relationship with a YF about how we are to relate to him. Before we start such a friendship, it is relatively easy to lay down for ourselves the rules we want to stick to: for example no overnights / time on our own together / thinking sexual thoughts about him... For each of us these may well be different, based on our own knowledge of what is safe FOR US.
But once we are a part of his life, the pressure will start to come on us to move beyond those lines in the sand. If we are honest we know that those rules make sense for us - but we SO want to have just a little bit more with him... And then it all goes horribly wrong.
So: for those of us who don't have a YF at the moment, especially if there is one 'on the horizon': now is the time to think about what is right for you. Pray that God will show you the boundaries that are sensible and good for you that you may be an unalloyed blessing to your YF, that in years ahead you may be able to look back at the positive influence you've been in his life.
And for those of you who are currently blessed with a YF: stick to what you heard God say when you were starting out - be VERY careful about breaking any boundaries that you choose before God as wise. If in doubt talk about it with people here etc, etc. Because things can go wrong if we go beyond God's call on our lives...
Prayer: Thank you God that you are not a God who merely lays down rules for us to obey, but rather is there guiding us day by day to go the way you want. Help us to recognise the ease with which we can start to fool ourselves into succumbing to the logic of the world to drift away from what we know is right; may we be faithful to what you have revealed to us as the best for us and our YFs. May we be the wonderful blessing to them that we can be, that one day we will stand with them before your throne in glory and rejoice in the people that they have become and receive your praise for our role in their lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus who only ever did what he saw you doing. Amen.