image: Wikimedia commons (link).
The position of the earth on its annual journey around the sun is currently bringing the part of the heavens into view which I believe forms the basis for the fascinating ancient scriptural incident of Balaam and his ass (or donkey).
The account of Balaam is found in chapters 22 through 24 of the Old Testament book of Numbers, and it involves a number of important themes, chief among them the theme of blessing versus cursing.
The story of Balaam probably does not get much focus from those devoted to a literalistic reading of the scriptures these days (and my own personal experience during the nearly twenty years I was devoted to such an understanding was attending churches teaching a literalist understanding supports that assertion), due to the fact that it poses some fairly significant difficulties for those trying to read it literally.
Chief among these problems is undoubtedly the climax of the story, in which Balaam's donkey turns around and speaks to him to complain about Balaam's inhumane treatment. Balaam doesn't help things, because he answers right back to the donkey as if it is the most natural thing in the world do be accosted by one's mount while out for a ride. The two get into a conversation.
This is actually not the biggest difficulty in the text, as we shall see. The biggest problem is probably the fact that God appears to become angry with Balaam even after he explicitly tells Balaam to go ahead and travel to Moab, as we'll see in the text below.
Another factor which has probably led to the decline in focus on this story is the fact that the older translations consistently refer to Balaam's mount as an ass, which is what it is, because it was apparently not until some time in the 1700s that the word donkey was even used in English to refer to one particular sub-variety of ass. The 1611 King James translation, which had an enormous impact on literature and culture, thus refers to the animal as an ass, and the story has generally been referred to through the centuries in English-speaking cultures as the incident of "Balaam's ass."
However, if we can just get past those superficial problems, we can see in this story yet another example of the incredible worldwide system by which the same celestial foundations were dressed up in myth after myth after myth, in order to convey profound truths to us for our benefit during this earthly sojourn.
Unfortunately, trying to force the ancient scriptures into a literalistic-historical framework can cause us to miss their beautiful message altogether, or to distort it into something that means the exact opposite of what they were actually intended to convey.
The story of Balaam begins in Numbers chapter 22:
1 And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plain of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.
2 And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
3 And Moab was sore afraid of the people, because they were many: and Moab was distressed because of the children of Israel.
4 And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.
5 He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face [literally "the eye"] of the earth, and they abide over against me:
6 Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou belssest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.
The messengers from Balak come to Balaam and convey the message, but Balaam consults with God and is told in verse 12 not to go with them nor to curse the people, "for they are blessed."
Disappointed, Balak sends yet more princes to Balaam, even more honorable than the first messengers, and this time offers great honor and says that Balaam can name his reward if he agrees to come.
Balaam is again visited by God at night who tells Balaam that if the messengers ask Balaam to go with them, he should rise up and go, but only say the word which God gives to him (verse 20).
This brings us to the most famous part of the story (still in Numbers chapter 22):
22 And God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.
24 But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.
25 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall: and he smote her again.
26 And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.
27 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.
28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?
29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.
30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever won't to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.
31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.
The angel then informs Balaam that, had it not been for the fact that the ass perceived the presence of the angel, the angel would have slain Balaam. Balaam offers to go back home, but the angel tells him to continue, repeating the previous admonition from verse 20 that Balaam is only to say what is given to him to speak.
So Balaam continues, and joins Balak, who takes him "up into the high places of Baal" (verse 41). Balaam instructs Balak to have seven altars prepared, for seven bulls and seven rams, which are made into a burnt offering (Numbers 23: 1 - 6). But when the time comes that Balak expects Balaam to pronounce a great curse, Balaam announces that he cannot curse what God hath not cursed, and concludes with words of blessing (23: 7 - 12).
Balak is upset, but Balaam notes that he had said from the very start when first approached by Balak's messengers that he could only say what was given to him by God for Balaam to say.
Balak doesn't give up, however, and suggests they try another location, where seven altars are again constructed for seven bulls and seven rams. But the LORD meets Balaam and tells him exactly what to say, resulting in an even more eloquent blessing than before (this time replete with celestial imagery, particularly of a great lion). Balak isn't very happy about this and asks Balaam if he can just say nothing if he's not going to pronounce a curse, but Balaam explains that he must say what the LORD tells him to say (23: 25 - 26).
Balak decides to try one more time, and seven more altars are built as before, with similar results. This time the blessing is even more elaborate and takes up the first part of Numbers 24 (verses 5 - 9). The text also tells us that to deliver this message, Balaam falls into a trance, in which his eyes are open but in which he was given a vision of the Almighty (Numbers 24: 4).
After this, Balak tells Balaam to flee back to his home, but Balaam asks Balak if he wouldn't like to know more, and goes into another trance to give more predictions -- all of which I believe have to do with the celestial realms and to have spiritual meaning for our lives here on earth, but which could be (and often are) misinterpreted as literal predictions of things that would happen in earthly history. After delivering this message, Balaam returns to his place (Numbers 24: 25).
Now, how can we be reasonably certain that this event, preserved in ancient scripture, is allegorical and not literal and historical?
Setting aside the fact that donkeys cannot actually carry on conversations with humans as Balaam's ass is literally described as doing, there are abundant clues in the story which indicate the exact set of constellations involved.
The best place to start is with Balaam himself. The specific detail that he has his foot crushed by his donkey's efforts to avoid the awe-inducing presence of the angel (Numbers 22: 25), gives us our first clue as to his identity -- and it is a very important one. There is one specific constellation who appears to have a severely twisted foot, and that constellation is currently rising brightly in the east during the "prime-time" viewing hours after the sun goes down: the constellation Perseus.
Below is a star diagram looking generally south and east, in which I have drawn in the outline of the constellation Perseus and several of the accompanying constellations surrounding Perseus which may also play a role in this story.
I've labeled Perseus as playing the role of Balaam in this story, and noted the location of the foot that was injured (ouch -- that looks pretty bad):
Now, if we're correct in identifying Balaam with Perseus (primarily on the basis of the crushed foot in the story, although there is plenty of other corroborating evidence that we will find shortly), then we need to find out which constellation is playing the role of Balaam's mistreated beast of burden in the story: the ass.
It just so happens that, directly beneath the figure of Perseus is the zodiac constellation of Taurus the Bull. Now, we know that this story has not come down through history as the famous tale of Balaam's Bull but rather of Balaam's Ass, so how can we possibly assert that Taurus could be playing the role of an ass in this story?
Well, as you can see from the diagram above (and the labeled diagram below, both of which indicate the outline formed by the brightest stars of the constellation Taurus using orange lines), the zodiac constellation of the Bull primarily consists of the brilliant V-shaped Hyades, and then there are two stars much further out above each of the "prongs" of the "V" which enable us to trace a long line in our imagination from the top of the Hyades to the ends of two mighty bull-horns.
These "horns" could also be envisioned as the ears of an ass.
Looking again at the stars of the constellation Taurus, it is not hard to understand why the formulators of the world's ancient Star Myths sometimes chose to envision this outline as a long-eared ass:
In the diagram, I've indicated the location of the V-shaped Hyades, and then if you look directly to the "left" of the "V" you can see the two stars which form the tips of the horns (if playing the role of the Bull) or the tips of the ears (if playing the role of an ass, as in the story of Balaam).
But in addition to the fact that the outline of the brightest stars in Taurus can very easily be envisioned as fitting a story with an ass or donkey, there is also plenty of evidence from other myths which help to confirm that our interpretation of the story of Balaam is on the right track so far.
Perhaps the most powerful piece of confirmatory evidence comes from elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures themselves, for the V-shaped Hyades feature prominently in another Star Myth which I have outlined and discussed in some detail: the Samson cycle of myths.
In the story of Samson, of course, Samson's chosen weapon for slaying thousands of Philistines is the famous "jawbone of an ass," which does not seem to make much sense if the story is taken as literal history. Perhaps Samson might use such an implement in a hurry for one or two opponents, but it hardly seems likely that he would continue to employ it over and over against literally a thousand: wouldn't he decide to pick up one of their weapons after slaying a few enemies who had swords or spears? (Unless, that is, all his opponents were also using jawbones as weapons that day, which seems unlikely).
The account is recorded in the scroll of Judges, chapter 15 and verse 15. I have explained in previous posts and in a video that the story of Samson is clearly not intended to be understood literally, but that it was almost certainly intended to convey powerful esoteric truths regarding our experience in this physical incarnate life (Samson was not a literal-historic character but in fact represents aspects of the incarnation of each and every human soul: in a very real sense, the story of Samson is all about you).
The understanding that Samson's jawbone-weapon is actually a group of stars -- that this jawbone is, in fact, the very specific V-shaped formation of the Hyades -- was one of the first breakthroughs in my own understanding that the stories in the Bible are built upon the very same celestial foundation that underlies all the other myths found in virtually every culture and every corner of our planet. This conclusion is explained by Hertha von Dechend and Giorgio de Santillana in their groundbreaking 1969 text, Hamlet's Mill, in which they present evidence that jawbone-weapons are described in myths from the Americas and from the Pacific Islands as well, and all of them relate to the Hyades (the Hyades are located above the constellation Orion, who can be seen "reaching out" towards them, just as Samson is described as "putting forth his hand" to grasp the jawbone in the book of Judges -- you can actually see a few stars of Orion peeking above the horizon in the star-diagrams presented here).
If the Hyades can function as a jawbone-weapon, and if that jawbone is described as "the jawbone of an ass" rather than "the jawbone of a bull" (as we might expect, since the Hyades are in Taurus), then this is very strong confirmatory evidence to support the proposition that Taurus is functioning as the ass in the story of Balaam as well.
Interestingly enough, as can be seen from the included diagrams here, Perseus is reaching out with one arm in the direction of another important constellation: the beautiful maiden Andromeda, whom Perseus rescues in the Greek myth based upon these same stars. In a moment, we will see that Andromeda is playing the role of the powerful angel in this Old Testament story, but first let us briefly note another important confirmatory piece of evidence from Greek myths which also involves the theme of "ass's ears," and that is the story of King Midas.
In that story, of course, Midas reaches out towards his daughter (played, I am convinced, by the same constellation of Andromeda who plays the heroine in the story of Perseus). It is very noteworthy that Midas was later given ass's ears as a sign of his foolishness, given the above discussion regarding the likelihood that Taurus functions as the ass in the story of Balaam in the Old Testament. The existence of another myth involving Perseus and Andromeda, and featuring ass's ears, indicates that myths involving Perseus and Andromeda can also feature nearby Taurus, but as an ass rather than as a bull in some cases.
Note also that there seems to be an element of greed or of overstepping proper bounds due to temptation of money in both the story of Balaam and (much more clearly) the story of Midas.
All of this evidence appears to indicate that we are on the right track in our analysis of the Balaam story. Let's proceed to the identity of the angel.
In the scriptural text, we are told that an angel blocks the path of Balaam, and that specifically (in Numbers 22: 24) the angel "stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side."
Andromeda is positioned between Perseus and the Great Square of Pegasus, and she is actually touching one corner of the Square itself. If the Square represents the vineyards that are mentioned in verse 24, then it is quite evident that indeed she has a wall on "this side" of her, and a wall on "that side" of her. In fact, I believe this is exactly what the scriptures intend us to understand (it is very common for Star Myths all around the world to contain this very kind of super-abundant evidence, pointing us towards a fairly clear understanding of which constellations they represent).
Just in case we are still in confusion, we can also take a look at verse 22, where the angel is first mentioned, and see that in that verse we are told that Perseus is traveling with "his two servants with him." Just beneath the Great Square of Pegasus is one of the notable "dual constellations" in the zodiac wheel: Pisces. I would argue that the twin fishes of Pisces are probably the "two servants" of Balaam, traveling along the road with him (the road, in this case, following the zodiac through the heavens, up from Taurus to Aries to Pisces to Aquarius).
In fact, I have previously outlined another very important Biblical Star Myth in which Andromeda plays the role of an intercepting angel: the story of Abraham and Isaac. In that story, Perseus plays Abraham about to sacrifice his son, and Andromeda is the angel who stays his hand and points the way to the substitute: the Ram of Aries (located below Andromeda). In fact, the artist who drew this image included in that previous post does a very good job of depicting the characters as they are arranged in the sky -- Abraham standing with his arms out like Perseus, the angel flying in with outstretched arm in the location that Andromeda is found in the heavens, and the Ram trapped in the thicket just about where Aries is actually seen in the sky as well.
The fact that Andromeda plays an intercepting angel in another Biblical scripture is very strong confirmatory evidence that our interpretation of the Balaam story is on track.
Let's have a look at the analysis thus far:
All in all, the amount of details included in the scriptural account provide overwhelming evidence that the story of Balaam is a celestial allegory, and that it is specifically a celestial allegory involving the region of the heavens containing the constellations Perseus, Taurus, Andromeda, Pisces and the Great Square. To hold that all these celestial correspondences are "merely coincidental" and that the story is really supposed to be understood as a literal-historical account of someone named Balaam (who also happens to have a literal conversation with his donkey using spoken human language, when his foot is crushed because the animal sees an angel blocking the path) seems to be a very unlikely hypothesis at this point, because the texts themselves provide us with abundant evidence that they want to be read as celestial metaphor.
One more set of clues from the text is worth a brief mention, which is the construction of seven altars for seven burnt offerings, which Balaam requests to have built each time Balak takes him up to a high place. Of course, the number seven is fraught with many layers of significance and may be present in the story because of some other aspect of its numerical and symbolical import. However, a very strong argument can be made that the presence of seven altars in this story (a detail repeated over and over) is one more textual clue regarding the celestial origin of this episode.
Just beneath the twisted foot of the constellation Perseus can be found one of the most beautiful celestial formations in the heavens: the brilliant Pleiades. The importance of the Pleiades to cultures around the world is very well known, and has been explored in numerous previous posts on this blog over the years: see for instance
- "Go have a look at the Pleiades!"
- "Mars, Venus and the Pleiades"
- "The Pleiades, the Upton Chamber, ancient traditions and Halloween"
- "The love of Ares and Aphrodite Crowned with Flowers"
- "The Heart of Everything That Is"
Much more could be written about the importance of the Pleiades in other cultures as well (such as across the Pacific Islands, from Hawai'i to Aotearoa).
The Pleiades is a dazzling cluster of bright and beautiful stars, unmistakeable once you know how to locate it in the sky. It is currently rising up above the eastern horizon in the hours after sunset, and just last weekend I was sitting on a beach in California with some good friends watching the Pleiades climb higher and higher above the horizon in some of the best star-gazing conditions I can remember seeing in a long, long time.
While the number of stars in the Pleiades cluster which can be visible to the naked eye under good conditions number far more than seven, the Pleiades in many myth-systems of the world are depicted as "Seven Sisters" or as related to the number seven (the brightest of the Pleiades are six in number, and sometimes there are stories about the "missing sister" as well, although as you can see from the NASA images and my own hand-drawn diagrams in the blog posts above, there are more than seven stars that you can probably identify for yourself in the Pleiades cluster).
Because of the strong connection between the Pleiades and the number seven, and because the Pleiades are located very near to Perseus (Balaam) and are in fact technically part of Taurus (the ass in the story), I believe it is very possible that the seven altars which are built in the Balaam story are a reference to the Pleiades.
This possibility gains further traction from the fact that we are told that the altars are the site of burnt offerings -- very appropriate for a cluster of glowing stars.
Additionally, we are told that the burnt offerings are bulls and rams. Of course, the two zodiac constellations in this part of the sky are Taurus and Aries.
Below is our now-familiar diagram of the Perseus - Andromeda region of the sky, with a few final labels added to round out the details we've discovered in our analysis of this Star Myth:
With this many details, I believe we can make a very strong case to argue that the incident of Balaam and the Angel is entirely celestial in nature, and that its message is thus allegorical and not literal-historical.
But what does it all mean? That, of course, is open to interpretation, but previous posts have cited the assertion of Alvin Boyd Kuhn to the effect that the ancient myths are not
about fabulous kings, powerful warriors, or even enlightened sages and mystics, but are actually about the experience of each and every human soul in this incarnate life (see for instance here, here and here). In an important 1936 lecture entitled "The Stable and the Manger," Kuhn said:
The one actor in every portrayal, in every scene, is the human soul. The Bible is the drama of our history here and now; and it is not apprehended in its full force and applicability until every reader discerns himself [or herself] to be the central figure in it!
That means that we don't have to try to imagine an external literal-historical figure named Balaam having a conversation with his donkey -- the story is not really about anyone named Balaam at all! It is about each one of us.
But we will not be able to figure out what it is trying to convey to us if we try to force the text to be about a literal-historical figure named Balaam. In fact, as we will see shortly, doing so risks inverting the esoteric message entirely.
To understand what I think the story of Balaam is intended to convey (or at least part of what it is intended to convey -- there is no doubt much more to this very deep metaphor, the depths of which each reader is invited to plumb on his or her own), we must understand that the specific part of the heavens which we have been examining in our analysis is very significant due to the sun's rising in the sign of Aries at the point of the spring equinox during the Age of Aries during which many ancient myths (and especially Biblical myths in the Hebrew scriptures) are set.
This is the point of "crossing upwards" into the upper half of the year, when hours of daylight begin to dominate again over hours of darkness, after the long winter months in which darkness dominated over day.
The constant interplay between the "lower half" and the "upper half" -- between the forces of "darkness" and the forces of "light" -- were anciently allegorized in myths around the world as a great struggle or battle. Previous examinations of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, have discussed the evidence for this assertion, and the stories of the Trojan War in the Iliad as well as the crossing of the Red Sea in the Old Testament can be shown to relate to this same interplay.
But the myths are not "just" about the natural cycles of the year: they can be definitively shown to have used the great cycles to convey knowledge about spiritual truths. In other words, the myths use the most majestic physical models conceivable -- the mighty cycles of the heavens, the turning of the stars through the night, the progression of the zodiac signs and the planets through the year, the interplay of the seasons and the sun's path from equinox to solstice and back, the phases of the moon, and even the longer cycles of planetary conjunctions and the titanic precessional mechanism that grinds out the ages over the course of thousands and thousands of years -- in order to convey to our understanding truths about invisible matters.
In terms of the great zodiac wheel, at least on one level of metaphor, the upper half of the year is associated in myth with the invisible realm of spirit but also the spiritual and divine aspect in each and every incarnate human being, just as the lower half of the wheel is associated with our physical, material, animal, corporeal nature, into which we are plunged upon incarnation.
Much of the purpose of the myths of the world appears to have been to remind us that we are not merely physical, to awaken the spiritual within and point us towards the truth of our divine inner nature. Previous posts such as those linked above have connected this awakening of the "spiritual component" in ourselves, others, and in all the universe around us, with the concept of blessing.
The opposite impulse, of course, denies the spiritual, seeks to degrade, debase, brutalize and otherwise reduce to the physical and the animal (which is why violence is so wrong, on any level). All forms of cursing can be seen to be connected to this opposite "physicalizing" and "brutalizing" impulse.
In the story of Balaam, the concept of blessing and cursing is clearly central to the narrative. In the allegory presented, Moab and her king Balak are representative of the lower half of the wheel, and the forces of darkness. The king, Balak, specifically wants cursing, and seeks to hire Balaam to do it.
The children of Israel in the metaphor are representative of the upper half of the wheel. In one part of the Biblical passage quoted, the text tells us that they "cover the face [literally the 'eye'] of the earth" (Numbers 22: 5). In other words, they are associated with the sun (the "eye of the earth") and with the half of the year in which the hours of daylight cover more and more of the hemisphere in question (the summer months, the upper side of the wheel).
The upper half of the year metaphorically represents the realm of spirit, and the re-establishment and re-affirming and uplifting of the divine present at all times in men and women (and in all of creation). It is the same concept expressed by the raising-up of the Djed Column in ancient Egyptian myth-systems discussed in many previous posts and videos, such as here and here and here.
It should not have to be repeated at this point, but because literalism has so firmly entrenched itself in the cultural consciousness of the west for the past seventeen hundred years, it must be stressed that the children of Israel in this story do not represent historical or literal personages, any more than does Balaam (or, for that matter, King Midas). The text is a spiritual allegory. The children of Israel in this story represent a spiritual aspect of reality that is present in all of us -- not a group of literal or historical people (the allegorical understanding is inclusionary, not exclusionary as the literalistic understanding tends to be).
They (like the Danaans in the Trojan War) represent the upper half of the zodiac wheel, and allegorically the realm of spirit and the uplifting of the divine spark present in all human beings (and all nature as well). This is made clear in some of the "blessings" pronounced by Balaam in Numbers 22 - 24 (see for example the mention of the Lion in Numbers 23: 24, which is undoubtedly a reference to the sign of Leo, strongly associated with summer and the "upper half" of the zodiac wheel). None of us are literal descendants of any constellation -- but the idea of being descended from the stars conveys a an allegorical truth about our spiritual condition.
Moab and Balak represent the lower half of the wheel. The story is about spiritual matters, and not about historical and literal battles between different physical branches of the human family.
Thus, when Balaam is asked to curse the allegorical representatives of the divine spark, the invisible realm of spirit -- the very aspect of our dual human nature that we are supposed to be lifting up and calling forth -- he is being asked to deny the spiritual, the divine, and everything associated with the invisible realm.
Doing so would be to send the message that we are nothing but physical, animal, brutal beings, with no invisible, spiritual, divine component.
Of course, whenever Balaam gets in touch with the realm of spirit, with the realm of the divine, by going into a state of trance, he is strongly warned not to convey such a brutalizing, cursing message. He is instead given a message that raises up the spiritual -- and indeed a message that predicts the eventual and inevitable triumph of spirit over the brutal, the physical, the debasing and the degrading aspects of our physical incarnate condition.
Whenever Balaam is on the way to cooperate with the king of Moab, he is opposed by the angel, representative of the invisible realm (and indeed, invisible to Balaam until his eyes are opened). We watch as he grows more and more angry at his beast, more and more violent, more and more brutal, until his ass with her just questions appears to be at least as human as he is.
She is more in touch with the spiritual realm than he is, and she saves him from destruction even though he beats her for it.
Clearly, Balaam in this story is representative of our own human condition. And this helps us to understand one of the aspects of the scriptural passage which could give literalist readers major difficulties -- the fact that God told Balaam to go along with the messengers of the king of Moab, and then sent the angel to oppose Balaam (literalist interpreters often try to construe some kind of culpable motive to Balaam in his going along, even though he has just been told in a dream to do so).
If Balaam is representative of some aspect of our own soul's condition, here in this incarnate life, then our entry into incarnation is akin to "going into the kingdom of Moab" and it is ultimately for our own good and in thus in accordance with the divine will. In other words, we descend into this life from the realm of spirit for our own benefit. But our mission here is not to become brutal, not to become violent, not to become bestial, but rather to bless and to uplift and to reconnect with that upper half of our nature -- our spiritual and divine True Self.
When we understand this allegorical system, then the story begins to make sense in a way that it does not when we try to force a literal reading on the text. It is a story of hope and of the dignity and divinity inherent in each and every human being. We all are a combination of physical and spiritual, but we are told that the spirit will eventually and inevitably triumph, no matter how ugly the physical circumstances and situations may become, and no matter how our own spiritual blindness will often lead us to do stupid and even self-destructive things as we go up the path.
When we understand the story as esoteric and allegorical, then we see that it applies to each and every person, and that it teaches us to work to lift up the spiritual in ourselves and in others, and not to put them down.
But when it is taken as literal and historical, this message can become distorted, because when it is externalized then it can be mistakenly seen as a message which lifts up some groups and puts down others.
In fact, by externalizing the text, a literal reading can lead to some conclusions that are "180 degrees out" from the interpretation just offered. A "physical" message, so to speak, instead of a spiritual one.
But, when we see the clear and overwhelming evidence that the text describes the motions of the stars, it becomes clear that the literal and historical reading -- already very difficult to maintain in light of the incidents in this particular episode -- is almost certainly not the intended message of the ancient text.
The same exercise can be performed with virtually every single other story in the scriptures included in what we today refer to as "the Bible" (both the "Old" and "New" Testaments), and indeed with virtually every other myth and sacred story from around the world.
Leaving us with what I believe are several inescapable conclusions, among them:
that we are all connected,
that we are all primarily spiritual and that thus the external and physical should not be used to divide us from one another,
that we should pay attention to the invisible realm (as Balaam learned "the hard way" in the story, but as we ourselves also generally "learn the hard way" in this life),
that we should bless and not curse,
that we should lift up and otherwise draw forward the divine spark in others and, as much as possible, in the part of the cosmos that we can impact around us
(including by planting gardens, opposing degrading treatment of animals, and opposing the pollution of the air and land and waters around us),
that the side of uplifting will ultimately and inevitably win out, and that those who are on the side of cursing and debasing and brutalizing may seem to be powerful now but that in fact they are not.