My aunt has long been a fan of a talking donkey. No, not the one from C.S. Lewis’s “The Last Battle” (Puzzle was his name). Not the one from the cartoon, Shrek. No, of course I’m referring to the ever-classic talking donkey: Eeyore!
In A.A. Milne’s stories for his children, there are all sorts of talking animals: a bear named Winnie-the-Pooh, a kangaroo and her joey, a rabbit, an owl, and a bouncing tiger. Of course, we all willingly suspend our disbelief in order to read the stories of the adventures of Christopher Robin, but in Numbers 22, we read of a REAL (not fictional) talking donkey in a very serious context in which a donkey has words with his rider.
Balak was the king of the Moabites and when Moab saw what the God of Israel had been accomplishing for His people and they were very afraid. Balak, realizing that the power of Israel lay not in their might, but in the might of their God devised a plan: “If I can get their God to turn against them, then we can win.” So he sends messengers to a prophet in Israel named Balaam. They request that Balaam curse Israel. Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more. God’s reply is this: “If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.”
So Balaam gets up and goes with them…only that’s not what God said. He said “IF they come to call thee…” Balaam just told them that he couldn’t do any more or less than what God said, but he didn’t follow God’s instructions.
So while he was riding, Balaam’s donkey stopped. Balaam hits the animal trying to get her to go. There’s a wall on either side of the road and the angel of the Lord at the other end. The donkey squishes up against the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against the wall, so Balaam hits her again. So the angel of the Lord moves and allows them to advance to a place where there’s nowhere to turn around in any direction. Of course, the donkey stops again, enraging Balaam. He jumps off and hits the donkey with his staff trying to get her to go.
In a miraculous turn, God allows the donkey to speak to Balaam and the conversation (paraphrased) goes like this:
Donkey: What gives? Why have you hit me now three times?
Balaam: You aren’t doing what I tell you to do. I wish I had a sword and I’d do more than just hit you!
Donkey: Hey! Aren’t I your animal? Don’t you ride me all the time? Have I ever given you any problems?
Balaam: Well, no…
It’s at this point that Balaam’s eyes are opened and he sees what the donkey saw all along. The angel says to Balaam (again paraphrased): “Why did you keep hitting your donkey? I came out to stand against you because of your actions. If she had done what you wanted her to do, I would have killed you and left her alone, so you ought to be thanking her for saving your life!”
Through the rest of the story, we see that Balaam learned his lesson and does and says only EXACTLY what God instructs him to do. No matter how hard Balak tried, Balaam refused to stand against God and His people. Even when Balak gets angry with Balaam (24:10) Balaam stands his ground.
I think that there are three key lessons we can learn from this account.
- Do what God says to do, always and exactly.
- If it seems that things aren’t going according to plan, that might be because God doesn’t want you to go that way. Don’t try to force it.
- God blesses his people. Anyone that stands against God’s people, stands against God, and they will have to deal with the repercussions.
So the next time you see or read about a talking donkey, remember that the original talking donkey was instrumental in saving the life of a man and preserving God’s blessing on His people! And let it remind you to obey God all the way!