A few days ago, I mentioned that one of my favorite Bible stories included a talking animal. I assure you, it’s true! I’ve been reading Numbers 22-24, the story of Balaam’s talking donkey.
You’ve probably already heard of Balaam’s donkey, but you may not have realized it. If you’ve seen the movie Shrek and recall Eddie Murphy’s character “Donkey,” then you are familiar with the talking donkey in Numbers. The creators of Shrek actually based their character Donkey, off the Biblical talking donkey. How cool is that!
But, unlike Shrek, the Bible is no fairytale. God is limitless in his power. In his desire to get the attention of Balaam, he goes to extreme lengths: enter a talking donkey.
Balaam was approached by a bad dude named Balak. Balak wanted to curse the people of Israel, because he was scared of them. He had seen what the Irsaelites had done to other nations, and was afraid for his own people. Balaam had a successful history of blessing and cursing individuals (not something we practice in our current culture), thus was the perfect candidate to curse Israel so that Balak could destroy them.
While Balaam was all for getting the job done, God had other plans for his people, the Israelites, and Balaam. “God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with [Balak]. You shall not curse the [Israelites], for they are blessed,'” Numbers 22:12.
At first, Balaam listens to God. He says no to Balak’s offer. But, being the bad guy, Balak refuses to take no for an answer. Balaam argues with Balak, then argues with God, and finally decides he will travel with Balak just to see what he may be able to do. He was, after all, being offered a house full of silver and gold as payment.
Balaam saddles up his donkey and begins his journey. “But God’s anger was kindled because [Balaam] went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary,” Numbers 22:22.
Trotting along, the donkey sees the angel of the Lord standing in the way! The donkey veers off path into a field. And Balaam “struck the donkey.”
Just imagine: Balaam, a human being, is completely oblivious to the angel standing in his way. Yet the donkey, a mere animal, is very aware of this angel. Definitely makes me reconsider what I allow myself to be aware of.
Balaam gets his donkey back on the road. The donkey again realizes the angel of the Lord is in his way and he stops. What does Balaam do? He beats the donkey again. I’m starting to feel sorry for this poor little donkey.
The donkey decides to sit down underneath Balaam. A third time, Balaam beats his donkey. “Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?'” Numbers 22:28
Funny thing is, instead of being startled by the fact that his animal is talking to him, Balaam just speaks right back. “‘Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.’ And the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?’ And he said, ‘No’” (Verses 29-30).
“Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me'” (Verses 31-32).
Balaam was not able to see the angel of the Lord, nor was he able to see the Lord’s plans for him. But, God used an innocent, stubborn, and ignorant creature – the donkey – to put Balaam in his place.
After his encounter with God, Balaam understood that God wanted to use Balaam not to curse the Israelites as Balak had wanted, but instead to bless them. Balaam had to choose between taking orders from Balak, or taking orders from God. And it was his little donkey that helped him make the correct decision.
“Balaam said to Balak, ‘Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak’” (Verse 38).
In the following two chapters of Numbers, Balaam goes on to bless the Israelites not once, but three times. Against the wishes of Balak, of course, remaining faithful to the Lord. “If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord…” Numbers 24:13.
May we always speak the truth that the Lord puts in our mouths, and never stray beyond the word of the Lord.