Summary: A look at the story of Balaam and the talking donkey, and what lessons are there for us.
A Talking Donkey: That’s Weird
A talking donkey, that’s weird. Even Shrek thought it was a little weird and he is an Ogre.
And I know that maybe some of you are thinking “but my pet speaks to me.” Sure they do. They may communicate with you on some level, but they don’t speak to you. Sorry to burst your bubble.
This is week 2 of our “That’s Weird” series, and through January and February we are going to take a look at some of the weird stories that you come across in the bible. And maybe you are thinking that it’s just wrong to say that some of the stories that we find in the bible are weird. Makes me think you haven’t read very much of the bible.
Last week we looked at a floating axe head, that was weird but we learned some lessons. This week is a story about talking livestock and again there are lessons to be learned.
So let’s start with The Story: A man named Balaam is making a journey with his donkey, who remains unnamed, much like the donkey in Shrek.
And as they rode along they came upon an angel of the Lord who is standing with a sword to prevent them from going any further. The inference being that the angel will use violence to stop them from continuing on their journey.
For whatever reason Balaam doesn’t see the angel and the only thing that prevents things from turning nasty is the donkey refuses to carry on.
The first time the donkey rushes off the road to avoid the angel. He is then forced back onto the road and at that point he tries evasive maneuvers and ends up crushing his masters foot against a rock wall.
Well, Balaam flies into a rage and again tries to force the donkey on his way at that point the donkey just quits and lies down under Balaam. And Balaam responds each time by beating the poor donkey.
Well, after the third time the Donkey turns around and says “Hey, stop it.” Well actually we read in Numbers 22:28 Then the LORD gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam.
I think the weird thing here is that Balaam doesn’t seem all that surprised that the donkey talked. If we keep reading we discover Numbers 22:29-30 “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!” “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” Balaam admitted.
At that point, God opens Balaam eyes and he sees the Angel with the Sword who’s standing in front of him and as far as we know the donkey never talks again.
But the story doesn’t really tell us a lot. Sure, who doesn’t like stories with talking animals? But what’s the lesson in the story?
So here’s the Back Story The story is set in the period of time between when the Israelites had escaped from their slavery in Egypt and when they had entered into the promised land, the forty years they spent in the wilderness.
During the time they are wandering in the wilderness the king of a small country called Moab hears about the Israelites and is afraid about what these undocumented aliens might do to his kingdom.
The King’s name is Balak, and he decides to be proactive and we pick up the story in Numbers 22:5-6 (Balak) sent messengers to call Balaam son of Beor, who was living in his native land of Pethor near the Euphrates River. His message said: “Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.”
Now we don’t know what qualifications Balaam had for blessing and cursing people, but apparently that was his reputation. And while this is the first time he is mentioned in the bible his name comes up in four other Old Testament books as well as three times in the New Testament. And he isn’t spoken highly of in any of them.
I know it was P.T. Barnum who said “There's no such thing as bad publicity” There are a lot of people who would disagree with that today.
And I’m kind of thinking that it would be better to not be mentioned at all rather than getting brought up in scriptures like 2 Peter 2:14-16 They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed. They live under God’s curse. They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. But Balaam was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice.