Summary: learn from two donkeys about going to the cross - cudos to R.L. for most of this by permission
“From the mouths and backs of donkeys”
Donkeys are famous for being stubborn. They’re the kind of pack animals that don’t seem to get much respect, probably because they don’t give much respect. Compare someone to a horse, with terms like “she’s quite a fine philly,” or “he’s quite the stud,” and you just might sound flattering. Compare someone to a donkey, with the common terms used for those who act like donkeys, and they probably won’t be too happy with the comparison. To be fair, if you’d ask most donkeys, they probably aren’t too flattered with the people who earn the comparison either. The point being: donkeys don’t often get much respect.
But the Lord likes to use the shameful things of this world to confound the strong and mighty. And He’s given some great honor to donkeys that no cherished war horse ever received. Once, the Lord gave a donkey a chance to speak, and turn a sinner from the error of his ways. The highest honor given a donkey, however, was bearing the Lord Jesus Himself, carrying the Son of God into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday. For those reasons, today we’ll let a pair of donkeys be our teachers. We’ll consider two sermons from two donkeys. One was with words, dealing with a stubborn sinner. The second was with actions, dealing with the Savior.
The First Sermon from a donkey: words in dealing with a stubborn sinner.
This first sermon for us, from the mouth of a donkey, is found in the book of Numbers, chapter 22. The people of Israel were on their way to the promised land, and one of the local princes of Moab considered them a threat. His name was Balak. He decided to hire a local witch doctor sort named Balaam. Balaam was a prophet: not a true prophet of God, but rather what the LORD considered to be a false prophet. Not because Balaam was ineffective, or had no real power. He could curse with the best of them, and his curses would always come to pass. That’s why Balak wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites. Balaam, like the magicians of Pharoah’s court who faced off against Moses and Aaron, had some dark powers he put to use for money. He wasn’t a phony prophet; he was a false prophet: one who spoke things in the name of false gods, and operated by the power of the evil one.
However, as powerful as Balaam was, he was messing with the LORD’s people, and therefore messing with the Almighty God. And God has powers that not even Balaam could comprehend. In dealing with the Angel of the LORD, Balaam’s donkey turned out to be smarter than Balaam was.
Here’s the account, from Numbers. Balaam is on his way with the princes of Moab to go and do his dirty deed, by officially cursing the Israelites. This is where we pick up with the account in the Scriptures:
21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road.
Balaam probably figured his donkey was just being stubborn. But she saw what he didn’t: she saw the angel of the LORD, and she saw that He meant business. So she turned off the road into a field. She had to endure a beating from Balaam, and so she kept taking him where he wanted to go. He wanted to keep on that journey that was making God very angry. Balaam or his donkey: can you guess which one was really more stubborn and stupid? Let’s go on:
24 Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat her again.
26 Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff.
Who would you classify as a grade a donkey here? The donkey, who three times tried steering away from the Angel of the LORD and his vengeance? Or Balaam, who——three times——tried getting her to take him right into the path of His anger? This donkey had to suffer without a word from this stupid man. But the LORD gave her an opportunity to voice her complaint.