The Donkey Said What?

The Rev. Chuck Griffin remains on vacation through Sept. 20, but LifeTalk goes on. Devotionals this week are repeats, items written in the early days of the pandemic while he was pastor of Luminary United Methodist Church.

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Okay, funny story, or at least I think it’s funny. I’m almost afraid to attempt humor these days—who knows what might happen between my clicking this blog’s “publish” button and sunrise—but I need to think about something funny.

You know the one about Balaam and his donkey, in Numbers 22? First of all, if you were raised on the King James Version of the story, your Sunday school teacher, without the slightest smile, likely referred to the story as “Balaam’s Ass,” or even “Balaam’s Talking Ass.”

When you are 12, that alone is funny.

So anyway, without going into a lot of background, Balaam was a prophet who displeased God by saddling his donkey and heading on a journey, apparently with improper intent in his heart.

“God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary,” we are told in Numbers 22:22. “Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. The donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road.”

Now, I should clarify, beating an animal is wrong. That is not the funny part.

Also, the donkey gave as good as he got. When the angel cornered Balaam and his donkey in a narrow part of the vineyard where the donkey had strayed, the donkey hugged the nearest wall, scraping Balaam’s foot in the process. The move did win the donkey another whack, though.

Finally, confronted by a heavily armed angel that only he could see, the donkey lay down under Balaam. Picture that, if you can.

Donkeys are typically short beasts of burden; most people riding them can almost touch the ground with their feet. When the donkey went prone, Balaam either had to remain standing, a reluctant donkey between his feet, or remain seated, his knees near his shoulders.

Once again, Balaam whacked the donkey.

The Lord intervened, allowing the donkey to speak. (This causes me to wonder if our pets have a lot to say, but just no means to say it.) “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” the donkey brayed.

Balaam, apparently so distressed that he forgot he was talking to a donkey, said, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!”

The donkey replied, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” Balaam admitted the situation was unusual.

At this point, God allowed Balaam to see an irate angel, sword still in hand, standing before him. The angel berated him for beating the donkey, noted that if the donkey had not turned aside, Balaam would be dead, and gave Balaam precise instructions regarding what he was to do.

Scripture does not record the rest of the donkey’s story, but I’m guessing he got a heaping helping of oats later in the day.

The lessons here are pretty simple. We don’t always fully grasp how God is at work. God can use any part of his creation to accomplish his will.

Also, if you’re stuck at home with pets of any kind, don’t be surprised at their behavior if you start sinning. Yowling, barking or talking—well, anything’s possible.

Lord, keep us mindful of your will, and may we watch for the signs you give us. Amen.

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