My good friend, Kelly, asked me to participate in a halftime show during a fundraiser donkey basketball game for her small Christian school. I love big animals, having grown up in the ‘burbs with little access to the farm. We were to “ride” donkeys while picking up money people threw on the floor. Needless to say, it was riotous fun. But I experienced firsthand why the donkey has a reputation for stubbornness. Case in point:
Once upon a time long, long ago, there was this guy named Balaam. Not a nice man. Popular, but not someone you would want to escort your daughter to prom. He was well known and respected as a person who could effectively “bless” or “curse” whole sections of the population. Not curse, as in the ineffective and banal expletives that are thrown around today. No, evidently this man had something unnatural about him, something powerful, and not altogether healthy. However, to superficially read the account, it almost sounds like he was at least trying to wear a white hat, but as the story unfolds, it turns out that he was, well…not a nice man.
The Hebrew people were coming to the end of a very long road trip through an exceptionally trying desert. They had learned a lot of important stuff, generally the hard way. By now the other people whose lands the Israelites were coming upon, including that of a king named Balak, had heard the accounts of how God had miraculously extricated them from slavery in Egypt and provided for them throughout their time in the desert. Understandably, it made King Balak a little unsettled that this massive group of wandering foreigners was heading straight for his territory, and naturally he assumed the worst. Whatever was a pagan king to do?
Send for Balaam, of course.
When King Balak’s messengers arrived at Balaam’s doorstep to request a customized curse, the prophet made no bones about it that he could only say what this Hebrew God wanted him to say. (At least he got that right.) Initially God told not to go, but when Balaam was offered more money the second time, it was just too tempting and God relented. (Asking God a second time after a clear answer the first time is not always a wise option.) However, God knew what was below the surface in Balaam’s heart—greed and selfish ambition, and definitely not what God necessarily had in mind for His own people.
Saddling up his long-trusted donkey, Balaam sets off for the palace, with visions of gold dancing in his head. To his surprise, and consternation, however, his otherwise reliable transport decides he doesn’t want to go forward, (which, from personal experience now, I realize is not altogether unnatural for a donkey, except perhaps this one.) First his old companion intentionally turned off the road, and Balaam beat him. Then he squeezed up close to a wall for “no reason”, crushing the so-called prophet’s foot, and Balaam beat him. A while later down the road, the poor creature just laid down. You can guess Balaam’s response, but it’s the donkey’s that I find most interesting—he talked.
(Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t record Balaam’s initial reaction to this event, so obviously it must not have been terribly important to the account. But, oh, to be a fly on the sweet snout of that animal!)
Suddenly, the supernatural realm—that Balaam hypothetically operated in—was opened, and there stood a seriously intense and summarily displeased angelic messenger. (Once again, Balaam’s first response is sadly omitted.) The words of the angel are quite instructive, if not discouraging, and Balaam gets an attitude shift that speaks well for his limited knowledge of the God with whom he was dealing.
Here is one point, among many that could be made from Balaam’s experience which relates to our modern day dealings with life, and the God of that life. There are times, more than we would care to admit, during which we think we are following God’s will, when in reality our own attitudes are expertly hidden from us. The bricks of our piety are often mortared together with anger, offense, jealousy, greed, to name a few. Because God loves His children, He knows how dangerous these attitudes are, and how necessary it is for our welfare that they be removed. It may be that those around us clearly see the danger that is standing directly in the path, and our anger and frustration with them is not only uncalled for, but unwise. Granted, it takes humility to allow God to show us the “error of our ways”, even if it comes through humble means, but it is imperative that we see.
Moral of the story: it’s always a good idea to pray for the grace of a talking donkey while we walk the pathway of this life. Otherwise, the sword’s gonna hurt.