Welcome Back to the Bible Blog!
Almost two months in and things just can’t get weirder! A talking donkey?!? Are you kidding me?!? This makes even less sense than that awkward story of Judah seemingly inserted into the middle of Joseph’s story in Genesis (see Week 2(&1) blog).
Actually the story of Balaam’s Donkey (Numbers 22) is one of my favorite stories in the Bible! More over, it’s true! Now some of you, like I at first, may have a difficult time believing that this actually happened. I mean, whether donkeys are actually intelligent or not, there are physiological issues with the throat, mouth, tongue and teeth of a donkey (all necessary components of speech) that suggest (ok, demand) that speech is impossible for this humble beast of burden. So how could this be true?
Well, there are different interpretations of this miracle. Some who believe the story believe that the donkey actually spoke and reasoned (he answered Balaam and followed the conversation). This view asserts that God temporarily gave the donkey the cognitive abilities that humans enjoy.
Another view suggests that it was actually God speaking through the donkey; therefore it wasn’t really the donkey thinking and following the conversation, but God speaking to Balaam. The Angel of the Lord, who stood in the path to oppose Balaam, asked the same questions the donkey asked.
Personally, I believe it was the donkey speaking. Moreover the text is written as an historical narrative, which means, the genre of the writing suggests the author believed it to be historical fact. It is not written with figurative language or poetic styling. The author is reporting this as history.
Also Peter who comments on it as if it were fact mentions this story again in the New Testament. “But he (Balaam) was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey, an animal without speech , who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.” (2Peter 2:15-16) [emphasis mine]
For me, if God can literally speak the universe into existence (Genesis 1), why would it be difficult for Him to make one of His creation behave in a way we would find inconsistent with its physiology, but God would deem completely compatible with His plan and Glory? For me, it really is a simple matter of faith. The Bible reports it as fact and I take it at face value.
Maybe you’re not on the same page with me right now. That’s ok. I’m not out to convince you with fancy speech or lofty rhetoric (see 1Corinthians 2:1-10). I’m simply explaining what I see and understand. You should wrestle with this and ask God for clarity that only He can give.
So, having said that…
There is much more going on here than simply a talking donkey!
Chapter 22 can be so enthralling that we miss what God is doing with this story. If you don’t continue to read and connect chapter 22 with chapters 23 & 24 you miss the deeper significance of Balaam’s talking donkey.
As we follow the story in chapter 22 we see how Balaam is getting more and more enraged with the behavior of this “stupid” animal. He is finally so out of his mind with anger that he doesn’t realize that it is rather unusual to have a conversation with a donkey! He actually carries on with his beast as if this happens every day! Three times the donkey changes direction and irritates Balaam, who is on his way to “curse” Israel for King Balak.
Move on to chapter 23 and we see this same story play out all over again. Did you catch that? Yes, the story of the talking donkey (or ‘ass’ as this animal is traditionally called) is played out all over again, only this time there is a complete role-reversal going on.
In chapter 23 the role of the donkey is now played by Balaam (speaking the words that God puts in his mouth – just as God opened the mouth of the donkey to speak to Balaam) and the role of Balaam (from chapter 22) is now played by King Balak, king of the Moabites.
In chapter 22 the donkey makes unexpected maneuvers 3 times. In chapter 23, Balaam makes unexpected maneuvers 3 times. King Balak expects Balaam to curse Israel, but each time Balaam blesses them. Each time King Balak gets more and more enraged with Balaam (just as Balaam grew more and more enraged with his donkey each time in chapter 22).
Balaam’s story began with us seeing the greed and disobedience of a man who is out for profit and gain, not God’s glory and Israel’s blessing. Balaam, the stubborn prophet, is opposed by his donkey, a stubborn ass. Even after the encounter with the Angel of the Lord Balaam still makes brash statements, “if you are displeased, I will go back” (Numbers 22:34). What does he mean, “IF”?!?! He’s still holding out hope for financial gain.
It takes all of chapter 23 for Balaam to realize that he truly can only say what God tells him to say. So chapter 24 opens with Balaam finally submitting to God from his heart and God sending his Spirit upon him to speak even more boldly 4 or 5 more times.
So here’s the question for this week…
It took God speaking through a stubborn beast, speaking through a jackass, to get through to Balaam.
Could God still speak through a stubborn jackass to get through to you?
Is he doing that right now?
What do you think?
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