On Balaam’s Donkey

Some parts of the Bible are incredibly dry and boring. So it is with the Book of Numbers. However, tucked away in this otherwise ponderous book is the amazing story of Balaam and his donkey, a story on which I’ve never heard a sermon.

Balaam is a reluctant messenger who is called by the King of the Moabites to cast a curse on Israel. On the journey, Balaam is visited by the Lord, who directs him to inform the king that Balaam will not curse Israel. Fearing the king’s retribution, Balaam tries to avoid the journey. Here’s where it gets interesting.

Balaam has donkey traveling with him. When Balaam tries to turn away from his mission, the donkey resists. Twice Balaam beats the donkey yet the donkey continues to resist. Finally after a third beating, the donkey speaks! He protests the beatings, saying “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” The donkey goes on to say “Have I ever done anything like this before?” at which point Balaam gets the message to continue on his journey and to refuse to curse Israel.

I have no idea whether this event really happened and obviously I am not alone in wondering why God chose to use a talking animal to make His/Her point. Further, given that the talking donkey got Balaam’s attention, why would God not use such an effective device at other times? Perhaps it is one of those many curious parts of the Old Testament that has little relevance today.

A friend, however, raised an interesting question during our discussion of Balaam’s donkey. She said “I wonder what Balaam’s donkey would say to us today?” So, using the gift of imagery, here is what Balaam might say to us:

“How dare you mistreat my brother and sister animals! You torture them with your experiments! You buy them as pets then abandon them! Like Balaam, you sometimes beat them or starve them! Are they not a part of God’s creation as you are?¬†They offer you loyalty and service yet look how you treat them!”

Perhaps, too, Balaam’s donkey calls us to be alert to what we can learn from animals. Our beloved cat Athena taught¬†me much about simplicity and gratitude. A group of singing canaries reminded me to beware of distraction and pay attention to the present moment. A herd of deer in the Lincoln Forest reminded me that animals too can be a source of mystical wonder.

Finally, Balaam may call me to witness my own arrogance as well as that of my fellow human beings. In our assumption of superiority over all of God’s creation, how well have we done in taking care of that creation?

I wish the Bible had more talking animals!

Reflection: 1. What role do animals play in your own spiritual journey?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
This entry was posted in spirituality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to On Balaam’s Donkey

  1. richp45198 says:

    Well, there\’s Balaam\’s donkey, and then there\’s Jonah being swallowed and transported by the whale. The cock crows when Peter denies Jesus, and Jesus himself comes riding into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey. St. Francis had it right in perceiving animals as our brothers and sisters. I recently saw a poster in which you see a human swimming in the distance, and in the foregrou
    nd is a great white shark. The caption reads \”This is the most dangerous animal in the world. By its hands, millions have died, but beside it peacefully swims a great white shark.\” Humans are a ghastly species of murderous tendencies who have never learned the basic tenet of all Native American spirituality which is \”All my relations.\” We are ALL related.From Carolyn B. “

  2. susan beehler says:

    thanks richard…for the wonderful honoring of the blessed ones in our midst and the past ages ,,,,i didn’t think much about cats til one came into my life, sat on my chest and talked to my soul..those moments are pure delight and reminders of all the unknowns and the inner need to stay awake to all the marvels of creation……you and your words are gems of grace to our universe…… .

  3. tom cunningham says:

    cats are smart — they ignore us humans — they don’t answer us — look elsewhere
    for advice — that said, want wisdom ? — talk to the animals !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Leave a Reply