Talking donkey saved Balaam’s life

Story in Book of Numbers offers numerous lessons

This is German artist Gustav Jaeger’s depiction of Balaam’s donkey protesting that Balaam was beating him when an angel, visible at first only to the donkey, was blocking their way with a drawn sword. Jaeger lived from 1808-71. (Courtesy Photo)

The wicked prophet Balaam refused to disobey God by cursing Israel, but he still found a way to be rewarded by the king of Midian by enticing the Israelites to worship an idol and fornicate with Midianite women.

Told in Numbers 22-25, the story features Balaam’s famous conversation with a talking donkey who asked, “What have I done to make you beat me these three times?”

The Revs. Bill Hutto and Aubrey Jones say the donkey Balaam was riding had stopped in the road because only he could see an angel standing in the way with sword drawn.

“Sometimes we’re so stubborn that God has to use extreme measures to get our attention,” said the Rev. Hutto, pastor of Sunset Heights Baptist Church. “God was telling Balaam not to be messing with the people, so he told the king he wouldn’t curse them but would tell him how to make them intermingle.

“The bigger lesson is that we need to be open to what God teaches us through his word.

“It’s a funny story. The interesting thing is that Jesus says in Luke 19:40 that the rocks of the earth will cry out against those who stand in God’s way. Our job is to keep the rocks silent.

“We are to praise God instead of the rocks.”

Hutto said Balaam “was kind of a prophet for hire.

“He was in a Catch-22,” he said. “He didn’t want to disobey God, so he went in a roundabout way to help this king.”

The Rev. Jones, pastor of Chapel Hill Baptist Church, said the irony “is that Balaam is beating his donkey for saving his life.

“It’s kind of an odd passage because he was willing to do whatever for money,” Jones said. “He was morally ambiguous. Then God prevented him from cursing the Israelites.

“God fulfilled his promises to bless those who blessed Israel and curse those who cursed it. The lesson is that if we’re going to serve God, we’ve got to do it on his terms and do it faithfully.”

Jones said God “reveals his word to us in Scripture and speaks to the faithful through the Holy Spirit, who never contradicts the Bible.”

Asked if Numbers 22:21-35 is the only place in the Bible where an animal talks to a person, Jones said the other instance is where Satan in the form of a snake entices Eve in the Garden of Eden.

“Balaam was probably a priest or some sort of a diviner,” he said. “The Bible doesn’t say a whole lot about him, but some scholars think he was a false prophet who was talking to false gods and seeking after the devil.”