Contributing Writer: Leslie Foster – Pondering from an Ohio Farm Girl
I’ve been doing my daily Bible readings from The One Year Bible, and right now I’m in Numbers. Did you know that the story of Balaam and his infamous donkey are in Numbers? I didn’t. As it turns out, my knowledge of the passage was pretty patchy in general. As I read through it this week, I was surprised yet again by what I had never noticed before in a passage that I’ve no doubt read half a dozen times in the past. Let me show you. You can find this story in Numbers 22-24, if you’d like to read along.
We’ll just skim over all this with a quick reminder that God is amazing, and you should not grumble against Him or doubt what He has told you. In short, He doesn’t like that.
So now the Hebrews are camped across the Jordan River from Jericho, awaiting instruction. In the meantime, the Moabites (who lived across the Jordan, and found themselves in the crosshairs of the Israelites) were scared. And so was Balak, their king. So King Balak sent word to Balaam, asking him to curse Israel for him.
Here’s Weird Thing Number One: Balaam, who is a sorcerer, and obviously not an Israelite, seems to have some sort of relationship with God.
In other passages of scripture, he’s painted as a wicked and even a crazy man, but still, Balaam trots off to meet with God, and God shows up. They have a little chat. He tells Balaam that the Israelites are blessed, so he shouldn’t curse them. Balaam relates the news to the king’s messengers. Not to be so easily put off in the shadow of the Israelites (you know- the ones who are “too numerous to count”), Balak tries again. This time God says Balaam can go. [Teaching Moment #2: persistence is good] Balaam saddles his donkey and sets off.
Which brings us to Wierd Thing Number Two: God tells Balaam he can go, but then a couple of verses later, it says that God was angry, and put an angel in the path. You know, with a big, invisible sword, waiting to kill Balaam. Does this seem strange to anyone else?
Fast forward. Balaam’s donkey sees the angel that is invisible to Balaam. To avoid the angel, the donkey first veers off the road, then walks so closely to a wall that Balaam’s foot is smashed, and finally the donkey just sits down in the road and refuses to move. Each time Balaam, oblivious to his impending doom, yells at and beats his donkey.
Weird Thing Number Three: (and this is the best one) “Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth…” and the DONKEY proceeds to lay out for Balaam a very logical series of questions to help him evaluate his situation reasonably.
Yep. I said the donkey is talking. Or more precisely, the donkey is chiding Balaam. It’s pretty great. To add to my delight, Balaam doesn’t seem too surprised at this unusual turn of events. There’s no mention of his being shocked or surprised; just angry because he looks like an idiot in front of the Moab VIP’s. And probably his foot still hurt. Pain makes people grumpy.
Anyway, in the end Balaam, on God’s orders, blesses the Israelites, effectively hacking King Balak off, and then goes on his merry way. Eventually the Hebrews cross the Jordan and claim their inheritance, and in the process, they kill Balaam. Scripture is silent regarding the fate of the super-awesome talking donkey. Who says the Old Testament’s boring?
image via Flickr-Gilus_pl