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Lessons from Balaam and His Donkey


I would like to look at the relationship between Balaam and his donkey, but first I need to set the stage.

As described in the Bible (chapter 22 of Numbers), there was a non-Jewish prophet named Balaam who lived in Moabite territory. The Moabite king wanted to hire Balaam to curse the Israelites.

In obedience to the Lord, Balaam refused the bribes and did not go. But one day, the Lord gave him new instructions: “…go with them but do only what I tell you.” (Numbers 22:20, NIV. The emphasis is mine.)

The Moabites probably expected Balaam to curse the Israelites, but God was orchestrating a blessing, instead. We don’t always understand God’s plans–why He says “don’t go” sometimes and “go” at other times. But if we’re wise, we’ll obey Him. We must be careful not to jump to wrong conclusions, however. Balaam may have wondered if the Lord was now going to curse the Israelites. Something about Balaam’s attitude was off because the Lord took dramatic steps to reveal that Balaam’s path was “a reckless one.” (verse 32) The Lord spoke through Balaam’s donkey! (The encouraging part of this is that if the Lord can use a donkey, He can also use us–if we’re as obedient and faithful as the donkey was!)

Two times the donkey veered off the path and the third time she sat down because she could see something Balaam couldn’t: the angel of the Lord with sword drawn!

Balaam, oblivious to the fact that the Lord was opposing him, cursed, beat, and argued with his donkey when she spoke to him! Now, you would think that a talking donkey would get his attention, but it didn’t. All he could see was that he was being humiliated in front of the king’s men because his donkey was not obeying him.

While I’ve never met a talking donkey, I can relate to Balaam, somewhat. There have been times when I’ve been stubbornly focused on my own path, oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t doing God’s will. Thankfully, He’s good at getting my attention.

One way that God helps us is through the wise counsel of faithful friends. Let’s look at the conversation between Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22:28-30, NIV.

Donkey: “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

Balaam: “You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

Donkey: “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

Balaam: “No”

Then God opened Balaam’s eyes and he saw “…the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn…” (Numbers 22:31, NIV) He is then told that the donkey saved his life, and he repents.

Balaam’s donkey had always been faithful to him in the past. That knowledge should have caused Balaam to wonder why she was now acting so strangely and, had he not been so caught up in himself, he would have paid attention to her.

Do we seek the opinions of our spouse and trusted friends when we’re making important decisions, or do we “beat” them with our tongue lashings or ignore them and continue along our “reckless path”?

Ultimately, we’re each responsible for our own decisions, but if we’re wise, we’ll at least prayerfully consider what others have to say–especially those who, like Balaam’s donkey, have a good track record of faithfulness.

For discussion questions go to Categories and then Resources.

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