The Surprising Story of Balaam’s Talking Ass

The Story of how Balaam received a message from God is pretty unusual, and if you haven’t read it before, right now is a great time to do it. If you’ve read it, and it left you scratching your head a little, it’s certainly worth a deeper look. (And yeah, I know it opens the door to bad Ace Ventura jokes and that it’s PRIMARILY referred to most often by middle school boys who say, ” the word ‘Ass‘ IS in the Bible, so I can use it, too!”)

The story’s MAIN lesson, though, is that God communicates with us and also keeps his promises. Check this out: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said it, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, NIV)

In one of the more unusual stories in the Bible, a prophet named Balaam is sent to Balak, the king over the Moabites. Balak was concerned about the way the Israelites were conquering his neighbors, and sent messengers to Balaam to ask for some relief from God. (And yes, with OT references to the pagan god Baal, having a story with Balak and Balaam in it certainly elevates its position on the confusion meter.)

At any rate, the Lord gave Balaam a message and told him he could go to Moab, but only if he would deliver God’s message word for word. So, we pick up our narrative in the twenty-second chapter of Numbers, wherein Balaam was riding his donkey (using here the more civilized term for the animal, sorry middle-school boys) to Moab. Apparently, however, he was not fully committed to carrying out the Lord’s mission.

An Unusual Twist

God knew of Balaam’s lack of commitment to his instructions. So, He sent an angel to block the road, which apparently the donkey could see, but Balaam could not. The donkey, freaked out by the heavenly message-bearer, held up. Wouldn’t budge. Balaam became enraged over the Donkey’s refusal to travel. He struck the stubborn donkey several times, until the animal went all “Mr. Ed” on him and spoke, asking him why he was being hit. (For those of you too young to remember, Mr. Ed was a sitcom about a talking horse named Ed who had a dumb owner named Wilbur. Wilbur was committed to keeping Ed’s gift of speech a secret, so Mister Ed would say stuff and his owner would take the fall, or bumble into awkward cover-up stories. Every week, the horse’s ability to speak got Wilbur into all sorts of shenanigans.)

In this Bible passage, however, the donkey was motivated to speak a warning to its owner Balaam by a messenger from God. Balaam (finally, at the donkey’s urging) saw the angel of the Lord and then decided to listen with greater focus to his instructions. The angel told him: “The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.” (Numbers 22:33)

So, What Can We Learn From a Talking Donkey?

One lesson we can learn from this passage is, “Don’t be so consumed with your own agenda that you don’t even see or hear God’s message to you.” Balaam was so wrapped up in politics or personal concerns that he almost rode to his own death. It may seem strange, but you and I might be doing the same thing. Sin works that way. You can even think you are doing God’s work (like being a prophet) when you actually motivated by your own pride or fear. I am not exactly sure what Balaam’s problem was, but God went to unusual lengths to get his attention. Don’t be that guy.

Finally, though, in the midst of his prophecy to Moab, Balaam gave them strong assurance about the Lord: God is not a mere man. His word is true, and when He has made a promise, He will bring it to pass. Think about the promises God has made to you, there are lots to choose from: hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11); unending love (Romans 8:38); peace (John 14:27, Philippians 4:7); and according to Peter, many other great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). Open your eyes to God’s word. Listen to His promises and claim them. It might just keep you from riding to your own death.

A Road Trip to Remember

Balaam had a mission, but an angel blocked his way,
And made him pay attention to what his donkey had to say:
God gave him a message, but he really hadn’t heard
That he should take that message and deliver it word for word.
If you ride a Donkey who turns into Mr. Ed,
I’d pay attention to what he says, or you could wind up dead!
If God sends you a message, listen. Do not be an ass;
Remember: whatever the Lord has promised, He will bring to pass.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here:
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: