Do you have a “Life Verse”? I have never felt the need to pick a life verse for myself. I mean, which one would you pick? How do you not pick John 3:16? What about Philippians 4:13 or Jeremiah 29:11 or Romans 8:28? Can you have more than one? Is it possible to be a life verse hoarder? But in the interest of trying not to be the contrarian I am, I have decided to pick a verse. I know what you are thinking, finally the sign that world peace is possible has been revealed.
So I choose: Numbers 22:28a!
“Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth.”
If there was ever a verse that fit me to a T, this is it. If I had a dollar for every time I had been called a jackass or acted like one, the guy that owns Amazon would be cutting my grass. For those of you who now wish to claim this verse, I have dibs.
While being called a donkey, or any one of the slang terms related to a donkey, is considered a negative in our society, in God’s world it can be just the opposite.
In the book of Numbers, chapters 22, Balaam is a diviner or prophet that is summoned by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. The Israelites had come up out of Egypt and traveled to the plains of Moab and the people of Moab were terrified because there was so many of them. So the elders sent princes to Balaam, with the fee needed for the curse of course. Everyone knows if you want a good curse you have to pay for it.
Balaam asked the princes to spend the night and he would seek an answer from the Lord. God told Balaam not to go with these men and do not curse these people because “they are blessed.” So Balaam let the princes know what God had said and sent them back to Balak. Upon their return, they told Balak that “Balaam refused to come with us” (verse 14). But Balak wouldn’t take no for an answer so he sent another group of princes, more numerous and distinguished than the first bunch. I guess he sent the “B-team” on the first trip when he should have sent the varsity?
When they approached Balaam they offered him a handsome reward and whatever he wanted if he would only come put a curse on the Israelites.
“But Balaam answered them, ‘Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.’”
– Numbers 22:18 (NIV).
Balaam would ask them to spend the night just like he did the first group and he would seek the Lord. This time God told Balaam to go with them but to only do what I tell you to do. So the next day, Balaam saddled his donkey and left with the princes of Moab.
But God was not happy with Balaam. Probably had a lot to do with this love of money, nevertheless God did speak to him. So as he and his two servants set out with the princes of Moab, an angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him.
“When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat her again. Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff.”
– Numbers 22: 23-27 (NIV).
Now at this point you have to wonder what was going thru Balaam’s mind. Sure he was upset but he never stopped to consider that something could really be wrong. He was determined to get where he was going, probably thinking about all the riches about to come his way. Don’t we do the same thing? We set our minds on doing something, only to be frustrated every step of the way, never considering God is trying to tell us something or send us a message. Then that is when something happens that gets our attention or at least it should get our attention. Now I have never had an animal speak to me, at least none that I am willing to admit. So when the donkey starts talking to Balaam, he answers like it’s no big deal. He must have really been mad. And that’s usually not a good thing.
“Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’ Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.’”
– Numbers 22:28-29 (NIV).
Have you ever been that mad? Mad enough to answer a talking donkey? Unfortunately, I have. So mad that I can’t see straight. Blaming someone or something for making me look like a fool when it was me making myself look like a fool the entire time. Nothing good comes from uncontrolled, blind anger combined with selfishness. Nothing.
But the story doesn’t end there.
“The donkey said to Balaam, ‘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?’ ‘No,’ he said. Then the angel of the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.”
– Numbers 22: 30-31 (NIV).
Balaam had to be humiliated and humbled. It’s a feeling I have experienced. Have you? But the lesson wasn’t over for Balaam just yet.
“The angel of the Lord asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.’ Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, ‘I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased I will go back.’”
– Numbers 22:32-34 (NIV).
Balaam’s life was saved by a beast of burden. He would go on with the princes and was told to speak only what the angel of the Lord told him to speak. He would go on to bless the Israelites to the consternation of Balak. But it doesn’t end well for Balaam. He would eventually reveal to Balak how to get the Israelites to commit sin by enticing them with sexual immorality and food sacrificed to idols as they entered the Promised Land. He would later be killed by Joshua and the Israelites.
Jesus evens mentions him in the book of Revelation. Jesus is speaking to the church in Pergamum:
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.”
– Revelation 2:14 (NIV).
Sometimes it’s good to be the donkey. There is so much we can glean out of this encounter. Are we driven by selfish ambition, oblivious to what God wants us to do? Or are we the humble servant recognizing where God wants us to go and where he doesn’t want us to go? Would we rather be the prophet or the donkey?
According to some sources, donkeys are mentioned over 400 times in scripture. I would think that being mentioned that many times, there is a significance to it. What other animal is called a beast of burden? Is there a better representation of more lowly service animal?
Did Mary ride a donkey to Bethlehem? We know that Jesus triumphantly rode the back of a donkey colt into Jerusalem as had been prophesied for centuries. When we serve the Lord, we should do so with humility and lowliness just like a donkey. Sure, the horse is a magnificent animal with great PR but it is the lowly donkey that God chose to speak and Jesus chose to ride.
When serving Jesus it is good to be the donkey.
ReadActMinisterPray and run to the Cross!