In the Bible, there are stories and characters which can inspire us, and give us insight into our own lives and choices.
One of them is Balaam’s ass.
His donkey, the beast of burden which carried him wherever he went.
Balaam was a prophet, but not a particularly good one. Blessed by the Lord, he didn’t always follow the Lord. His downfall came finally in the offer of fame and money from a king of Moab named Balak.
Balak feared the Israelites would surge across the Jordan River and conquer his people. To help prevent that, he wanted to hire Balaam to curse the Israelites.
Balaam liked the offer, and went to the Lord to ask permission to impose the curse. The Lord, who loved and blessed the Israelites, refused.
Balaam then told Balak’s emissaries, in grand terms, that he could only do what the Lord told him to do.
So they left.
But they came back, with a better offer from Balak.
So Balaam went back to the Lord.
Clearly, nothing had changed – other than the nature of the bribe offered Balaam – so the Lord’s love for Israel was unchanged and his unwillingness to curse it was unflinching. But Balaam wanted the money, so he asked anyway.
Apparently the Lord wasn’t pleased.
Because when Balaam the next day began the trip to Moab to meet with king Balak, the Lord sent an angel with a sword to kill his errant prophet.
The angel was invisible to Balaam, and he waited on the way to kill him.
But the angel was not invisible to Balaam’s ass – the female donkey he routinely rode – and when the angel first appeared, directly in the road, the ass swerved off the road into a field.
And Balaam, who could not see the angel and could not understand the ass’s conduct, beat the animal.
He had a stick and he beat the donkey.
Further on, the road went through a gap between two walls. Standing directly in the gap, with sword poised to kill Balaam, was the angel. As the donkey approached the gap, she pressed over to one side to avoid the angel, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall.
He was furious, and he really laid into the ass, beating it savagely with his rod.
Then he pressed on his journey.
Before long, the angel appeared again and stood directly in the road, with no way for the donkey to go around.
So she lay down.
She just dropped and stopped walking.
Which was more than Balaam could take. He dismounted and began to cane the beast with great ferocity.
Then the Lord did a very curious thing. He let the animal talk. He gave the ass voice.
And she protested her treatment.
She did so initially by asking Balaam if she had ever been unsatisfactory in her duties. She said that she had carried him around since he first acquired her and had always been faithful and reliable.
He acknowledged this, but his anger was undissipated. She explained further, telling him about the angel, and that her actions were, in every instance, for his benefit and preservation, and that he had been wrong to mistreat her.
Still he remained angry.
Until the Lord allowed him to see the angel and the sword.
His donkey had been faithfully serving him, truly saving him, and he had not perceived it or appreciated it. And the specific things she did to save him, he misinterpreted and responded to with escalating anger.
But even in the face of the anger, the donkey remained faithful to Balaam and he lived that day because of her. He had no understanding or gratitude for her actions, even though they were vital to him.
Like I said, the Bible contains many accounts that can inform and strengthen our faith, and give comfort and understanding to our lives.
Like Balaam’s ass.
He heard her voice, but she speaks still today to all of us.
Primarily by her example.
How many times has a loving parent, spouse or friend faithfully stood by and served even in the face of rejection and rebellion? Others may not see what you see, they may not understand as you understand. They may not know why you do what you do for them, they may even resent you for it.
But in the spirit of love and righteousness you can go on like Balaam’s ass, steady in your service, even in the face of ingratitude.
When a child strays, when a spouse is stressed, when a friend is tempted.
That donkey had a prophet on her back, but she was the better being. She was true and faithful.
And her example is a good one.
She pressed on in her duty, even when rebuffed.
And so should we.