|Volume 25 Number 5 May 2023
The Bible opens with the account of creation in Genesis 1. We are told that God made all of the land animals on day six (Genesis 1:24-25). God showed His creative power and genius by how and what He created. We look at the animals that exist and our world, and we are reminded of the amazing power of God. Animals should be observed because of the appreciation we gain for the aesthetic detail God provided in the world. Still, animals can teach us other lessons. God used the animal world throughout Scripture to teach His people important lessons.
A fish swallowed Jonah to humble him and change his heart (Jonah 2:1-10). The plague of frogs was used to teach Pharaoh that there was a power higher than him, and he needed to submit (Exodus 8:5-15). Jesus pointed to the birds of the air so His hearers would know there was no reason to fret and worry about their daily provisions because God provides (Matthew 6:26-27).
One of the animals appearing most frequently in Scripture is the donkey. The word appears in both the Old and New testaments more than 100 times. Some of the mentions of donkeys are incidental and tell us about how much property someone possessed (Genesis 12:16). Other times, they were mentioned as the spoil of a town was cataloged (Numbers 31:34). Yet, if we read the Bible closely enough, we will see various scenes in Scripture connected to donkeys that teach us eternal lessons we should keep close to our hearts. Here are a few famous donkeys in Scripture that we should note.
The Talking Donkey: Numbers 22
The talking donkey of Numbers 22 may be the most famous donkey or animal in the entire Bible. Long before movies like Dr. Doolittle, which fictionally portrayed animals with the supernatural ability to communicate, the Bible provided us with the true account of what God was able to do. Balaam was a prophet from Moab who was hired by Balak to curse God’s people. Balaam initially refused to go along with the plan to curse God’s people, and he rejected the offers and gifts sent to persuade him (Numbers 22:2-14). He spoke boldly of refusing to go beyond the Word of the Lord (Numbers 22:18). However, as the offers and gestures intensified, Balaam eventually caved in and went to do what God had forbidden.
On his way to disobey God, God caused his donkey to see an angel that was blocking their pathway (Numbers 22:22-23). The donkey could see the angel, but Balaam could not, and he beat the donkey in order to get the donkey to charge ahead and do what he wanted. The donkey eventually spoke to Balaam and rebuked him for his abuse and foolish decision-making (Numbers 22:24-28). The Lord allowed the donkey to speak to teach Balaam a lesson (Numbers 22:28). God opened Balaam’s eyes and asked him why he took his frustration out on the donkey when the donkey was actually saving his life (Numbers 22:31-34). This scene of the talking donkey was not put in Scripture for comic relief. God showed that sometimes a heart is so hard that nothing will change the way a person is going (Matthew 13:14-15; Acts 7:51). Sometimes, drastic measures are needed to awaken us to our own foolishness. We are often angry at others when the fault lies with us (James 1:13-15).
The Providential Donkey: 1 Samuel 9
God can work through miraculous means or providence. Providence is where God uses natural laws to accomplish His purpose without violating the freewill of any of the individuals involved. In 1 Samuel 9, we read of a man named Kish who lost his donkeys (1 Samuel 9:3). Donkeys were valuable to their owners and were a part of their owners’ wealth and financial stability. Kish sent one of his servants with his son Saul to search for his donkeys (1 Samuel 9:4). When Saul could not find the donkeys, he wanted to turn around and go home (1 Samuel 9:5). Saul’s servant told him about a man of God (i.e., a prophet) in the city who possibly could tell them where the donkeys went (1 Samuel 9:6). God had communicated with His prophet Samuel the day before about how He would send a man to him from the tribe of Benjamin to be anointed as king (1 Samuel 9:15-16). When Samuel saw Saul, he remembered what God had said and anointed Saul as the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 9:17; 10:1-8, 17-25).
Though Saul did not turn out to be a righteous king, we should appreciate how God’s providence worked at the beginning of his reign. What his father thought was just a mission to find donkeys ended up being Saul's anointing ceremony. Many things in our lives that we think are just coincidence or unimportant may turn out to have great significance (Genesis 45:4-5). Regarding providence, the apostle Paul spoke of his meeting Philemon’s slave Onesimus as possibly being providential (Philemon 15). The lesson from the providential donkey is that we never know what good can come from ordinary things. We do know that God can use all things for His ultimate good, and we should cooperate with that in any way we can (Romans 8:28).
The Royal Donkey: Matthew 21
As Jesus was preparing to make His exit out of the world, He needed to make His entrance into Jerusalem. As Jesus came to Bethpage, He sent two of His disciples into the village to find a donkey that He needed (Matthew 21:1-3). This was not a random act performed by Jesus. We are told that this was done in order to fulfill prophecy (Isaiah 62:11; Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:4-5). The disciples found the donkey just like Jesus told them and brought it to the Lord. Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem, and the people praised Him as the Son of David (Matthew 21:6-9).
The royal donkey is special because of Who rode it and what it signified. Jesus rode this donkey, fulfilled prophecy and was also proclaimed as the Messiah from the lineage of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). Jesus did not ride in on a horse like many kings might have in His day. He came as a meek and lowly king. As with so many other things in the life of Jesus, He did not do what people always expected. The royal donkey taught us that He is a King (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 19:16). Scripture reveals Him as the King Who came in a lowly and meek way to save the world (Matthew 11:28-30). Though men might have expected Him to do things in other ways, He did things as they were prophesied and according to His divine wisdom. The people chanted and praised Jesus as He rode the donkey. He is worthy of the same praise today (Psalm 33:1).
The Bible is filled with lessons for us to learn. Sometimes, God uses people like the prophets and the apostles to teach us. Sometimes, God uses donkeys to get His message across to us. As we study Scripture, let us be sure to see what God conveys regardless of how He chooses to do so.