Monday, November 14, 2005

What Can a Donkey Teach a Jackass?

Numbers 22:21-35 has a great story…Balaam (arguably a spiritual leader) got up one morning, saddled his donkey, and set out with the princes of Moab. This must have been quite a scene to behold. Accompanying Balaam were the dignitaries who had been sent to persuade Balaam to come and curse the people of God. Each of them must have had their own entourage and Balaam himself was accompanied by his own servants. I can imagine that those who happened to witness this entourage of Moab’s elite must have been duly impressed. Balaam was probably soaking all this up, basking in the glory of it all. After all, this whole caravan was on his account. He was the honored member of a very distinguished group.What Balaam could not see was that by his choice to accompany this delegation, he had set himself in opposition to God. The words of verse 22 are chilling: “Then God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the way to oppose him.

Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.” Balaam had angered God. As they make their way toward Moab, the Angel of the LORD stands in the path of Balaam and his donkey. The “Angel of the LORD” is a most fascinating person. He appears with some frequency in the Old and New Testaments. There are different views as to who this is, but at the very least we can say that he is an angel who represents God, speaking and acting on His behalf.

Here is an amazing thing. Balaam (the spiritual leader) does not see the Angel of the LORD, but his donkey does. A prophet was known as a “seer,” who spoke to men for God concerning the things he “saw” (see 1 Samuel 9:9, 11, 19). Balaam cannot “see” the Angel of the LORD, but the donkey can.

Three times the donkey will see the Angel of the LORD and refuse to continue on the path in an attempt to spare Balaam from his sword. The first encounter comes where the path ran through an open field. The donkey sees the Angel and turns aside, into the field. Balaam is furious with his donkey for turning off the road. He beats his donkey severely, virtually forcing her to get back onto the path. Some time later, Balaam and his mount pass through some vineyards. Just as Balaam’s donkey is making her way between two walls, she sees the Angel of the LORD once again. In order to avoid the Angel, the donkey presses hard against one wall, crushing Balaam’s foot between her body and the wall. Greatly angered by her seemingly senseless behavior, Balaam beats his donkey once again. Going on farther, the Angel blocked the donkey’s path while she was confined to a very narrow place, and so all she could do was to lie down, refusing to go on. This really angers Balaam, who now employs his staff to beat his donkey.

Why beat the donkey, is it just an innocent animal? Donkeys are not only innocent, but ironically they are known for their stubbornness. Strangely enough, it was not the donkey that was stubborn in this instance, but a leader, a religious one at that. Every time the angel of the Lord stood in the donkey and Balaam’s way, the donkey would avoid eminent death, but Balaam was too blind to see it coming. He was so blinded by power and prestige and perceived importance he could not see the holy being that stood before him. Balaam was the stubborn one, and he beat his faithful donkey back on the dangerous path.

What happens next seems absolutely incredible, and yet it did not appear to make much of an impression on Balaam. The donkey suddenly speaks to her master. She asks Balaam what she has done wrong for him to beat her so severely these three times. Balaam hardly appears to notice the incredible fact that a donkey is speaking to him. In effect, Balaam’s answer to the donkey’s question is, “Because you made a jackass out of me. And so help me if I had a sword in my hand right now I would kill you.” (my paraphrase) Balaam was angry with his donkey because she had made him look like a fool. The donkey’s actions seemed completely inexcusable, so long as one is unaware of the presence of the Angel of the LORD, with His sword poised to kill Balaam. Balaam’s actions were irrational and cruel to a donkey who could see the Angel, who was aware of the danger He presented, and who sought to spare her master’s life.

Balaam seems to be very concerned about his status and prestige. But what must this have looked like to the princes who were in the caravan, as they witnessed these events? Balaam, a man highly regarded for his ability to influence or control the “gods,” cannot manage to make his donkey go where he wants. The princes look on as the donkey does it maneuvers and then lays down beneath Balaam, so that he must jump off and beat the animal until she gets to her feet. And just when it would appear that things could not get worse, they watch in disbelief as Balaam and his donkey carry on a conversation. Can you imagine their astonishment if Balaam had turned to these princes and said something like this: “Men, I’ve just had a little talk with Jack here, and we’ve decided that it would be best for us not to continue on with you.”

The donkey’s response to Balaam is most interesting: If I may attempt to paraphrase the words of a donkey, I believe her words were meant to be understood something like this: “Stop and think about this for a moment, master. How long have I been your beast of burden? A long time, right? And have I ever acted in this fashion before? You know that I have not. And if I have not acted this way before, through all the years you have ridden me, doesn’t this suggest to you that something out of the ordinary is going on here? Don’t you think that there may be a message for you in all of this? If I turned off the path three times for what appeared to be no reason at all, doesn’t this cause you to wonder if you are on the right path or not?”Of all the things I would have said to Balaam if I were his donkey, this is not even on my list. Why does the donkey speak as she does? Actually, her words make a lot of sense. Balaam was a man who was supposed to be “in touch” with the spiritual forces. He was a man who was a spiritual leader. Are there lessons to be learned here? Has Balaam completely missed it? Can spiritual leaders today, be like Balaam, be so blinded by sin that they cannot see the presence of God? Is it possible that GOD has placed ‘jackasses’ around leaders so that they will help them listen/see GOD and keep them off the path of destruction? The irony is that the donkey is a better “prophet” (or “seer”) than Balaam.

Moral of the story….Let no leader ever attempt to take credit for what he sees and says, for God can do as much through a donkey. So listen to the jackasses!

1 comment:

Bill Kinnon said...

I felt like such an ass when I read this post. (Extremely wide grin.) You've nailed another great one, SoulPastor. When I recover from my days travel to Austin, I'll be back with a more profound response. (In my dreams.)