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But the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?’ And he said, ‘No.’ (Numbers 22:30)
The Bible is full of references to animals. Sometimes stories, sometimes imagery. Often using animal characteristics to encourage humans to behave differently. We are animals ourselves, and the phrase “behaving like animals” may be more of an insult to non-humans than it is to humans.
As the supposed “highest” of the animal kingdom, we have far less excuse for behaving as we so often do. Having animals speak with human language reminds us that the stories aren’t to be taken literally but such stories still contain truth.
We can be so sure of ourselves, or so focused on the wrong worries, that we fail to realise how we should really be responding. Balaam the prophet seems to be a model of piety but even he can be in the wrong.
So we get the story of the talking donkey. It’s a setting of the scene to emphasise that Balaam will only give God’s blessing not curses. The story also shows the loyalty and intelligence of the donkey compared to the human.
Jesus continually showed that his way was not to impose his will. His way was to serve others, and he called his followers to do likewise.
This wasn’t about giving up all the good things. He came to bring us life in all its fullness. So his followers need to look at life differently and work out what really leads to life in all its fullness.
Balaam was humbled by his donkey. Jesus chose to be humble on a donkey. Animals in Bible times and in our times can teach us if we take the time to observe them.
Reverend Liz Gibson