Talking Donkey
Based on Old Testament Numbers 22:21-41
(Written by Jaclyn Tepe)
"I'm coming, I'm coming," I yelled to the princes who were already packing their belongings in order to return to Balak, the king of Moab. If they had come all this way just to summon me, they could wait while I saddled my donkey. A great reward, they said. "Yes, yes. I am coming."

Hmmm, what was I to say to this king? A curse was what he asked for. A curse to send that nation back from where they had come. Who ever heard of slaves being set free? They moved like a plague of locusts devouring all that came in their path. It was their God who blessed every one of their footsteps. But how was I to curse them? Their God had talked with me. I could only do what he instructed, and I could only speak the words that he put in my mouth.

So far, I had done what he had told me to do. I hadn't gone with the first group of princes who had come to garner my services. But then Balak sent another envoy, this time with the promise of riches. But I told them that I wouldn't even take his palace if it were filled with gold and silver if it meant going against the will of the Lord God. But then I was told by God to accompany these men, understanding that I would say what the he instructed me to say. Stay, go. Stay, go. Who understands the ways of this God?

But would I get the king's reward if I turned around and blessed these people whom I was supposed to curse? Surely not. In fact, he could probably have me killed for blessing his enemy. Maybe this God can be overcome by the gods of the land and the magic that is used to control them. Sure I promised to say what he told me to say, but I am my own man. I can make my own decisions; I can follow my own will.

"Come on you stupid donkey!" I yelled as my donkey turned off the road into the field. "What are you trying to do? Make me look like an idiot?" I continued to bellow as I beat the beast with my staff. "Stubborn animal, get back on the road!" Every pair of eyes was fastened on me as I clumsily guided my donkey back onto the road. I could see smirks creasing the faces of the men as they easily kept their animals on the path.

Now these princes were going to tell their king that the man he was trusting to aid him against the invading nation, couldn't even control his own donkey. I'll show you. I do what I want. I control those who are under me. I gave my donkey a tight squeeze as a reminder of who was in charge. If I think it is best to stay on the road, then the road is where we will stay. If the field looks like the better option to me, then I will instruct you to take the field. But remember, I am the one choosing the paths.

"Ouch!" I yelped as if my donkey was punishing me in response to my thoughts. My foot was being crushed against the wall as she pressed up against it. Again, I beat the beast trying to rescue my foot and my dignity. How dare this animal make such a fool of me! I was not going to be outsmarted by my own donkey. And I was going to make sure that I was not the one who suffered the most; no, my donkey was going to know who dictated the course. I halfheartedly chuckled a laugh trying to play the whole fiasco off as a funny incident while I cursed under my breath. No one makes Balaam play the role of the idiot without paying a price.

There was that thought again, price. Was the price worth the chance of going against the God who successfully delivered an impoverished nation from the mighty hand of Pharaoh? What would the price be? Would I pay it at the expense of the Moabite king or at the hand of the Israelite God? What was not enough of a benefit and what was too much of a chance? My decision, and my path…both mine to make and mine to take. Decisions are a sign of power and importance. Fools do not make decisions; they are forced to follow where the leaders dictate. The weak have no say; in fact, they are as good as my donkey. The king legislates what can and can't be done, and those with no authority must either do as they are told, or suffer the consequences for trying to resist the direction of the reins.

"Not again," I groaned as I could feel my donkey tensing and preparing to halt. I kicked and screamed. I threatened and I beat my donkey trying to convince her that it would be better for her to get up and move than to remain where she was. Instead, she folded her legs underneath of her and lay down. I was outraged! How dare my donkey lie down while I was still on her back? I could feel sweat starting to eek from the pores on my face as the veins in my neck bulged with the warm blood that colored my skin. One time was an accident. Two times, maybe just a coincidence. But three? There was no excuse for such behavior. I was pulling my arm back for yet another swing of my staff when I instantly froze with my arm still poised in the air.

"What have I done to you, to make you hit me these three times?" asked my donkey in a quiet and meek voice. I was startled, but yet the question demanded an answer.

"You have made a mockery of me! If I had my sword, I would kill you this instant!" I hollered in a tone that was a sharp contrast to the quiet appeal I had just heard from the donkey. My mind raced, but everything seemed quite normal in an odd kind of way. Why shouldn't my donkey question my behavior? Why shouldn't I justify my rightful actions? I was determined to make sure my donkey understood that never again was I to be treated in such a manner.

"But am I not your own donkey, the one you ride day after day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?"

"No." As that single word escaped my lips, my eyes were opened. There before me in the road stood an angel of the Lord bearing a drawn sword. I blinked, yet the vision remained. The sun flashed with the blinding light of the Holy One as it reflected off the warrior's weapon. My skin felt clammy and I trembled as I stared at what could have been my death. The hatred and anger that had been bubbling inside of me, threatening to consume anyone who crossed me, subsided as quickly as a wave rushing back to the ocean after washing up on shore. I lowered my eyes, and fell with my face pressed firmly against the ground. I desperately tried to think of something, anything…whether it was something to say or to do, but I was paralyzed with shock and fear. My mind was unable to assemble a single clear or coherent thought except that I was in the presence of the purest, most holy being that I had ever come in contact with. Everything else paled in comparison, just as the light from a distant star will never compare in brightness to that of the sun.

"Why have you beaten your donkey these three times?" asked the Angel. "I have come to oppose your path because it is a reckless one in my eyes. Your donkey saw me, and turned away. If she had not, you would surely be dead. Her life, however, I would have spared."

At that instant, as I was face to face with an angel of God, I felt like the dirtiest piece of filth, not even worthy of the life I had been spared. "I have sinned," I cried. "I did not know that you were standing there in my path. Now if you are displeased, I will return and continue on this journey no longer."

"Go with them, but you will speak only what I tell you." That settled my previous question as to whether I would be able to speak my own mind. I lifted my face from the ground, and looked around. The angel was no longer there, and if I had not talked with the man myself, I would have doubted his existence. Even the afternoon sunlight seemed paler after being in the presence of a radiance that only heaven can emanate.

I eyed my donkey. I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to ride her again. My mind seemed hazy, as if it didn't want to believe that I had actually conversed with an animal, but yet, I couldn't forget what had happened. Would I ever hear words from her again? What if my donkey wanted to go somewhere else? I surely couldn't beat the thing ever again. I am sure that I stood there for quite awhile, deliberating whether to walk or ride. Finally, I made up my mind.

I had been so sure of my path. I thought I knew what was best. I wanted to stay on the road that stretched before my feet, but yet I was taken off the road into the field. I wanted to go between the two walls, yet through pain, I was instructed that that was not the way that I should go. And when I persisted that I knew best, that I knew the direction that my life should take, my donkey lay down underneath me. It took increasingly more and more for my eyes to be opened.

I didn't know what was down the road, but if I had had my way, I would have suffered greatly. The Lord knew there was an angel on my path, and if I had trusted, he would have led me to where I needed to go. But obstinately, I tried to be the one in control of the reins. Who understands the ways of this God? The path that looks good to me is often one that appears reckless to him. And who am I to understand the ways in which he chooses to make his will known to me? Whether it be through a slight nudge in a different direction, pain from a chosen decision, a halt that seems to bring life to a stop, or words from the mouth of a donkey, the Lord works in ways few can predict or ever comprehend. Paths can be changed, and often without explanations, but it could just be that one path was guarded by an angel.