Balaam’s talking donkey (Num 22:22-22:35)

“God’s anger was kindled because Balaam was going. The angel of Yahweh took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now Balaam was riding on a donkey, and his two servants were with him. The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey turned off the road and went into the field. Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. Then the angel of Yahweh stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. When the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck it again. Then the angel of Yahweh went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, it lay down under Balaam. Balaam’s anger was kindled. He struck the donkey with his staff. Then Yahweh opened the mouth of the donkey. The donkey said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?’ Balaam said to the donkey, ‘Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now.’ 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.’”

Now we have a colorful Yahweh tale with a talking donkey, like in the movie Shrek. Yahweh was angry because Balaam was going to see Balak. Thus the angel of Yahweh took his stand in the road as his adversary. Balaam was riding on the donkey with his two servants with him. The donkey saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey turned off the road, and went into a field. However, Balaam struck the donkey. Next the angel of Yahweh stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. Then the donkey scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall. Balaam struck the donkey again. Then the angel of Yahweh went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of Yahweh, it lay down under Balaam. Balaam was angry. He struck the donkey a third time. Then Yahweh opened the mouth of the donkey. The donkey spoke to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you that you have struck me these three times?’ Balaam spoke back to the donkey, saying that the donkey had made a fool of him. He wanted to kill the donkey. But the donkey replied that he had ridden him all his life.

Then the Yahweh opened the eyes of Balaam. He saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand. He bowed down, falling on his face. The angel of Yahweh said to him, ‘Why have you struck your donkey three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me. He turned away from me three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.’”

Then Yahweh opened the eyes of Balaam. He finally saw the angel of Yahweh standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed down, falling on his face. The angel of Yahweh asked him why he had struck the donkey three times? The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, I would have killed you and let the donkey live.

“Then Balaam said to the angel of Yahweh, ‘I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now therefore, if it is displeasing to you, I will return home.’ The angel of Yahweh said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men. But speak only what I tell you to speak.’ So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak.”

Then Balaam admitted that he had sinned. He did not see the angel of Yahweh. He was willing to go home, but the angel of Yahweh told him to speak only when Yahweh told him to speak. So Balaam went on with the officials of Balak. What a great story! The donkey is smarter than this divine magic person. He is almost like Abraham, doing whatever Yahweh wants him to do. Notice that Yahweh opens the mouth of the donkey and the eyes of Balaam. There may be some symbolism in the concept of the 3 incidents and the 3 whippings of the donkey.