The Lord deals with each of His creations in special ways as He desires, and most importantly, in accordance with His over all plan. We are now going to take a look at one of these situations.
The donkey which we are now going to discuss is Balaam's. If you do not remember who Balaam was, read Numbers 22-24. Since this study is centered around God's creatures, we will just look at the part of Numbers 22 which deals with the specific incident of the encounter of Balaam and his donkey with the Lord, beginning at verse 21:
21. So Balaam arose in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and went with the leaders of Moab.
22. But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of Lord took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him.
23. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way.
24. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side.
25. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam's foot against the wall, so he struck her again.
26. And the angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left.
27. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick.
28. And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?"
29. Then Balaam said to the donkey, "Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now."
30. And the donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?" And he said, "No."
31. Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground.
32. And the angel of the Lord said to him, "Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me.
33. "But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live."
34. And Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, "I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back."
35. But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, "Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I shall tell you. So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak.
Perhaps the best place to start this portion of our discussion is when the donkey first sees the angel of the Lord in verse 23. It is obvious that only the donkey saw the angel, and not Balaam or his two servants. Why?
Be he (Balaam) did not see him (the angel), for the Holy One, blessed be He, gave an animal power to see more than the man, for just because he (man) possesses sense, his mind would become perturbed if he sees noxious beings.
It is interesting to note that Rashi, who wrote almost one thousand years ago, at a time that we now consider to be very "primitive", and where the pressures of modern times would not have been upon man, recognized that man could not comprehend the vision of angel without becoming perturbed. Even at that time man obviously had his mind filled with the things of the world. His self pride and self styled importance could not accept, in general, that God could send an angel any time He chose. Yet this simple beast of burden received God's message instantly, and "in childlike faith" accepted the presence and purpose of the angel.
From The Pulpit Commentary we get the added following comment:
It is nothing to the point that the lower animals have a quicker perception of some natural phenomenon; it is nothing to the point that the lower animals are credited by some with possessing "the second sight", for all that belongs to the fantastic and legendary. If the ass saw the angel, it was because the Lord opened her eyes then, as He did her mouth afterwards.
These commentaries may be correct, that the Lord chose to specifically open the eyes of this particular donkey for His good purpose, but they may have always been open. And we must admit that the donkey did respond in an intelligent way. Nevertheless, what this passage does show is that with God all things are possible, and that God so designed the animals that they can hear His call and respond to it, when He chooses to call. He has always chosen to call man, yet the vast majority of us do not allow ourselves to hear or respond.
If you are one of those who are not sure that you hear the call of the Lord, or see the signs of His presence, ask Him to remove any blindness from your eyes that you may see His Presence. Also pray earnestly that He open your ears that you may hear His call. The real truth is all in God's Word. And as it says in Romans 10:17:
17. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
As we continue with this portion of our study, keep in mind the following questions: Is God trying to tell us here, that this so called "dumb" animal has more intelligence than man when it comes to "seeing" God? Is it also perhaps that our mind are so cluttered with worldly things and pride that we won't let ourselves be open to God's spiritual realm? And when we do receive that glimpse into the spiritual world, we all too often don't believe it, and try to excuse it away.
Refer back to the comment from The Pulpit Commentary on "the second sight". Let's also look at our own experience. Almost all of us, at one time or another, have heard and/or have seen a dog "barking at the wind". Could it be at a "roo-akh" or spirit? Could God choose to open the eyes of animals for our own protection more than we know?
Note also Matthew Henry's comment:
...Balaam had notice given him of God's displeasure, by the ass, and this did not startle him. The ass saw the angel (verse 23). How vainly did Balaam boast that he was a man whose eyes were open, and that he saw the visions of the Almighty (Numbers 24:3, 4), when the ass he rode on saw more than he did, his eyes being blinded with covetousness and ambition. Let none be puffed up with the conceit of visions and revelations, when even an ass saw an angel; to save both herself and her senseless rider, ... She turned aside out of the way, (verse 23). Balaam should have taken the hint of this, and considered whether he was not out of the way of his duty; but, instead of this, he beat her into the way again. Thus those who by willful sin are running headlong into perdition are angry at those that would prevent their ruin.
When we look at verses 28-30 we see a greater confirmation of the power of God upon those who will listen, including animals. Remember also that the animals "came" to Noah. He did not go out to get them.
F. C. Cook's The Bible Commentary presents a position that I believe is, in part, trying to justify what Scripture says by creating circumstances and conditions that are actually more speculative than what is actually stated in Scripture. Since it represents a mode of thinking that is prevalent in the world today, it should be presented and discussed:
the Lord opened the mouth of the ass. The account of this occurrence can hardly have come from any one else than Balaam himself, and may perhaps have been given by him to the Israelites after his capture in the war against Midian (Numbers 31:9). That which is here recorded was apparently perceived by him alone amongst human witnesses. For though his two servants were with him (verse 22), and the envoys of Balak also (verse 35), yet the marvel does not appear to have attracted their attention. The cries of the ass would seem then to have been significant to Balaam's mind only...God may have brought it about that sounds uttered by the creature after its kind became to the prophet's intelligence as though it addressed him in rational speech. Indeed to an augur, priding himself on his skill in interpreting the cries and movements of animals, no more startling warning could be given than one so real as this, yet conveyed through the medium of his own art; and to a seer pretending to superhuman wisdom no more humiliating rebuke can be imagined than to teach him by the mouth of his own ass. These, the special significance of the transaction, would be missed entirely if we were to suppose...that the whole passed in a vision, Balaam being by the power of God cast into an ecstatic state. And the words "the Lord opened..." clearly indicate that it was on the ass not on the prophet that the Divine Hand was more immediately laid. On the other hand, the opinion that the ass actually uttered with the mouth articulate words of human speech... or even that the utterance of the ass was so formed in the air as to fall with the accents of man's voice on Balaam's ears...seems irreconcilable with Balaam's behavior. Balaam was indeed laboring under derangement, induced by his indulgence of avarice and ambition, and this too aggravated at the moment by furious anger; yet it seems scarcely conceivable that he could actually have heard human speech from the mouth of his own ass, and even go on as narrated in verses 29, 30, to hold a dialogue with her, and show no signs of dismay and astonishment.
The reader must remember that either we accept the entire Bible as the Word of God, or the entire Bible is subject to disbelief. I for one, believe the Bible to be God's Word.
Now if we are going to accept this commentary in Cook's as presented, and in specific reference to the donkey not actually speaking, then we must also search for confirmation of such comment. We have none! In fact, we have just the opposite. Note 2 Peter 2:15-16.
15. forsaking the right way they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness,
16. but he received a rebuke for his own transgression; for a dumb donkey, speaking with the voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet.
Now, assuming that we still wish to accept this commentary of Cook's without confirmation, and also forgetting about what Peter writes, then we can also look at other portions of the Bible in a similar manner. As an example, we could just as easily say that Moses spent so much time up on Mount Sinai that he also became deranged. That he only imagined that God told him what He said. That he also carved the tablets himself. All of this is of course absurd. What took place between Moses and God is exactly as presented in Scripture. Likewise, the commentary on Balaam and his donkey then also must be considered absurd. The Word of God is true. If God intends us to look at a presented situation in the Bible with other than what is said, He tells us so, such as Samuel's (God's) selection of David where God saw the heart which Samuel could not.
Why is this act of God any harder to believe than any other? Is it because the donkey is given human qualities? Surely it is easier to make a donkey talk than to make the whole earth, or for that matter, the donkey herself.
Look also at the following commentary from The Pulpit Commentary:
And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass. On the face of it this expression would seem decisive that an audible human voice proceeded from the ass's mouth, as St. Peter beyond doubt believed...It is truly said, however, that a passing illusion of this kind, while it testifies that the Apostle understood the words, like all his contemporaries, in their most natural and simple sense, does not oblige us to hold the same view; if he was mistaken in this matter, it does not at all affect the inspired truth of his teaching.
Once again I can not accept a commentary because of the way it is presented. This one even contradicts itself. Either Scripture is inspired or it is not. We cannot just switch back and forth as and when we choose. I believe the remarks I made about the previous commentary will suffice for this one as well, except for one thing. This commentary does reference a confirmation and then dismisses it. The previous commentary could not confirm its position, but this one references one that confirms the opposite position, that Scripture is the Word of God. In my opinion, this could constitute bending Scripture to suit a position. I pray that I am not, or will not do that in this study, or anywhere else either, or ever!
The confirmation verse referred to above is 2 Peter 2:16 which is also printed above. Note that Peter's "inspired" word confirms that the donkey did speak. It also should be noted here that the word "dumb" (af-o-nos) means voiceless, and does not refer to intelligence.
It is obvious that Peter did, beyond doubt, believe that the donkey did speak. Why? Because it is true, the animal did speak. How do we know? How did Peter know with such assurance? Because the Holy spirit speaks to our hearts, and God tells us so in His Word. Note 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
16. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
17. that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Let's take a look at more of this same commentary from The Pulpit Commentary:
Two theories, therefore, have been proposed in order to avoid the difficulties of the ordinary belief, while vindicating the reality of the occurrence. It has been held by some that the whole affair took place in a trance, and resembled St. Peter's vision of the let down from heaven (Acts 10:10), which we rightly conceive to have been purely subjective. This is open to the obvious and apparently fatal objection that no hint is given of any state of trance or ecstasy, and that, on the contrary, the wording of the narrative as given to us is inconsistent with such a thing. In verse 31 Balaam's eyes are said to have been opened so that he saw the angel; but to have the eyes open so that the (ordinarily) invisible became visible, and the (otherwise) inaudible became audible, was precisely the condition of which Balaam speaks (Numbers 24:3-4) as that of a trance. According to the narrative, therefore, Balaam was in an ecstasy, if at all, after the speaking of the ass, and not before.
The flaw in this commentary still continues. The Word of God does not contradict itself. Acts 10:10 does specifically reference a trance, and just as significantly this portion of Scripture about Balaam does not. Additionally, 2 Peter 2:16 confirms the speaking of the donkey, does not reference any trance. Nor does the reference to Numbers 24:3-4 that the writer of this commentary seems to rely on to prove his point. We must remember that Balaam is a worldly, prideful prophet, who is really only seeking worldly profit and recognition. Additionally, Balaam is as equally "at home" on either side of the spirit world. Nevertheless, since some may still not believe that God's Word is true, let's look at the beginning of Numbers 24 in order to see its true context:
1. When Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel,he did not go as at other times to seek omens but he set his face toward the wilderness.
2. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him.
3. And he took up his discourse and said,
"The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened;
4. The oracle of him who hears the words of God,
Who sees the vision of the almighty,
Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered,
In order to properly look at verses 3 and 4, we must first set the stage for them. Hence, I have included verses 1 and 2 also. In verse 1 we see that Balaam finally realizes that it pleases the Lord when he blesses Israel. This time he does not seek the insight from the nether world, but sets his face toward the wilderness, where Israel is camped, and toward where the Presence of the Lord can be seen. Balaam is a showman, and all his preparations are part of that show. He has not lost any of his pridefulness, and he is still more interested in receiving the glory of men than of God. In verse 2 we see that the Lord our God again uses Balaam for His good purpose, and His Spirit comes upon him. This expression almost always refers to prophecy, and there is no reason why we should think otherwise. The whole discourse, or parable, of Balaam confirms this conclusion. Verses 3 and 4 therefore are no more than the preamble to this prophecy, just as so many others in the Bible also start. But these verses still contain much of Balaam's "puff". Balaam is simply stating on his own behalf, that he is exalted above the others present because God opened his eyes. The part he is leaving out is that God forced him to listen since He would not permit him to curse Israel. This discourse in no way changes any portion of the verses in Numbers 22 which we are now studying. God's Word still stands on its own. The donkey did speak!
Once again we will continue with the same commentary:
By others it has been put forward, somewhat confusedly, that although Balaam was in his ordinary senses, he did not really hear a human voice, but that the "cries" of the ass became intelligible to his mind; and it is noted that as an augur he had been accustomed to assign meanings to the cries of animals. If instead of "cries" we read "brayings", for the ass is endowed by nature with no other capacity of voice, being indeed one of the dumbest of "dumb" animals, we have the matter more fairly before us. To most people it would appear more incredible that the brayings of an ass should convey these rational questions to the mind of its rider than that the beast should have spoken outright with a man's voice. It would indeed seem much more satisfactory to regard the story, if we cannot accept it as literally true, as a parable which Balaam wrote against himself, and which Moses simply incorporated in the narrative; we should at least preserve in this way the immense moral and spiritual value of the story, without the necessity of placing non-natural construction upon its simple statements.
Once again we are going to break off in the middle of this commentary to make a few remarks . One of my personal problems is that when I see someone "grasping for straws" to try to prove a point, I generally come out with a somewhat "sarcastic" remark in order to let them know that they are suffering from "foot in mouth" disease. In this case, however, I believe it is more like "hoof in mouth" disease.
As far as Balaam's hearing "brayings" as something else, it is possible, but not the case here. Remember that we have had confirmation that the donkey did speak. Such comments as those contained in this commentary may arise from listening to a pet cat, who wishes to come in or go out, saying "me-in" or "me-out". While I was in the middle of writing this, I heard J. Vernon Magee on the radio talking about this very portion of Scripture. He said that it was not such a miracle then that a jackass spoke, but that the real miracle is today when they stop talking! Lest I put myself into this last group, I will return to more specific comments.
The last part of this portion of this commentary about not placing "non-natural construction upon its simple statements", is a perf ect example of doing just that. I still can not understand why we have to find ways of explaining that God means something other than what He says in His Word. It is so much easier to just accept it. God said the donkey spoke, therefore, she did
This time as we continue with the commentary, we see a change in direction. Note that the "dumbest animals" is now intelligent:
Supposing the miracle to have really occurred, it must always be observed that the words put into the ass's mouth do nothing more than express such feelings as a docile and intelligent animal of her kind would have actually felt. That domestic animals, and especially such as have been long in the service of man, feel surprise, indignation, and grief in the presence of injustice and ill-treatment is abundantly certain. In many well-authenticated cases they have done things in order to express these feelings which seemed as much beyond their "irrational" nature as if they had spoken. We constantly say of a dog or a horse that they can do everything but speak, and why should it seem incredible that God, who has given the dumb beast so close an approximation to human feeling and reason, should for once have given it human voice?
Amen! This is what I have been trying to say all along. We should always assume that God's Word is true and proceed from there. If God wants us to view something in a different manner than presented, He will tell us so, as He did with Judas, who only appeared to be one of the Twelve.
Compare also the "human" traits that are being attributed here to animals as well, and has been said, are well known, with the comment on the distinction between "roo-akh" and "neh-fesh". The personality, emotion and desire of a being are in its soul. The "power", the reason, and the expression of the traits of the soul are all part of spirit. Is not the expressiveness of animals then an evidence of a spirit also? Again, I am not saying that animals and man are equal, for they are not. Only man is said to have been created in God's image. Nevertheless, our life given components of body, soul, and spirit seem to be very similar, if not actually equal.
There are many more aspects to this particular portion of Scripture. We could probably go on for some time, but I am not sure we would show any more of God's intent in relation to the creation of "all creatures".
The main reason for incorporating this particular chapter into our study, and the extent to which it has been taken is that this is the most documented case in the Bible of an animal's relationship with God. There are so many things in God's marvelous creation yet to be seen if we will only let ourselves. Man's pride seems to be his biggest stumbling block. If, in fact, what appears to be presented in Scripture of the presence of a soul and spirit in animals as well as man, is true, then all man loses is some of his self styled pride of superiority. But look at all that man can gain by the experience. And none of what is here being expressed does any harm to Scripture.