‘We are fools for Christ’s sake,’ wrote Paul after reminding his readers that ‘not many of you were wise according to worldly standards’ when called by God (1 Corinthians 4:10; 1:18). Several biblical donkeys teach us essential spiritual lessons
- A firstborn donkey needed redemption – so do we
‘Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if … not … you shall break its neck,’ because it is ritually ‘unclean’ (see Exodus 13:13-15; 34:20; Numbers 18:15-16). We who are disciples of Jesus together constitute God’s corporate ‘firstborn’ (Hebrews 12:22-24). We ‘were ransomed … with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot’ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
- Some donkeys exercised prophetic perception – so can we
Balaam was an old-time prophet, ‘formerly called a seer’ (1 Samuel 9:9). Seers had the God-given ability to look with twenty-twenty vision into the spiritual realms beyond the experience of this world of time-and-space to which the vision of all other mortals is limited (e.g. 2 Kings 6:15-23). However, because he ‘loved gain from wrong-doing’ (2 Peter 2:15), Balaam was about to compromise his prophetic calling, having his eye on the fat fee offered to him by King Balak of Moab if he would curse ‘the people of Israel’ who were about to traverse his country en route to their promised land (Numbers 22:1-21). ‘The Angel of the Lord’ blocked his way on three occasions as he rode his donkey to Moab. Although Balaam failed to see him every single time, his donkey did and awkwardly avoided his ‘drawn sword’. And finally it spoke to him in sheer protest (Numbers 22:22-35) – presumably because the Lord threw his own audible voice via the animal’s mouth, bypassing his inadequate vocal cords. The prophet was so blinded by his greed that he angrily answered the poor beast back! From that point on, life for him was fatally downhill (Numbers 31:15-17, 8; Jude 11).
We find a parallel story in 1 Kings 13:1-32. ‘An old prophet lived in Bethel’ (1 Kings 13:11), but in a very backslidden state. He heard of the young prophets who ‘came out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel’ (1 Kings 13:1) and challenged Jeroboam the apostate king of (northern) Israel. The old man made contact with this brave young prophet and persuaded him to disobey God’s specific instruction. After an illicit meal at his house, the old man ‘saddled the donkey for the prophet’ for his homeward journey. But ‘a lion met him … and killed him. And his body was thrown in the road, and the donkey stood beside it’ (1 Kings 13:23-24) until the old man, having heard of it from travellers, rode out and ‘found the lion standing beside the body. The lion had not eaten the body or torn the donkey’, and he buried it in his own grave in Bethel with mournful regret (1 Kings 13:25-32).
- One donkey shared in Messianic service and celebration – as may we
The events of ‘Palm Sunday’, when Jesus rode a borrowed young ass’s foal that had never been broken in, is impressed on Christian hearts everywhere. When Jesus did so, he fulfilled what the prophet Zechariah had foretold five centuries before! ‘Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (Zechariah 9:9). And ‘he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be … to the ends of the earth’ (Zechariah 13:10). The ‘sons [of] Zion’ will overcome ‘your sons, O Greece’ (will overcome ‘your sons, O Greece will overcome ‘your sons, O Greece 13:13) – those who like Alexander the Great rode a champion warhorse – because the gospel triumphs buy the conviction of the Holy Spirit and not through carnal warfare against flesh and blood! (See also John 12:12-15; Matthew 21:1-11).