The popular 1960s television show, Mister Ed, featured a horse who could talk. But Mister Ed would only talk to his owner, often putting the long–suffering Wilbur in embarrassing situations. A talking animal in Scripture also embarrassed her owner. The story of Balaam and his donkey will begin several days of looking at comic characters in the Bible.
The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, and their numbers threatened the Moabites. Their king sent emissaries to Balaam to ask him to cast an evil spell on Israel. Balaam was a spiritual hired gun—willing to bless or curse for a fee. And Balak was offering quite a hefty payment! (v. 17).
Balaam had access to hear a word from God, but he was unwilling to obey what he had heard. His repeated attempts to “find out what else the Lord” would say—after God had clearly told him not to go with Balak’s men—angered God (vv. 19, 22). Balaam knew that his power was constrained by God, but he really wanted tofind out a way to get the wealth offered by the Moabite king (see 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11).
Balaam wouldn’t listen to God, so the Lord put him in the position of listening to a donkey. First, his donkey charged off into a field, then she crushed him against a wall, and finally she just lay down in the middle of the path. Balaam, the powerful sorcerer, was being completely humiliated by this animal (v. 29)! And then, the donkey opened her mouth and spoke to Balaam; her words of truth challenged his actions and attitude. In case he had any doubt about who was actually in the right, he or his donkey, the angel of the Lord made it perfectly clear (v. 33).
Balaam thought he was wise; his donkey proved him a fool. He wanted great wealth; he received the wages of sin (see Josh. 13:22). He was willing to curse Israel; God turned his words into blessing (see Numbers 23–24).