You might remember Francis the Talking Mule, star of seven popular movies during the 1950s. Francis was a U.S. Army mule who befriended a young soldier named Peter. Francis would talk to Peter—but only to Peter, which of course led to many humorous and difficult situations.
The only donkey that has actually talked in real life belonged to Balaam. Balaam was a pagan diviner or soothsayer, a person who claimed to be able to foretell the future and to have some influence with the gods and divinities.
The Moabites and Midianites were petrified. They had heard of Israel’s recent victories and feared they would be next to be overrun by the “horde” (22:4). They felt they needed supernatural help, and they decided to pay for Balaam to use his skill to pronounce a curse on their enemies. Though Balaam was not a follower of God, apparently he knew His voice when he heard it. The Lord told him not to dare to curse people whom He had blessed (22:9–12). Despite his greed (see 2 Peter 2:15–16), Balaam at first obeyed, perhaps out of fear or concern for his reputation—a curse that didn’t work would be bad for business. But when offered a higher price, he couldn’t resist moving in the desired direction.
The famous episode with his talking donkey took place on the way to deliver his curses (22:21–35). God mercifully sent this miraculous warning to impress upon Balaam the seriousness of His previous command not to curse Israel (23:19). His “path [was] a reckless one” (22:32), flirting with disobedience. In a bit of divine comedy, Balaam ended up not cursing but blessing the Israelites multiple times!