Do you ever wonder why God chooses to use unexpected means to communicate His message? In the book of Numbers, God literally spoke through a donkey! As bizarre as it may seem, this account carries an important lesson about listening for God’s voice. In this post, we’ll explore the story of Balaam and his donkey and what we can learn about hearing from God.
The story of Balaam and his donkey is found in Numbers 22. In summary, Balak the king of Moab summoned Balaam to curse the Israelites. Despite being a pagan diviner, Balaam consistently spoke true prophecies from God. As Balaam traveled to meet Balak, God sent an angel with a drawn sword to block his path and turn him back. Balaam could not see the angel, but his donkey could.
Three times the donkey turned away from the angel, and three times Balaam beat her in anger until finally God opened the donkey’s mouth to speak to Balaam! Yes, a donkey rebuked her master and spoke with a human voice.
This fanciful account stretches our imagination. Yet it contains profound insights about hearing from God:
- God speaks through unexpected means we may overlook.
- We must be ready to hear correction, even from an unlikely source.
- God is patient when we are spiritually oblivious.
- The Holy Spirit helps open our ears to hear God’s voice.
As Christians seeking God’s guidance, this story challenges us to examine our openness to God’s unexpected messengers. Are we quick to beat them back in anger without considering their message? Or do we pause to ask if God is speaking, no matter how unusual the delivery method may be?
The donkey who spoke truth to Balaam models an attitude of humility we must adopt. She checklistened for God’s cue, obeyed despite suffering for it, and spoke firmly and truthfully when given the opportunity. As you read, examine your own heart. Are you ready to hear God’s voice no matter how it comes to you? May this account expand your imagination for how God chooses to speak!
God Speaks Through Unexpected Means
The first surprising aspect of this story is God’s chosen mouthpiece. Of all available options – humans, angels, thunder – God selected a donkey! Deuteronomy 8:15 identifies donkeys as beasts of burden used for agricultural work. Yet God empowered this humble workhorse to communicate a divine message.
What an odd image! A diviner perched on his saddle, bickering with his donkey as if she could understand his frustration. Then suddenly, the voice that had only ever brayed opened its mouth and spoke rationally with her master. No doubt Balaam was shocked and startled by this supernatural occurrence!
Yet God deliberately chose this unconventional method to get Balaam’s attention. He used it not once but three times until Balaam finally stopped to consider the implication. What an example of God’s creativity and sense of irony! Out of all the prophets in the land, He picked Balaam’s donkey to speak truth to him.
God’s unexpected choice reminds us that He may speak through any means He chooses. As 1 Corinthians 1:27 (NKJV) says:
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.
Don’t limit God’s voice to the expected sources. Be ready for the still small whisper in unlikely forms He may use to reach you. Could it come through a song lyric or sunrise? Your child’s innocent comment? The friend you least expect? Ask Him to open your eyes and ears to see the unexpected messengers He places in your path.
We Must Hear Correction from Unlikely Sources
A second lesson emerges in Balaam’s poor reaction to his donkey’s wise behavior. Three times she acted protectively by avoiding the deadly angel in their path. Three times Balaam responded in rage by beating her without mercy. To Balaam the donkey’s actions seemed like stubbornness. In reality, she was preventing his harm.
Isn’t this just like us? How often do we ignore the protective warnings God speaks through unlikely voices in our lives?
- The friend who cautions you against a tempting relationship.
- The doctor who advises an unwelcome diet change.
- The boss who gives constructive criticism you don’t want to hear.
Like Balaam, we’d rather silence those voices in anger than humble ourselves and consider their perspective. We’d rather cling to our own desired direction than open our ears to correction – even if it saves us pain down the road.
Proverbs 12:1 (NKJV) wisely states:
Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, But he who hates correction is stupid.
Don’t be like stupid Balaam! Ask God for humility to accept correction – even from a donkey, figuratively speaking. The persons or situations God uses to correct you are blessings, not annoyances to be beaten or silenced. Their voices may steer you away from harm and onto the right path.
God is Patient with Our Spiritual Obliviousness
A third truth emerges in God’s merciful patience towards Balaam. Despite being a diviner, Balaam clearly had trouble seeing the spiritual dimension right in front of him. An angel with a sword stood directly in his path, yet he beat his donkey three times in frustrated ignorance. How could Balaam have missed what was so obvious to the donkey?
You’d think God would have given up in disgust or punishment after the first or second time Balaam beat his kind donkey. Yet God compassionately persisted in using the donkey to make Balaam see his blindness and turn away from danger.
What a picture of God’s patience with our spiritual obliviousness! How many times have we stumbled blindly ahead in dangerous directions, failing to see the warnings God has placed directly in our path? Even when we resist His voice, wounding others in the process, God does not give up on us. He mercifully persists in sending speech through surprising means until our ears finally open to obey Him.
As 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) assures us:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Take comfort that God does not react in impatience when we ignore His messages. He is slow to anger and quick to keep speaking truth to us in unexpected ways. His mercy gives us repeated chances to wake up and change direction.
The Holy Spirit Opens Our Ears
A final truth in this passage is that God Himself opens our ears through His Holy Spirit. Left on his own, Balaam persisted in blindness. His donkey obeyed God yet Balaam senselessly fought against her. Not until God “opened the mouth of the donkey” (Numbers 22:28 NKJV) did Balaam finally have ears to hear.
The Spirit’s work was essential for Balaam to understand God’s unusual messenger. The same is true for us. 1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV) explains:
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Why did Balaam consider it foolishness to heed his donkey’s behavior? Because he relied on his own natural judgment rather than the Spirit’s discernment.
Like Balaam, we fall into danger when we place confidence in our own reasoning over God’s Spirit. We think it foolish to consider the surprising sources God uses to reach us. But Proverbs 3:5-7 (NKJV) advises:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to break through the stubbornness of your natural mind. Ask Him to pry open your ears to hear God’s voice when it comes through unexpected means. With the Spirit’s help, we can embrace the strange and humble ways God chooses to speak rather than fight against them.
The story of Balaam and his talking donkey is odd, yet deeply meaningful. It offers us a mirror to examine our own willingness to hear God’s voice through unexpected messengers. Are you quick to ignore or strike out against the uncommon sources God uses? Or will you welcome His wisdom in whichever unlikely form it comes?
As you seek God’s guidance in your life journey, maintain an open imagination. God may place blessings in your path through surprising means you are prone to miss. Ask Him for humility to hear correction, patience when you stumble blindly, and dependence on the Spirit to open your ears. When you do hear God’s voice, obey it promptly lest you trip into harm’s way.
With an expectant heart for God’s miraculous and mysterious ways, you’ll be ready to receive truth from wherever He decides to speak it. Even if He needs to send a donkey to make His message clear! Though the world calls it foolishness, remember that God’s foolishness is far wiser than our wisdom. Trust Him enough to listen for His voice in unlikely forms. Then take courage to walk the right road He reveals one step at a time.