3 minute read

The Wisdom of Donkeys

By Rev. George Borghardt

The soothsayer Balaam was a man with a whole lot of problems. He was paid by King Barak of Moab to curse God’s people, but the Lord wanted him to bless the people He loved.

Things get really bad for Balaam on his way to Moab. He can’t get his donkey to obey him! He strikes the animal three times to try to get her to go forward, but the dumb donkey just won’t listen.

Unbeknownst to this “prophet,” the Angel of the Lord was standing in front of them with a giant sword. The Lord was against Balaam, blocking the road to keep him from going to Moab. The donkey, seeing the Angel, refused to go forward. How could a dumb animal see the Angel of the Lord and the prophet couldn’t?

Things get even more comical. The Lord opens the mouth of Balaam’s ass and the donkey begins to speak! What’s more amazing is that Balaam answers her. He doesn’t pause to marvel at the talking donkey. He must have been too angry since he exclaims that if he had a sword, he’d kill his faithful ride.

There was a sword near, wasn’t there? The “prophet” just couldn’t see it. The dumb donkey could see the Angel and the famous prophet could not. What kind of dummy has to be told by his animal that an Angel is standing right in front of him holding a sword?

You and me. Our ears and eyes are closed to our Lord’s salvation unless the Holy Spirit opens them with His lifegiving Words. We could have Jesus crucified right before us and would be as dumb as this “prophet” striking his donkey who was blocked by a giant Angel he couldn’t see. The Lord opens our eyes and ears from outside of us with His enlivening Word.

A prophet—a preacher—is only given to speak the words of the Lord. He isn’t worth a mule if he doesn’t! The Lord sends His pastors with words to speak to you. They tell you that you are dead to God, blind to His Word. But then they tell you that there was a Prophet who did speak the Word of God for us. Jesus did all that the Father commanded Him to do and spoke only the words given to Him. He won your salvation by His perfect life and innocent suffering and death. God used a donkey to save Balaam’s life, but the Lord doesn’t send a donkey to speak to you. He sends His men. He saves you by delivering His salvation to you via water, some words, bread, and wine. The Lord takes ordinary, everyday things, and attaches His words to them to deliver heaven to you.

In his Open Letter to the Christian Nobility (1520), Dr. Luther said, “Thus, too, Balaam’s ass was wiser than the prophet. If God spoke by an ass against a prophet, why should He not speak by a pious man against the Pope?” If He can speak through a righteous man, why not your pastor, too?

Balaam did finally get to Moab. There he took a cue from his donkey and spoke only the words the Lord opened His mouth to speak. Hear the word of the Lord from His sent one: Not a donkey, but your pastor! Your sins are forgiven you for Jesus’ sake.

Rev. George F. Borghardt III is the assistant pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Conroe, Texas and a member of the editorial board of Higher Things. His email address is revborghardt@sanctus.org.