Relationship Advice from a Donkey -- What Balaam's Burro Can Teach Us All

Relationship advice shows up in the strangest places. I’ve come to expect it from a pastor or a friend. I’ve found good tips online, and in Bible studies, but I never expected to learn something helpful from an animal.

Buried in the Old Testament book of Numbers, however, is a valuable lesson that comes from the lips of a donkey. You may remember the story. The children of Israel are headed toward the Promised Land. They’ve already conquered the Amorites, and now they’ve trained their sights on the land of Moab. Moab’s King, Balak, is getting a wee bit nervous. He decides to call in the resident prophet, Balaam, to curse Israel, hoping to tip the battle odds in his favor.

God tells Balaam not to go with the princes of Moab, but he goes anyway. This makes God angry (disobedience usually does), so he sends the Angel of the Lord, complete with drawn sword, to stop him.

Balaam, oblivious to the danger ahead of him, rides blithely toward his own destruction. His donkey apparently has more spiritual discernment than her master, because she sees the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand and turns aside into a field. Balaam, angry and oblivious to what’s going on in the spiritual realm, strikes the donkey. This happens three times, with Balaam becoming increasingly angry and abusive.

Finally God opens the donkey’s mouth, and she speaks. "’What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’

“Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.’”

Listen to the donkey’s wise reply (and the point of this whole devotion): “’Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’"

Sometimes I’m a lot like Balaam. I get angry because someone does something to hinder my progress or upset my plans. Maybe they’re uncooperative or slow. They may even seem to be working against me.

When I focus too much on my own agenda, I fail to consider that there might be a good reason for a person’s uncharacteristic behavior. Instead of giving him or her the benefit of the doubt or asking a few diagnostic questions, I say things I regret later and act like a spoiled child.

Sometimes, in my enthusiasm for a project or idea, I forget that others might have an opinion,  preference, or helpful knowledge. Instead of seeking others’ input, I plow on with my agenda without stopping to consider them.

Balaam’s donkey’s wise response provides a model we can use in a situation like this: 

1. If someone is acting uncharacteristically, give them the benefit of the doubt. There may be a good reason for their actions. It might not be an angel with a big sword, but they could have wisdom from the Lord.

2. Ask gentle questions. “You seem a little hesitant/ defensive/ ________. Is there something you’re concerned about?”

3. Ask, “Do you have any information I may be unaware of that might be helpful?”

4. If their behavior is unusual, and there’s no discernible reason for it, you could have just caught them at a bad time. Or in a bad mood. Or PMSing. This is a good time to breathe grace.

When the Lord finally revealed himself to Balaam, he took him to task for the cruel way he treated his donkey. Balaam responded appropriately.

“I have sinned,” he said.

We, too, can respond humbly when we act impulsively or are quick to judge. As soon as we realize something’s amiss, or someone’s acting out of character, we should take the necessary steps to address it. Oftentimes a sincere apology is all that’s needed to reopen the lines of communication and get the relationship back on track. 

Now it’s your turn. Has there ever been a time when you misjudged someone and later found out the whole story? What happened? Leave a comment in the box below and join the conversation.

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