Bible Angels and Miracles: Balaam's Donkey Speaks

God, as the Angel of the Lord, Confronts Animal Abuse

Bible angels Balaam donkey angel
The painting "Balaam and the Ass" by James J. Tissot portrays the Bible miracle story of the Angel of the Lord and a talking donkey. SuperStock/Getty Images

God notices how people treat the animals in their care, and he wants them to choose kindness, according to a Torah and Bible miracle story from Numbers 22 in which a donkey spoke audibly to her master after he mistreated her. A sorcerer named Balaam and his donkey encountered the Angel of the Lord while traveling, and what happened showed the importance of treating God’s creatures well. Here’s the story, with commentary:

Greed and Animal Cruelty

Baalam set off on a journey to do some sorcery work for Balak, the king of ancient Moab, in exchange for a large sum of money. Even though God had sent a message in a dream not to do the work – which involved spiritually cursing the Israelite people whom God had blessed – Baalam let greed take over in his soul and chose to take on the Moabite assignment despite God’s warning. God was angry that Baalam was motivated by greed rather than faithfulness.

As Balaam was riding on his donkey on the way to do the work, God himself showed up in angelic form as the Angel of the Lord. Numbers 22:23 describes what happened next: “When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.”

Balaam went on to beat his donkey twice more as the donkey moved out of Angel of Lord’s way. Each time the donkey moved abruptly, Balaam got upset by the sudden movement and decided to punish his animal.

The donkey could see the Angel of the Lord, but Balaam couldn’t. Ironically, even though Balaam was a famous sorcerer who was known for his clairvoyant abilities, he couldn’t see God appearing as an angel – but one of God’s creatures could. The donkey’s soul was apparently in a more pure state than Balaam’s soul was. Purity makes it easier to perceive angels because it opens up spiritual perception in the presence of holiness.

The Donkey Speaks

Then, miraculously, God made it possible for the donkey to speak to Balaam in an audible voice to get his attention.

“Then the LORD opened the donkey's mouth, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’" verse 28 says.

Balaam replied that the donkey has made him feel foolish, and then threatens in verse 29: “If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

The donkey spoke again, reminding Balaam of its faithful service to him every day for a long time, and asking if it had ever upset Balaam before. Balaam admitted that the donkey had not.

God Opens Balaam’s Eyes

“Then the LORD opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn,” verse 31 reveals.

Balaam then fell down on the ground. But his demonstration of reverence was probably motivated more by fear than by respect for God, since he was still determined to take the job that King Balak had offered to pay him for, but which God had warned him against.

After getting the psychic ability to see the spiritual reality in front of him, Balaam had insight to go with his eyesight and realized why his donkey had moved so abruptly while traveling along the road.

God Confronts Balaam about the Cruelty

God, in angelic form, then confronted Balaam about how he had abused his donkey through the severe beatings.

Verses 32 and 33 describe what God said: “The angel of the Lord asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.’”

God’s declaration that he would definitely have killed Balaam if not for the donkey turning away from his sword must have been shocking and sobering news for Balaam. Not only did God see how he had mistreated an animal, but God took that mistreatment quite seriously. Balaam realized that it was actually because of the donkey’s attempts to protect him that his life was spared. The kindhearted creature he had beaten was only trying to help him – and ended up saving his life.

Balaam replied “I have sinned” (verse 34) and then agreed to say only what God instructed him to say during the meeting to which he was traveling.

God notices and cares about people’s motives and decisions in every situation – and he is most concerned about how well people choose to love others. Mistreating any living being that God has made is a sin in God’s eyes, because every human and animal is worthy of the respect and kindness that come from love. God, who is the source of all love, holds all people accountable for how much they decide to love in their own lives.