A donkey’s keen sight may be behind the story of the talking donkey in the Bible. We find the story in the Book of Numbers, chapter 22. In it, the Moabites implore the prophet Balaam to come to Moab and curse the Israelites, who have camped outside of the city of Jericho.
Balaam was the prophet who King Balak of Moab hired to curse the Israelites in the Bible. He was a talking donkey. He had a love for money and practiced divination and other magic arts. The Lord told him to refuse to go to Balak, but later allowed him to go under the condition that he would speak only His words. On his way, his donkey saw an angel of the Lord blocking the path and tried to avoid it, but Balaam beat the donkey until it spoke to him and rebuked him. The story is found in Numbers 22.
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The Talking Donkey In The Bible
Balaam, a wicked prophet, encounters a strange phenomenon involving an angel and a talking donkey on his way to speak with the Moabite officials.
One of the weirdest passages in the Old Testament takes place between the chapters of Numbers 22–24.
Balaam, a wicked prophet, encounters a strange phenomenon on his way to speak with the Moabite officials. In this article, we’ll discuss who Balaam was, what strange thing happened on the road to Moab with his donkey, and why it matters for us today.
Talking Donkey In The Bible KJV
2 Peter 2:16 ESV / 10 helpful votes
But was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
Revelation 2:14 ESV / 8 helpful votes
But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.
Numbers 22:28 ESV / 5 helpful votes
Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
Acts 9:7 ESV / 4 helpful votes
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
Proverbs 25:18 ESV / 4 helpful votes
A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.
Genesis 3:1 ESV / 4 helpful votes
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
Jude 1:11 ESV / 3 helpful votes
Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.
Jude 1:9 ESV / 3 helpful votes
But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
2 Peter 2:15 ESV / 3 helpful votes
Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing,
1 Peter 5:8 ESV / 3 helpful votes
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV / 3 helpful votes
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
Numbers 22:15 ESV / 3 helpful votes
Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these.
Numbers 22:5-6 ESV / 3 helpful votes
Sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
Numbers 22:1-41 ESV / 3 helpful votes
Then the people of Israel set out and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho. And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” So Balak the son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the people of Amaw, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. …
Exodus 23:1 ESV / 3 helpful votes
“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.
Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV / 2 helpful votes
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV / 2 helpful votes
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV / 2 helpful votes
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Acts 8:1-40 ESV / 2 helpful votes
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. …
Acts 2:1-47 ESV / 2 helpful votes
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. …
Matthew 28:19-20 ESV / 2 helpful votes
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Ezekiel 23:20 ESV / 2 helpful votes
And lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses.
Isaiah 1:3 ESV / 2 helpful votes
The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
Proverbs 11:12-13 ESV / 2 helpful votes
Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.
Proverbs 11:1-31 ESV / 2 helpful votes
A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. …
Psalm 58:1-11 ESV / 2 helpful votes
To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David. Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly? No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth. The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. They have venom like the venom of a serpent, like the deaf adder that stops its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers or of the cunning enchanter. …
Psalm 57:4 ESV / 2 helpful votes
My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts— the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.
Judges 11:1-40 ESV / 2 helpful votes
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons. And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him. After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. …
Numbers 22:21-23:30 ESV / 2 helpful votes
So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. …
Numbers 22:20 ESV / 2 helpful votes
And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.”
Genesis 6:1-22 ESV / 2 helpful votes
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. …
Revelation 1:17 ESV / 1 helpful vote
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,
2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 ESV / 1 helpful vote
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Numbers 22:18-19 ESV / 1 helpful vote Helpful Not Helpful
But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.”
Balaam And The Talking Donkey
Before we talk about who Balaam was as a person, we need to talk about his time in history. The Moabites didn’t like that the Israelites were too close to their land during the Exodus. They were descended from an incestuous child of Lot, who was Abraham’s nephew (Genesis 19:37).
Their king, Balak, knew how Israel had fought another enemy, the Amorites, who were from Canaan (Genesis 10:15–16) and were very good at battle.
Balak calls for a prophet named Balaam to come curse the Israelites because he is afraid for his land.
It looks like Balaam can’t curse the Israelites until he gets approval from the Lord. He needs permission from God first, whether this is like how Satan had to ask God’s permission before he could hurt Job (Job 2:6) or for some other reason.
God doesn’t let him curse the people He has blessed, which is not a surprise.
Even so, the Moabite king sends more officials, who say Balaam will give them silver gifts if they go with him to the king to curse Israel. God told Balaam, “Go with them, but only do what I tell you” (Numbers 22:20). So he boards his donkey and goes to Moab.
The donkey that Balaam rides talks, and Balaam sees an angel.
On the way to Moab, God sends an angel to change Balaam’s path. Numbers 22:23 says that Balaam can’t see it, but his donkey can. The owner beats it because it keeps going off the road.
The donkey turns to Balaam after the third beating and asks why he keeps hitting him. When God opens Balaam’s eyes, he sees the angel with the sword drawn in the road. So Balaam changes his mind.
He is told to go to Moab by the angel, but God tells him to say a blessing instead.
From this point on, it looks like Balaam turned to God and agreed not to curse those whom God had blessed. But the next chapter shows that even a prophet can lie and make it look like he changed his mind.
Things go bad for Balaam again.
Even though Balaam couldn’t say anything without God’s permission, in Numbers 25 he found a sneaky way to curse Israel.
By getting the Israelite men to sleep with Moabite women, they started to lead Israel wrong by making them worship other gods (Numbers 25:2; Revelation 2:14). In the same way that Solomon’s wives pushed him to worship idols, these women persuaded the Israelites to worship Baal, an evil god from the Old Testament (Numbers 25:3).
In this chapter, anyone who worships this god is put to death—all 24,000 of them.
Balaam And The Donkey Lesson
Many parts of this story can be used in our everyday lives, even though it may seem like a less important part of the Old Testament.
1. Not everyone who speaks words of truth or blessing is from God.
You can find threads of the gospel in secular writings, such as Plato’s analogy of the cave. Although the author of that passage was a person who had never met God, it contains remarkable hints of the gospel. Balaam spoke more than one blessing over Israel, but that didn’t mean he belonged to God.
2. People can “repent” and still live without Christ.
It seems, in the story, that Balaam sees the error of his ways. He even admits, out loud, that he sinned. When he goes to bless Israel, it seems as though he made the turn for the better. But in the very next chapter, he enacts a plan that wipes out 24,000 Israelites.
3. The love of money can cause us to do terrible things.
Although not spoken explicitly in the Numbers passage, Jude 1:11 hints he introduced the Moabite women to Israel for financial gain. Maybe Balak would see Balaam found a way to curse them without words, and he would be rewarded handsomely.
Overall, we can learn that God can work through anyone, even those who don’t belong to him. But we have to be wary of the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Someone who blesses you but does not know the Lord may curse you in the next breath.