Next morning when Balaam arose, he saddled his donkey, and went off with the princes of Moab…..When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord there, she lay down under Balaam. Balaam’s anger flared up and he beat the donkey with his stick. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she asked Balaam, “What have I done to you that you beat me these three times?”….the angel of the Lord said to him: “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come as an adversary because this rash journey of yours is against my will. When the donkey saw me, she turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away from me, you are the one I would have killed, though I would have spared her….”
from Numbers 22:21-34
To the best of my knowledge there is only one postlapsarian example of a talking animal in the Bible. For atheists and sceptics of course that is one too many. Balaam’s ass is conclusive prove, they argue, that the Scriptures are simply a collection of fables and fantasies. If, however, you were to turn to the Bible after reading actual collections of fables and fantasies of a similar length and similar antiquity to the Old Testament it is the comparative lack of talking animals which would strike you. It is an obvious motif to use and the Jewish scriptures use it remarkably sparingly which should alert you to the fact that there is at the least something unusual in the way that their holy books were compiled or in the beliefs which they held. Be that as it may my primary purpose in this post is with defending modern animals not ancient texts. Whether you accept the account of Balaam, the Angel and the suffering donkey as an historical account or as an extended parable then either way I would contend that there are important lessons which we can learn from it.
The donkey was savagely beaten because Balaam did not understand the benefit that she was conferring upon him by her behaviour. And often, indeed, it is the case that humankind mistreats or destroys this or that part of the environment in ways which they would not do if they fully realised the long term damage which they were doing to themselves and their species by their actions. A pangolin, for example, can eat up to seven million insects a year. We do not know what the impact upon us would be if these insects were allowed to multiply unchecked. It is unlikely to be good however and there is an excellent chance that we will find out because currently pangolins are being hunted to extinction across two continents, Asia and Africa. In this we resemble Balaam, we are attacking something which simply by being itself may well be defending us……click here to read more