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  • Writer's pictureAdam Smith

Of Armed Angels & Talking Donkeys

Updated: Jun 19

Small Miracles Happen Every Day

This is the second devotional in our summer series on "The Miraculous Acts of God."

“When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 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?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face.” —Numbers 22:27-31

Whenever we read a part of Scripture containing supernatural events like the one in Numbers 22, we are immediately faced with two important questions. First, it is only normal to ask whether the event could have actually happened (the philosophical question). Second, we must ask what is the meaning behind the miracle (the theological question). Both questions are important.

In his well-known book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis observes that our philosophical frameworks determine how we approach the miraculous claims of the Bible:

“There is no use going to the texts until we have some idea about the possibility or probability of the miraculous. Those who assume that miracles cannot happen are merely wasting time by looking into the texts: we know in advance what results they will find for they have begun by begging the question.”

Lewis is exactly right. Because we bring our philosophical assumptions with us to whatever we read, study, or think about, those assumptions will greatly shape how we read the Bible. The real question we must ask then before examining the claims of the Bible is “can I believe in the supernatural?”

There is not enough space here to give this question the full weight that it truly deserves. However, it must be said that a belief in God presupposes a supernatural philosophy and that the Christian faith depends upon it. This is true because the most fundamental tenet of Christianity is a belief in the grand miracle of Jesus Christ: his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. 

While other religions may be adapted to a more naturalistic worldview, Christianity simply cannot be. One must decide to believe in supernaturalism or reject the Christian faith. There are no other choices. 

Within a supernatural philosophy, a miracle is simply God’s way of disrupting the natural order for a specific purpose. This brings us back to our text and the theological question. In Numbers 22, it is God who sends the sword-wielding angel to disrupt Balaam, and it is God who opens the mouth of the donkey to speak truth to him. But why exactly? 

In the broader context of Numbers 22, Balaam is a prophet who is called upon by the king of Moab to curse the people of Israel in return for riches (vv. 5-6, 16-17). At first, Balaam is told by God not to go with the Moabites or to curse Israel (v. 12), but Balaam keeps asking God until God (unhappily) permits him to go with them (vv. 19-20). In other words, Balaam knew God’s will but set his mind to doing what he wanted to do anyway. It is in this context that God miraculously intervenes.

The story contains a great deal of irony. Balaam is a prophet, a man who makes a living through God-given visions. But Balaam, blinded by his own desires, cannot sense the presence of the angel of the Lord. But the donkey does see! Even a notoriously stubborn animal had more awareness of God than Balaam. In humility, the donkey is enabled by God to calmly speak truth to Balaam, despite his anger. 

In truth, many of us have far more in common with Balaam than we probably care to admit. We often respond with anger and impatience when we meet obstacles in our life, prioritize our own desires over obeying God’s commands, and set our mind on doing things our own way instead of God’s way. Like Balaam, our character often doesn’t match our pedigree as a devoted follower of God.

Yet, Balaam’s story is even more hopeful than it is convicting, because here we see the great ability of God to bring about goodness, despite the poor intentions of others.Balaam’s story points us directly to Christ. Like the donkey, Jesus came as a humble servant to speak truth so our eyes could be opened. Like the angel, Jesus came to disrupt our sinful path by pointing us to the path of righteousness. Indeed, Christ is God’s greatest miracle of all: the most powerful supernatural disruption he has ever caused to happen within the natural order of this world. 

Though it is hard for us to believe in armed angels and talking donkeys, it might be harder still for us to believe that God is working through the everyday disruptions happening in our own life. But the promise of the Gospel is that, because of Christ and through the Holy Spirit, he is working for our good through each and every event of our life (Romans 8:28). Indeed, the Bible would have us believe that such small miracles happen every day. 

Adam Smith is a Ministry Associate in Washington, D.C.


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