It shouldn’t surprise us that at one time, animals and humans were able to converse freely. Before the Fall, the Bible tells us that Eve and the serpent spoke with each other. Neither of them was surprised that the other was talking. Eve didn’t exclaim, “Look, Adam, a talking serpent!” For Adam and Eve, it was perfectly natural that animals and humans could communicate.
After the Fall, however, man lost the ability to dialog with animals. Just as He did at Babel, God confounded human language, and we could no longer comprehend animals. God said there would be enmity between us and animals, and it all started when we lost the ability to understand one another.
Since then, animals haven’t been able to communicate in spoken language with humans, nor have we been able to speak with them. However, there was one instance when God granted an animal the ability to speak so as to be understood. And that was an astounding conversation!
Balaam was a man of God, a prophet. He mounted his donkey and set out on a journey. But God didn’t want Balaam to go. So while the prophet was en route, the angel of the Lord appeared on the path to block his way. Balaam couldn’t see the invisible angel, but the donkey could. Wisely, the donkey shied from the intimidating angel. Since the donkey refused to go in the direction Balaam wanted, the man beat the poor animal to make him continue. Three times the angel appeared, three times the donkey avoided the angel, and three times the poor animal was beaten.
"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?” (Numbers 22:28)
Not only was the donkey speaking in Balaam’s language, but the animal was communicating the same sentiment that a human would.
Note that the Lord didn’t manipulate the donkey into speaking, like someone would a puppet; instead, he "opened the donkey’s mouth" to allow it to speak its own heart. The donkey‘s thoughts were coherent and poignant. Listen closely to the loyalty and love in the donkey’s words:
“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?” (Numbers 22:30)
Finally, Balaam’s eyes were opened, and he saw what it was that had made the donkey so afraid. Fear gripped Balaam and he fell prostrate before the angel.
The heavenly being was indignant with Balaam’s cruelty. "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.” (Numbers 22:32-33)
God was not unmindful of the thoughts and feelings of the donkey. He cares about His creatures, and will defend them against an enemy, just as He would defend us. And when He must judge between an animal and a person, He defends the one who’s right, not the one who’s human. Note the pronouncement of judgment in this account—the human (a prophet, no less) would have been killed, but the animal would have been spared.
Animals are reputed to have a sixth sense or special insight that humans lack. This account illustrates that intuition as an awareness of God and his angels. We must never assume that because animals are dumb (can’t speak) that they are dumb (ignorant). Animals have been gifted with a vision that humans may not share. For that reason, we are to embrace their understanding, adding it to our own.
This story teaches us how the Lord views cruelty to animals. God does not condone, and will not abide, abuse of His creatures. Indeed, animals feel and remember the wrongs done to them, and God will hold us accountable for cruelty inflicted upon them. We are to love and care for God’s creatures, and steward them with kindness. After all, they may one day be asked to speak as a witness before the Lord Almighty.
What would you want to hear them say about you?
But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind. (Job 12:7-10)
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?” (Number 22:28)
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.
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.” (Number 22:31-32)