In the days before the Fall, animals conversed with people. Eve was not at all surprised when the serpent spoke to her, so it must have been perfectly natural for animals to dialog with humans. After the Fall, man lost the ability to communicate with animals. Like He did at Babel, God confounded the languages of men and beasts. God said there would be enmity between our offspring, and it started when we lost the ability to comprehend one another.
Nevertheless, that conversation in the Garden of Eden was not the last time that animals spoke with people. Balaam was a prophet who set out on a journey mounted on his donkey. God did not want Balaam to go, so while the prophet was en route, the angel of the Lord appeared on the path to block his way. Though Balaam couldn’t see the angel, the donkey could. The donkey wisely shied from the imposing presence of the angel, so Balaam 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)
It’s astonishing enough to hear an animal speak in one’s own language, but to hear its sentiments is especially poignant. The Lord didn’t manipulate the donkey into speaking, like a puppet; instead, he "opened the donkey’s mouth" to allow it to speak its own heart. 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 had made the donkey so afraid. Though Balaam 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 automatically the one who’s human. Note the pronouncement of judgment in this account—the human 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. We are to love and care for the animals he has entrusted to us and steward them with kindness, because God will hold us accountable if we do not. After all, they may one day be asked to testify as a witness when we come before the Lord Almighty.
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)
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God. (Psalm 104:21)
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)