A Bible Mystery: Who is She?

A Few Scriptural Clues:

A cartoon Sherlock Holmes in green, puzzling over a mystery.This Old Testament female character was repeatedly mistreated by a man, yet she kept returning good for evil.

In fact, she saved his life three times.

She also could see clearly what was happening in the spiritual realm.

No one ever sought her opinion or advice.

She was frequently ignored by everyone, until the day she started acting up. That’s when the man grew angry.

We don’t know her name—the Bible doesn’t tell us. Yet her story is famous. Many of us first heard about her in Sunday school.

Pause a minute, Based on my clues, who is she?

Close-up of three hourglasses running, one with green sand, one with orange and one with yellow.

Okay, time’s up. Are you still confused?

Her story is found in Numbers 22:22-34. It’s the tale of God’s wayward prophet Balaam and his female donkey.

A Donkey Saves Her Master’s Life

When Moses and the Israelites came out of Egypt, they were so numerous, the Moabite king, Balak, began to get nervous. He asked Balaam, a prophet of the Lord, to curse this strange people. Now Balaam wasn’t a descendant of Abraham. But he was a true prophet of Yahweh, living in a pagan land. So his words had God-given power.

Balak sent him a message,

Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me…for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.

A man in a turban riding down a street on a white donkey.Balaam checked with the Lord and said no. Then Balak’s princes came a second time, offering immense wealth. Greed dug it’s evil talons into Balaam’s soul. The whole story starts in Numbers 22.

Balaam mounted his donkey and began traveling toward Moab, in the company of Balak’s princes. No doubt he felt highly honored and important.

But God was displeased,

Soon, Balaam’s life would depend on the choices his donkey made.

An Invisible Opponent

As they traveled, his female donkey saw an angel standing in their path, with a sword in his hand. No one else saw him, including Balaam.

To keep her master alive, the donkey:

  • Ran off into a field the first time.
  • Secondly, pressed herself against a wall.
  • Finally lay down on the path and refused to move forward..

The prophet felt humiliated—he couldn’t even control his own donkey! Each time Balaam struck her with his stick to make her behave.

Finally, God opened both the donkey’s mouth and his prophet’s eyes.

28 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?” 29 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.” (Numbers 22:28-29 ESV)

A working red donkey living at a high elevation.31 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.32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” (Numbers 22:31-33 ESV)

A Different Outcome?

The prophet’s donkey actively protected her cruel, selfish, spiritually-blind master.

I can’t help but suspect that if I been that donkey, things might not have turned out so well for Balaam. After being struck twice for saving his life, I would have been very tempted to think:

“Okay. Looks like you need to meet that sword-carrying angel. Let me break into a trot. I’ll take you right over, so he can introduce himself.”

I’m a beginner when it comes to returning good for evil. But I could take lessons from this donkey. Did you notice? She always did what was right, no matter what the cost.

The Angel and the Donkey had no Egos

Both the angel and his donkey appear a little confused by Balaam’s rage. They both asked the prophet the same question:

“Why have you struck your donkey these three times?”

A tri-color donkey, looking out of his corral.Donkeys can act stubborn and some angels have grown arrogant and rebellious. But neither God’s angel or the donkey could understand Balaam’s urgent desire to appear dignified before the king’s messengers. They didn’t get his fear of man.

It makes sense. I don’t think either one would care what other donkeys or angels thought of them.

So Balaam’s murderous anger because of his donkey’s minor acts of disobedience puzzled them both.

No one else saw the angel, except the prophet and his faithful donkey. So first, Balaam starts holding a one-sided conversation with his donkey and then turns, looks horrified, falls to the ground and begins talking to empty air.

You gotta love it

Faced suddenly with his own near death experience and Yahweh’s anger, Balaam suddenly stopped caring about what the king’s messengers thought of him.

I hope he apologized to his donkey before mounting again; and maybe he gave her a delicious treat when they stopped for the night.

My Spiritual Point

The foal of a donkey.Why do you think God allowed the donkey to see supernaturally? If she’d been spiritually blind to the angel’s presence, Balaam would have died.

But he didn’t die, because God spiritually opened her eyes.

Balaam’s female donkey had free will. Each time she chose to protect her master. In doing so, she reflected Jesus Christ’s loving, sacrificial, generous nature.

It’s humbling.

People, our challenge is to live up to a donkey’s example.


How do I know Balaam’s donkey was female? Because many Bible translations use the pronoun “she” when referring to Balaam’s donkey. Other versions, such as the NIV, refer to the donkey as “it.”

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