Journeys to the Twilight Zone
by Farrell Till
Talk To The Animals
A popular movie last year, which even received an Academy Award nomination for best
picture, was Babe, a story about a talking pig. Even with animated cartoons aside, talking
animals have not been at all uncommon in movies and TV. Years ago we had Francis, the
talking mule, and later came "Mister Ed." Doctor Dolittle, a movie about a man
with a special affinity with animals, even gave us the popular song "Talk to the
"Yes, but that was all in the fantasy land of movies and television," you
might be thinking. "In real life, animals don't talk." Oh, no? Well, you'd have
a hard time convincing some people of that, because the Bible, which is purported to be
the inspired, inerrant word of God, also has stories about talking animals. These stories
wouldn't be there, would they, if they hadn't actually happened?
Nearly everyone is familiar with the story of Eve and the talking snake, which
persuaded her to eat the forbidden fruit, but the story of a man named Balaam, who had a
talking donkey, hasn't received nearly as much attention, although it is in many ways a
far more fascinating yarn than the other. According to this tale from the Twilight Zone of
biblical times, Balaam was a prophet whom Balak, the king of Moab, offered money to curse
the Israelites, who were encroaching on his territory. Balaam refused this bribe, and so
Balak sent more prestigious princes to him with an even more attractive offer.
"Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold," Balaam told
the princes, "I could not go beyond the word of Yahweh to do less or more" (Num.
22:18). So Balaam asked the princes to stay for the night while he inquired of Yahweh, as
the prophets of those times were prone to do. Yahweh came to Balaam in the night - how is
anybody's guess - and told him to go with the men but to speak "only the word which I
shall speak to you" (v:20).
Well, that sounded reasonable enough. What self-respecting prophet would want to speak
anything but what Yahweh had spoken to him? One would think that Balaam would have earned
Yahweh's respect by refusing to do anything until he had inquired of Yahweh in the matter,
but that just wasn't the way it was in those days. We learn immediately that
"Yahweh's anger was aroused because he [Balaam] went" (v:22). Only in the
Twilight-Zone of biblical times could one incur the wrath of Yahweh by doing exactly what
Yahweh had told one to do. At any rate, Yahweh was so angry at Balaam that he sent an
angel "to stand in the way as an adversary against him" (v:22), and that's when
the fun started.
Balaam's donkey saw the angel blocking the way and turned aside into a field, and
"Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back onto the road" (v:23). Angels of
Yahweh, however, are determined creatures, so this one took position in a narrow place
with a wall on each side. The donkey again saw the angel and in trying to turn aside
crushed Balaam's foot against the wall. By this time, Balaam had had enough, so he struck
the donkey again. The poor donkey then tried to proceed but saw the angel again and lay
down under Balaam. Well, Balaam was plenty ticked off now, so he struck the donkey with
"What have I done to you," the donkey asked, "that you have struck me
these three times" (v:28)?
"Because you have abused me," Balaam replied. "I wish there were a sword
in my hand, for now I would kill you."
"Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden, ever since I became yours?"
the donkey asked. "Was I ever disposed to do this to you?"
"No," Balaam admitted.
Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute! Time out! Let's look at what we have. Here is a donkey that
suddenly starts asking questions, and his owner just calmly answers her as if it were
perfectly natural for donkeys to talk. Only in Twilight-Zone days could someone have
encountered a talking donkey and not been completely dumbfounded by it. We can understand
why Eve may not have been astonished to encounter a talking snake, because she had just
been created and perhaps hadn't had time to learn that animals couldn't talk, but this guy
Balaam was another matter. One would think that he would have made tracks as fast as he
could run. Could this all be ... er ... uh ... well, you know, just fantasy like
Nah, of course not. There's a logical explanation for it all. The book tells us that
"Yahweh opened the mouth of the donkey" (v:28). Why, sure.
Yahweh parted the Red Sea, sent manna down from heaven, stopped the sun in the sky, had
a virgin give birth to his son, caused the sun to withhold its light at midday, raised the
dead, and so Yahweh opened the mouth of Balaam's donkey. Yes, that has to be what
happened. Why did it take me so long to figure it out?
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