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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 Animals."

"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 his staff.

"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 Hollywood?

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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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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