The other day I walked into the living room and my wife and son were watching the movie Shrek. The movie was at the scene where Donkey had just accidentally been sprinkled with fairy dust. Thinking he was about to escape through the air, Donkey starts talking to the amazement of everyone. This reminded me of a story in the Bible that I doubt most people know is there.
Yes, that’s right. The Bible has a talking donkey of it’s own. In Numbers 22, we read the account of how Balaam was saved by his talking ass. As I thought about this passage, I couldn’t help but think that we all have people in our lives, in our businesses, that we might characterize as an … ummm … well, as an ass. Should we be paying more attention to them? Is God speaking to us through them?
When You Should Listen to Your Ass
Donkeys have become known as animals that are not always the easiest to control. They will refuse to move if they don’t feel like it, and getting them to budge in times like these can take a lot of effort. They are not above making a scene by bucking and braying to try and break your resolve.
Does this sound like some of the people with whom you work? It’s easy to see how they earned this moniker, isn’t it? How do we know when we should be listening to them versus when they are just being obstinate? Well, let’s look closer at the events that led up to Balaam’s ass speaking.
When We Become Too Impatient or Eager to Wait on God
Balaam was either too impatient, or too eager, to wait on God. Instead of waiting to see what God would have him do, he decided to get up and go with the men.
20And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do. 21And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. 22And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. – Numbers 22:20-22
Had Balaam simply waited on the Lord there would have never been a talking donkey in the Bible. When we are impatient expect God to put some asses in our way to slow us down. Nobody likes to wait, but it is often God’s response.
When We Can’t See the Danger Facing Us
We all work with, or have someone in our life, that can find the negative in any situation. While these people can be a pain, there is also value in having someone around you that kicks the tires of your ideas to point out potential flaws.
23And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way. 24But the angel of the LORD stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side. 25And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall: and he smote her again. 26And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. 27And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff. – Numbers 22: 23-27
Neither Balaam, nor his two servants, saw the angel of the LORD standing against them. Only the ass saw the angel. God will put naysayers in our way to warn us of dangers we haven’t seen. Don’t be too quick to dismiss these people.
When They Speak Even at Their Own Peril
How many businesses have failed because there was nobody in the company willing to tell the emperor that he had no clothes? The number of people who “saw it coming” after such a failure astounds me. If they really did, then why didn’t they sound the warning bells? Balaam’s ass spoke out …
28And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times? 29And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee. – Numbers 22:28-29
Balaam had already smote his ass three times, and he was angry with it. He was so angry that he wanted to kill the ass. It takes a great amount of conviction and courage to speak out when you know it will likely mean your job. When someone does, listen to them. It’s unlikely they’re just being obstinate at this point.
When They Have Been Faithful Servants in the Past
When you’re confronted with these situations ask yourself if this person has been a faithful employee in the past. Even if they don’t always agree with you, have they been a hard worker acquiescing to your will after their objections have been raised? Or are they just onary? The answer will be very revealing.
30And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? and he said, Nay. 31Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face. 32And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me: 33And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive. – Numbers 22:30-33
Balaam’s ass had been a good worker. Once Balaam realized this, his eyes were opened and he saw the danger. It turns out that only Balaam was in peril. I wonder whether the ass knew that? It wouldn’t surprise me though because faithful servants look out for their master’s well being.
Sometimes, God Speaks Through Your Ass
Notice I started the title of this post with the word sometimes. Just like there’s danger in always dismissing these people, it’s also unwise to spend too much time listening to them. There’s a difference between negativity and legitimate sounding of the alarm bells. As a leader, you have to learn to distinguish between the two.
I hope my observations on this passage are helpful to you in this task. Have you had a Balaam experience where you were saved from making a mistake in your business? Perhaps, you learned the hard way and ignored your ass? I’d love to hear about your experience or to have you share your own observations in the comments below.