I’ve started creating short video meditations on Biblical themes, and I now have a YouTube channel. My first video focused on the theme of sparrows, and now here is one on donkeys. Having studied donkeys closely, I have a new appreciation for them. And how interesting that donkeys carry a cross on their back. When I see it, I’ll remember the One who rode a donkey into Jerusalem.
Below, you can find the text of the video, and if you’re interested in reading more about donkeys, see here.
The humble donkey is charged with a rich, important biblical symbolism. Kings might choose a strong and combatant animal for ceremonies – a thoroughbred horse, an imposing elephant or even a camel. But David has a ‘royal she-mule,’ Solomon is anointed as king on a ‘wild donkey’, and in the book of Judges, we meet Achsah, daughter of Caleb, riding on a donkey, asking for springs of water. Often, the Bible portrays donkeys as symbols of divine service, suffering, peace and humility.
But the picture is more complex than this. In the story of Balaam, God invites us to consider the question: To whom does authority belong? In Balaam’s cruel dominance over his defiant donkey, God confronts our covetousness for His sovereignty (Do not covet your neighbour’s donkey) and reveals a tension between wildness and dominion.
We learn more by looking back. In Genesis 16, the pre-incarnate Christ comes to Hagar, who is with child, having fled Sarah to the wilderness. He tells her to return to His promise, planted in the community of God’s people (Gen. 16:9-10). But here, we learn what God already knows, what will come of Hagar the bondwoman and her son. As a sign to her and to His people, God tells Hagar what her son’s life will be.
“Behold, you are with child,
And you will bear a son;
And you shall call his name Ishmael,
Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.
“He will be a wild donkey of a man,
His hand will be against everyone,
And everyone’s hand will be against him;
And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”
Job later wrestles with this easterly place of unrest, when he asks,
“Why are times not stored up by the Almighty,
And why do those who know Him not see His days? …
“Behold, as wild donkeys in the wilderness
They go forth seeking food in their activity,
As bread for their children in the desert.
We meet these wild donkeys again in 1 Samuel, when Saul, son of Kish the Powerful, becomes King of Israel. And poor Saul, his dad’s donkeys are lost, the donkeys have now been missing three days, in those wandering donkeys, Saul meets his match.
Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost,
and Kish said to his son Saul,
“Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.”
1 Samuel 9:3
So who actually finds the lost donkeys in this story? Certainly not Saul. For this beautiful offspring of Kish, towering child of (seeming) power, snaring son of all the earth cannot compare to Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5).
For just as the angel of the Lord came to Hagar, mother of Ishmael, a wild donkey of man, so too, many generations later, an angel came to Mary, saying you too are with child, but you shall call his name Jesus.
And what a Saviour is our Jesus, the one who has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him (Isa. 53:2).
This is God’s wonderful irony, that unlike Balaam, Jesus the True King has dominion over even the wildest of donkeys. Because unlike Saul, our Messiah knows just where they are. He tells His disciples, and off they go (Mark 11:2).
The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them,
and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them;
and He sat on the coats.
Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road,
and others were cutting branches from the trees
and spreading them in the road.
The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!”
1When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying,
“Who is this?”
And the crowds were saying,
“This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”