What an Ass! (part II) In Praise of Balaam’s Donkey

Rev. Steve Schlissel - November 27, 2007

We were saying that a student of mine, intending to be humble, said he would be satisfied if he preached only as well as Balaam’s donkey. I had reacted to that by remarking that, were he to attain unto the level of quality found in the donkey’s only recorded epistle, he’d rank in the 95 percentile when measured against typical purveyors of Americanity. We observed, first, what that ass refused to waste time with–she didn’t say, “First, buddy, we must find out if you’re saved.” When you think about it, not even the angel took that approach. There is a lesson in there for all would-be preachers: stick to the text!

We’ll leave the negative example already supplied—how that she-donkey did not waste time or energy seeking to determine the “regenerate stats” of the one to whom she spake. Rather, she simply said what she had to say. I’d count it a near-Nirvana experience if I could go hear a preacher confine himself to saying what he has to say, instead of getting bogged down in the matter of the personal salvation of his hearers.

Before someone asks, “You mean you don’t think that’s important?,” let me assure you that I do. But it is not as important as doing what you are called to do! And that is? Preaching the whole counsel God: seeking to build His people up, tear His enemies down and withal to glorify His name. Far too many pulpiteers today are stuck in the Second Great Awakening. There have been other periods of profit for Christ’s Church, you know, and there’s always so much we, and all God’s people, need to learn—today! God did not call you to make a career out of questioning the genuineness of His friends’ friendship, unless there is clear warrant and a providential requirement to do so. Just remember that a king who thought he had reason to question Abraham’s friendship with God ended up begging Abe to plead with God for mercy upon the king and his whole household.

As I said, we’ll let the donkey’s wisdom speak for itself on the negative side—what she did not say. But on the plus side, this potential poster-girl for women in office warms this preacher’s soul when he considers 1) how perfectly pertinent she was, 2) how she feared not to appeal to personal and/or shared experience to make her point, and 3), how manifestly genuine she was—putting all her emotional resources into the speaking task. And there is even a fourth characteristic which puts her example in the high-bar range for asspiring preachers: as pertinent, personal and emotional as her appeal was, it was delivered not with arrogance but with pained humility.

This is world-class preaching, and we’ll pick up on these points, perhaps to unpack them some, soon. But in the meantime, you’ve just got to re-read Numbers 22:21-41 to see how plain God makes the answer to the question: which was the prophet and which the jackass. Savor verse 29. It’s priceless…

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