16 Jun

We all know the scripture where Jesus talks about caring “the least of these.” He described that taking care of those who are more vulnerable than ourselves was not just about taking care of others, but was as if we were taking care of Jesus himself, and vice versa regarding neglect. And in the end, we will be judged on how we’ve acted. The Bible says:

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-45, NRSV)

Now, obviously, this passage is talking about caring for our fellow mankind. But I came across something interesting today that I haven’t noticed before, something that expanded my take on the Bible’s theme of serving and caring for others. I found it in the book of Numbers: the story of Balaam. There are so many lessons that can be found in Balaam’s story, but I think what tends to stick with us most from that story is the talking donkey. While I think the greater purpose of Balaam’s story as a whole does not stop here, it is the treatment of Balaam’s donkey that I learned something new from today.

In order to understand some context, let’s look at what led up to the story of Balaam and his donkey. Basically, Balaam was summoned by Balak – King of Moab – to come to Moab and put a curse on the nearby encampment of the Israelites because King Balak was scared that the Israelites would destroy the people of Moab. He had seen the destruction that had come upon other peoples at the hand of the Israelites, and he wanted to prevent them from doing it to Moab as well. Since Balaam was known as having supernatural powers, King Balak thought he would be Moab’s winning shot. However, Balaam was familiar with God and knew that as long as God was on the side of the Israelites, no one else stood a fighting chance against them. No curse from Balaam would ever work. Yet, fast-forwarding the story a bit, the Lord finally gives permission to Balaam to go see King Balak as long as he says only what the Lord tells him to say to King Balak. But instead of going with King Balak’s messengers, he goes alone on his own donkey – and here is where I want to focus this devotional thought.

As Balaam made about on his journey, a menacing-looking angel appeared and stood in the way of the path. But the angel was not visible to Balaam, only his donkey. In reaction to this sudden obstacle, the donkey turned away from the path into a nearby field to avoid the angel. And what did Balaam do? He beat his donkey. Back on the path, the angel appears again, this time in a narrow area with walls on each side. As the donkey tried to avoid the angel yet again, Balaam’s foot got crushed and scraped against the wall, infuriating Balaam. Again, he beat the donkey and made it keep going. The angel appeared yet again, and this time there was nowhere the donkey could turn, so it laid down in fear where it was – and of course, Balaam beat his donkey even more in rage. Finally, God puts words into the donkey’s mouth and it SPEAKS TO BALAAM (what!?), saying, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” (Numbers 22:28, NRSV). To this question, Balaam responds to his donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” (Numbers 22:29, NRSV). It is only after conversing with his animal, that Balaam then notices the angel. Now, can we just stop for a minute here... I don’t know about you, but if my cat all of a sudden started speaking to me in English instead his normal “meow meow,” I would be freaked out! Yet, Balaam not only seems to not be struck with surprise or fear, but HE RESPONDS BACK to his donkey. Maybe as a professed magician, this occurrence and his subsequent reaction didn’t seem so crazy to him? Who knows.

Anyway, the angel nor the talking donkey are what were so striking for me in this passage, but rather Balaam’s actions toward his donkey. Bible commentary reads:

Balaam had given evidence of the spirit that controlled him, by his treatment of his beast. “A righteous man regarded the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10. Few realize as they should the sinfulness of abusing animals or leaving them to suffer from neglect. He who created man made the lower animals also, and “His tender mercies are over all His works.” Psalm 145:9. The animals were created to serve man, but he has no right to cause them pain by harsh treatment or exaction.(E. G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 283)

Did you catch that? The animals were made for us, but that gives us no right to treat them simply however we feel. Just as with fellow mankind, we must treat all of God’s creatures with respect, love, and kindness. Furthermore, did you catch that these actions of Balaam showed where his heart really was? The author goes on to say:

A disposition to cause pain, whether to our fellow men or to the brute creation, is satanic. Many do not realize that their cruelty will ever be known, because the poor dumb animals cannot reveal it. But could the eyes of these men be opened, as were those of Balaam, they would see an angel of God standing as a witness, to testify against them in the courts above. A record goes up to heaven, and a day is coming when judgment will be pronounced against those who abuse God’s creatures. (E.G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 284; added emphasis)

As an animal lover, this fills me with so much more love and gratitude to our Savior. It pains me so much to see suffering animals, especially when it’s at the hands of people. We hold so much power over them and we far too often abuse that power. Knowing that there will one day be justice for not only the people suffering in this world, but for the animals – our fellow God-designed creation – as well, fills my heart with peace and hope. As White says, judgment will be pronounced against those who abuse God’s creatures, I believe this qualifies them to be put into the “least of these” category, as judgment similarly will come upon those that neglect and mistreat the human “least of these.”

So wherever you fall on the spectrum of liking animals, take heed or take hope. Justice will be had for suffering people and animals alike.