The Donkey, the Lamb & the Human
“You shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons. None shall appear before Me empty-handed. (Exodus 34:20)
This is something in Judaism called the “pedion ha ben”—the consecration, or the redemption, of the firstborn. We know from the messianic typology it is a figure of Christ the firstborn, the only begotten of the Father. (Jn. 1:14) The firstborn was redeemed for silver, (Num. 18:16) a price of redemption which is a picture of Jesus. Here we have the donkey, we have the lamb and we have the firstborn of the sons, all in the same verse.
“But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem. (Exodus 13:13)
Once more we have the lamb, we have the donkey and we have the human, all three. It is strange because it puts something that is ritual and juridical right in the middle of a narrative, the story of Pharaoh. But why does it put a donkey in the same passage in which it talks about a human? If a donkey is not redeemed by a lamb, its neck must be broken.
We know what the firstborn son is—it is a type of Christ, we know what a human is—that is us, and we know what the lamb is a picture of—a figure of the Lord Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29) And we know that Exodus 13 is paschal because it is talking about Passover, so obviously it is talking about Him as the lamb. There is no problem identifying the human, no problem identifying the lamb, that leaves the donkey. Why must a donkey be redeemed by a lamb?
The Nature of a Donkey
A donkey is not too clever. Unlike its equestrian cousin the horse, it is not a brave animal; a donkey is fearful. So it is not too smart and it is not too brave. Among other things, zoologically, it is promiscuous. It will breed across the genus barrier and mate with something other than another one of its own. Sexually it will mate with anything. Hence in the Hebrew Prophets, in castigating Israel for its sin of carrying its idolatry to harlotry, compare Israel to a wild donkey. (Jer. 2:24; Hos. 8:9)
A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness,That sniffs the wind in her passion.In the time of her heat who can turn her away?All who seek her will not become weary;In her month they will find her. (Jeremiah 2:24)
So a donkey is led by its passion, it is not too smart and it is not too brave. It also has other characteristics. I am told by others who are knowledgeable about such things that a donkey is, above all, a very stubborn animal. (I have to be careful because “donkey” is sometimes a derogatory label. I live in England where “donkey” is a derogatory term for an Irish laborer by English people.)
But we are also told other things about the nature of a donkey: it is stiff-necked. The Hebrew idiom for being stubborn is “stiff-necked”. (Acts 7:51) In the Old Testament when we see the term “stubborn”, the Hebrew is “stiff-necked”.
A man who hardens his neck after much reproofWill suddenly be broken beyond remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)
They stiffen their neck and their neck is broken—they are killed and therefore “beyond remedy”. Donkeys are figures of fallen man. God applies them to backslidden Israel.
(Again, I do not use the term in an anti-Semitic way or an anti-Irish way. My own family, in fact, is a combination of Jewish and Irish, so I am not against my own kind. I am using the term in the sense the Prophets did.)
Israel is compared to a wild donkey. What are people like? Remember that Israel is a microcosm of the human condition. According to 1 Corinthians 10, God uses them to teach what people are like. Other nations will do the same things like Israel. If God had chosen someone else other than Israel, I guarantee you the Filipinos or Norwegians would have done the same things as Israel. Just look at the Church; the Church has gone the same way as Israel.It will stiffen its neck, it will stiffen its neck, it will stiffen its neck, but then its neck will be broken beyond remedy. It is stupid, cowardly, governed by its passions and stubborn. In fact, it is self-destructively stubborn. That is the nature of a donkey.
Nonetheless, it has at least one other characteristic anatomically. I do not know why, but I have seen donkeys, and it has been pointed out to me in California by people who are ranchers who have donkeys, and it is a characteristic that of all the quadrupeds, donkeys are the ones who have a cross on their back. Why did God put a cross on the back of such an ignoble animal? It is not a noble animal, but a stupid one. It is a stubborn one, a rebellious one.
Broken Beyond Remedy
A donkey cannot help being a donkey. It is born stupid, it is born lazy, it is born driven by passion (governed by hormonal metabolism), it is born with a stiff neck. It is naturally stubborn. There is nothing we can do with a donkey—it must be redeemed by the lamb. There is no other hope for the donkey. If the donkey is not redeemed by the lamb, its neck must be broken, and it will be broken suddenly.
We cannot help what we are. We may be born Jew, we may be born Gentile; we may be born Black, we may be born Asian or Hispanic or Caucasian; we may be born male or female. We are born and that is what we are. We cannot control it. None of us had any control over the circumstances of our birth. There was one person who could have controlled the circumstances of His birth, but He chose to be born a member of a despised race in a stable in an occupied country and of a non-affluent family in order to identify with and redeem us. He was the only one who could have chosen it, but the rest of us had no choice.
We cannot help the fact that we are stupid, but that is what we are. We are certainly spiritually stupid. We cannot help the fact that we are spiritually lazy. We cannot help the fact that we are driven by passion. We cannot help the fact that we are what we are: stubborn. That is the human condition. There is no hope for such creatures other than redemption by the Lamb. If they are not redeemed by the Lamb, their stubbornness will kill them. He who stiffens his neck will suddenly have it broken beyond remedy.
There are people who hear the Gospel, we witness to them, we tell them the Gospel over and over and over and they will not listen. I am even talking about members of our own family. They will not listen, and suddenly their neck will be broken beyond remedy. When the donkey’s neck is broken, it is dead; it is beyond remedy—there is no hope. It is a one-way ticket to hell with no way out. Their own stubbornness will be the cause of their own destruction. Their own unbelief, their own rejection of the cross, their own refusal to repent and accept the Gospel will cause them to be destroyed beyond remedy. It does not matter what they say now. I guarantee you the second they give up the ghost they will no longer be Darwinists; the second they give up the ghost they will no longer be atheists; the second they give up the ghost they will no longer be homosexuals; the second they give up the ghost they will no longer be anything.One of the things which makes people really stubborn is religion.
They cling to the faith of the fathers, simply thinking that because that was what their fathers believed it makes it right.
What are we told will come about concerning the Arab nations? We are told they will be “a wild donkey of a man”.
“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.” (Genesis 16:12)
I have witnessed to many people, but I have lived for many years in the Middle East. I always say that the two most difficult people to see get saved are Orthodox Jews and Arab Muslims. Asian Muslims are generally easier than Arab ones. The anthropological descendants of Abraham are the most difficult. Salvation would come through the seed of Abraham, so we would think that descendants of Abraham anthropologically—Jews and Arabs, would be the first to get saved by the promise to Abraham of the Messiah. No, they are the two hardest. “He will be a wild donkey of a man” speaks to the stubbornness of Islam. But it goes beyond this; look at what Moses said about Israel.
“Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people. (Deuteronomy 9:6)
In Hebrew, Moses tells the Jews they are a “stiff-necked” people.
“So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16)
Circumcision is an Old Testament shadow of salvation, of course, as we are told in Romans and Jeremiah. “Stop stiffening your neck! Believe! Get saved! Get converted!” But it does not work.
The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. (Exodus 32:9)
In Hebrew, “obstinate” literally means “stiff-necked”. (If someone calls Jews “stiff-necked” it is a generally anti-Semitic term. We should not say it to Jewish people today because it will hurt our witness to them; I am using the term in the biblical sense.)What happens to Israel if they continue to stiffen their neck?
“Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to the LORD and enter His sanctuary which He has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that His burning anger may turn away from you. (2 Chronicles 30:8)
God is angry and He is angry at sin; He is angry at the human condition. He is angry at Israel and He is angry with Abraham’s other descendants, the Arab nations. God is angry at the Arab world and God is angry with the backslidden Church. He is angry and His anger will be vented; His wrath will be poured out. Every micro speck of God’s wrath and anger is going to be poured out. The only question is upon whom. Those who stiffen their neck and refuse to believe, the wrath of God will come upon them. For those who do repent and believe, the wrath of God was poured out on the Lamb.
The Worst Jackass
Let me tell you about the worst jackass I ever met in my life. I mean, this guy was a real jackass. I still run into him from time to time, especially when I am shaving or brushing my teeth. When he was sixteen years old he was fooling around with heroin and cocaine. He thought a biochemistry exam was no problem if he took enough speed to win the fifth at New Market. That is how I got through college. I was immoral, a communist, self-destructive. What a jackass! What a moron! What a loser! What a reprobate! That is all I was. I was nothing but a jackass.
Why should God become a man to die in place of a cocaine addict? I do not know, but I know He did. I cannot understand the depths of His wrath, but neither can I understand the depths of His love.
I had been saved for some time before I understood what “personal Savior” really meant. I thought it was just the colloquialism that meant I had accepted Him personally—that is only half of what it means. What it means in its totality is that if I were the only one who ever sinned, if we were the only one who ever sinned, He would have come to the cross just for us. He is not just the Savior of all of us, He is the Savior of each of us. He would have went to that cross just for me and just for you.
Everything I did, every drug I sold, every woman I slept with (other than my wife), every joint I ever rolled, every line of coke—everything was poured out on Him. The jackass was redeemed by the Lamb. I am not proud of who I was or what I did; it cost Christ His life. But I cannot deny what I did and He did for me. It does not matter how successful or educated or attractive somebody is, a jackass is still a jackass. It must be redeemed by the Lamb.
No, it is not just the Jews, it is not just the Arabs, it is all of us. But what happened to God’s own people when they stiffened their neck?
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to bring on this city and all its towns the entire calamity that I have declared against it, because they have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words.’” (Jeremiah 19:15)
Their neck is broken beyond remedy. It does not only happen to individuals, it happens to societies and nations. It does not just happen to jackasses, it happens to herds of jackasses. And this is what this country has become, a herd of jackasses driven by passion who are stubborn, self-destructively stupid and too cowardly to face the reality.
That is what happens when a donkey is not redeemed; its neck will be broken beyond remedy. The second they die they will know what they rejected and, in some cases, what they mocked and belittled. It was the only thing that ever could have saved them. So many of these guys are arrogant like Bill Maher on television. Who do they think they are mocking? God will not be mocked. (Gal. 6:7) They have no wisdom because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Prov. 9:10) The second they die they are broken beyond remedy.
The Way of Balaam
Let us look at the other side of the coin. Let us see what happens when a donkey does get redeemed by the Lamb, this cowardly animal, this stubborn animal, this lazy animal, this passion-driven animal, and above all this stubborn, stiff-necked animal.
forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. (2 Peter 2:15-16)
A redeemed donkey is always better than a mad prophet. A follower of Brigham Young, Charles Taze Russell, or Rev. Moon—even a jackass is not that stupid providing it has been redeemed.In my youth there was a comedy television program which aired on Sunday nights, “Mr. Ed the Talking Horse”. (His voice sounded like Nixon.) It was modeled after a series of comedy films in the late 30s and 40s with the actor Donald O’Connor called “Frances the Talking Mule”. The character Donald O’Connor played was not very clever but the mule was.
The donkey provided a warning. And here is mentioned “the way of Balaam”, who for profit loved the wages of unrighteousness but was rebuked by a donkey.
‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. (Revelation 2:14)
Of course, Balaam did it for money. Serving as a metaphor for the devil, Balak offered Balaam money. Jesus uses this to explain spiritual seduction and false religion—eating food sacrificed to idols.As believers we understand this to be transubstantiation and the Eucharist. They say that it is Christ incarnate, that it is not a memorial, that it is protoplasmically Jesus Christ, that He dies again sacramentally and then He is eaten cannibalistically. I do not think Catholics are cannibals, but they think they are cannibals. That is what it is says in their Catechism—they actually think it is a cannibalistic ritual. Balaam did it for money. Someone has to be a jackass to believe that stuff.
There is always a financial angle. It does not matter what religion it is, it is always a racket. No matter what false cult it is, which televangelist, or which false religion, there is always a racket.But a redeemed donkey was able to see through Balaam.
“Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” (Numbers 22:6)
Notice that the devil says the opposite of the Lord. God says, “I will bless those who bless Israel and I will curse those who curse Israel” (Gen. 12:3); Satan, however, will curse those who bless Israel and bless those who curse Israel.
But God Was Angry
Remember, the Lord is angry. His anger is going to be poured out. It is either going to be poured out on the Lamb or it is going to be poured out on the donkey, but one way or the other, somebody is going to pay. Every wrong thing I ever did, every wrong thing you ever did, somebody is going to pay.
But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he struck her again. The angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left.
(Unsaved people will always find themselves in a situation they ultimately cannot get out of. Unsaved people, be it on their deathbed or sooner, will be confronted with their reality; they will always find themselves in a situation they cannot get out of, and an angry God is going to be standing in front of them.)
When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.”
(Notice how he talks to the donkey as if it is a normal conversation. When we go to the post office and talk to an unsaved postal clerk, we forget that we are talking to an unredeemed donkey. The waitress in a restaurant is an unredeemed donkey. The mechanic working on our car is an unredeemed donkey. The dentist polishing our teeth is an unredeemed donkey. We talk to donkeys as if it is normal because we forget that is what they are. I try to carry Gospel tracts wherever I go and to have my pocket Bible. It becomes normal for us to interact with unsaved people. We talk to them as if it is a normal thing.)
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground
(In Hebrew this would be an act of worship.)
The angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. “But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.” Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back.” But the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you.” So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak. (Numbers 22:22-35)
First of all, we have not “an” angel of the Lord, but “the” angel of the Lord. This is the one known in Judaism as the “Metatrone”; it is a Christophany, an Old Testament enfleshment of Christ. It is the angel who wrestled with Jacob at Penuel at the Brook of Jabbok. It is the angel of the Lord who went before Israel. It is an Old Testament manifestation of the Lord Jesus. And again we see He is angry.
The Redeemed Donkey
Once a donkey has been redeemed, and this donkey had to have been redeemed, otherwise his neck would have been broken, it is able to see the Lord when others cannot. Unsaved people cannot see Jesus. We do not see Him physically, although sometimes Christians may in some kind of vision like Paul did or something like that, but we will one day see Him physically. Nonetheless, we are aware of His presence. Unsaved people do not see the Lord, but a redeemed donkey does.
Secondly, although donkeys are fearful animals, something happens. I once took my son down the Grand Canyon. They went down there on these donkeys. (I did not try it myself because I would have had to carry the donkey back up myself after crushing it under my weight.) The ledges of the Grand Canyon are about a mile deep and very narrow. It is amazing how sure-footed those creatures truly are. They can actually do things which horses cannot. What used to be cowardice now becomes sure-footedness. The donkey knows where to go and where not to go.
A redeemed donkey who had a drinking problem will stay away from a saloon. If they used to be a gambler they will stay away from a race track. A donkey knows where to go, and where not to, once it has been redeemed.
But something else happens, in that this fearful animal now becomes a brave one. Balaam keeps beating him. It was only that persecuted donkey that stopped the wrath of God from falling on him.
Because of these churches in countries where they are persecuted, it is only the sacrifices of the faithful saints which stops the judgment of God from coming against those nations and those societies. A redeemed donkey that is willing to be persecuted can delay the wrath of God.
I honestly believe we are at the precipice—the threshold—of persecution of the Church in the Protestant democracies, and the only thing that is going to stop the wrath of God and His judgment from falling on America more than it already is, is a faithful Church that is willing to be persecuted. Most of the Church will not be willing to be persecuted because most of the Church is no longer faithful to Jesus. I speak in countries where the Church is persecuted. I speak in Muslim countries and I go to places where I see what it is really like.
A Redeemed Donkey Speaks & Sees
He hits the donkey again and then the donkey speaks.
I do not know too much about veterinary anatomy, but I suppose it is the same as for a human, that the jawbone facilitates speech. A donkey cannot say anything before it gets redeemed. All a donkey can do is to bray like the vain philosophies of this world, bray like secular existentialism, bray like Darwinism, bray like Marxist dialectics, bray like situational eliptics—that is all a jackass can say until it gets redeemed and God gets hold of its jaw. How many Philistines were slain with a jawbone of an ass? (Jdg. 15:15-17) That is what happens when a donkey has been redeemed; now he speaks the Word of God.
The donkey causes a situation to come about where Balaam now sees the Lord. “You are My witnesses”, says the Lord. (Lk. 24:48; Acts 1:8) Balaam sees the anger of an angry God hovering over Him. “It is only that donkey whom you have been beating that stopped My wrath from coming upon you”. He uses us to cause others to see His anger.
And what is the first thing God says to Balaam? The first words out of God’s mouth are “Why are you beating that donkey?” When Rabbi Shaul of Tarsus, who we now know as Paul the Apostle, was knocked off that horse, the first thing the Lord said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:2) It was another way of asking, “You are beating that donkey? Persecuting the Church?”
When the donkey has been redeemed, everything changes. A stupid animal becomes intelligent, a lazy one becomes industrious, a stubborn one gives himself over willingly to the purpose of God, a cowardly one becomes brave, something given over to passion now become motivated by something that transcends the highest human ideal. This is what happens when the donkey has been redeemed by the Lamb.
The Messianic Fulfillment
In Zechariah we have a prophecy which even the rabbis acknowledge is a prophecy about the Messiah.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!Behold, your king is coming to you;He is just and endowed with salvation,Humble, and mounted on a donkey,Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
That is the prophecy, let us see the fulfillment.
When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her…
(Notice there is always two to represent both Israel and the Church.)
… untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
“SAY TO THE DAUGHTER OF ZION,‘BEHOLD YOUR KING IS COMING TO YOU,GENTLE, AND MOUNTED ON A DONKEY,EVEN ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A BEAST OF BURDEN.’”
(Remember, these donkeys would have had to have been redeemed by a lamb or they would have had to be killed.)
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!” (Matthew 21:1-9)
Once the donkey has been redeemed, he becomes a carrier of Christ and His salvation to Whom others call out, “Save us! Save us, O Son of David!”
This is what happens when the donkey is redeemed by the Lamb. The coward becomes brave, the stupid become clever, the passion-driven becomes God-driven. They have a passion for the right things now. What used to be fear is now sure-footedness—it knows to “go here” and “do not go there”. He sees the Lord. Where he could only bray, he now speaks His word—God’s own words come out of his mouth. He becomes a carrier of Christ, one who is even willing to be persecuted, one who can withhold the judgment of an angry God. He becomes one who is the bearer of His salvation. I am convinced that this is why, of all the quadrupeds, God put the cross on the back of the donkey. That is what happens when the donkey is redeemed by the Lamb.
If you are reading this, and you do not know Jesus, I am not going to tell you, “Do not be a jackass”. You cannot help being a jackass. We are all jackasses because that is the human condition, that is fallen man, and God is angry. He is going to cause something to happen. You are going to cause something to happen because God is going to break your neck. Your own stubbornness will destroy you; there is no hope for you just as there is no hope for me. What can be done with a donkey? Nothing, because it is a donkey. There is no hope for the donkey so break his neck. He is too stupid, too stubborn and too passion-driven. There is no hope for that donkey, no hope except one: you must be redeemed by the Lamb.God bless.