Balaam was a magician called upon by the Moabite king Balak to put a curse on the Israelites before they entered Canaan. He initially wavered, then went when he was told by God it was all right to go. Balaam’s donkey sees an angel with a drawn sword, so she walks off the road. Balaam beats her. Then the angel stood in a narrow path, so the donkey goes to one side and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. He beats her again. Then the angel blocked the path completely so the donkey lies down with Balaam still on his back.
Balaam beats the donkey a third time, until it speaks to him in fluent Hebrew reproving such actions. Frederick Buechner says, “men as a rule see only what they expect to see and little more, the animals innocent of expectation see what is there. The next time the old mare lets fly with an exultant whinny at the empty horizon, we might do well to consider at least the possibility that the horizon may not be quite as empty as we think.” In the end Balaam listened to God, returned to Balak and blessed the people whom Balak wanted to curse.