The Lord placed a curiosity in my heart about the donkey, shortly after Christmas. I felt that the Holy Spirit was leading me to research it more intently because He wanted me to write about it. I wasn’t sure what there was to know about a donkey, except that it is an animal that appears in scripture a lot. I felt that God was telling me that there is something deeper and more majestic to a donkey. It was a topic that needed to be studied, in order to find out. God lead me and guided me because I had no idea what God was about to reveal. So my journey began. It has taken me this long to write about it, but I am so happy that the timing of it is just before Palm Sunday and Passover week begins!
In American culture, donkeys are often considered to be a stupid animal and are commonly the pun of many jokes. When people are made fun of, they are sometimes compared to a donkey as an insult. Donkeys are often made fun of for their baying. After reading this post, we will find that this is the case with the people of this world, but it is not the same with God. The Donkey indeed has a higher purpose with God. So, it is interesting to note that this higher purpose is a hidden gem in scripture, but mocked by the world. So, let’s discover God’s perspective.
Who Rides Upon Them?
In scripture, we find that King David, King Solomon, all the prophets and Jesus are described as riding upon donkeys. I found this intensely interesting because in modern History, all Kings normally ride upon horses, not donkeys. It immediately stood out to me, that there is a symbolic reason and metaphor to this. I decided to go back and investigate exactly what their purpose was, within the pages of the Bible.
a donkey’s Purpose with Man
Today, donkeys serve many purposes for both Farmers and Shepherds. My Mother’s family had a ranch and as a child, I remember, my uncles discussing their importance. I was told that they were protectors. They were great to have around to protect the sheep from Coyotes, wild dogs and other predators. They would alert the men or Shepherds that a predator was approaching, which would give them enough time to come running. The donkeys would also stand up on their hind legs and use their front legs to attack. They also use their teeth to grab and shake the predator. My uncles told me they were very strong and were useful for caring heavy loads, despite their smaller size. They also produce a mule, when bred with a horse. My uncles liked that a mule was stronger than both a horse or a donkey. Mules were also great at climbing rocky terrain, unlike a horse.
A Donkey’s Purpose With God
In the Bible, donkeys were used to carry God’s chosen, the ones God chose to deliver His Word. Donkeys are normally used to carry heavy loads. I found it intriguing that in the Bible, donkeys were used to carry bread, which is not as heavy. In I Samuel 16:20 it reads, “And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and one young goat, and sent them to Saul with his son David.” Interesting. In scripture, bread is symbolic of Jesus. The Manna that came from Heaven, symbolized Jesus, as well, and was described as bread from Heaven. Jesus, Himself said He is the Bread of life. In John 6:32-33 it reads, “Jesus said to them, Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then, we see in John 6:35-40, “Then Jesus declared, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” We have determined that bread symbolizes Jesus. He is also known as the Word of God.
The donkey is symbolic of being a vessel or foundation for carrying God’s Word in various stories of the Bible. In I Samuel 16:20, I found it to be a foreshadow of Jesus and His last moments, during Passover. We know from Matthew 26:26 that Jesus was revealing to His disciples that He was the bread that the children of Israel had been ceremonially practicing each Passover. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take and eat; this is my body.”
Jesus was also revealing to His disciples that His blood represented the ceremonial wine that had been used time and time again throughout Passover. Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” Matthew 26:27.
Bread and wine
It is interesting to note, that when I looked up the Hebrew meaning for the word (Bethlehem), it means, “house of bread.” It only confirms to me that the place of Jesus’ birth is not a coincidence, but was purposeful in the fact that Jesus Himself, says that He is the bread of life. What better place for the bread of life to live, than in the house of bread!
There are many foreshadows of bread and wine throughout scripture that signifyies that of the Messiah. In I Samuel 10:3-4, Saul meets three (a number throughout scripture reflecting God) men going up to Bethel. They are carrying 3 loaves of bread, 3 goats and a skin of wine. Saul meets them and they give Saul 2 loaves of bread. I believe this is a foreshadow of when Moses received the Ten Commandments written on 2 stones. In I Samuel 10:3, it reads, “Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine.” These 3 men, I believe, represent the Transfiguration. They go up to God at Bethel. Bethel means, “house of God” in Hebrew, so it could be said “they go up to God, to the house of God. The word Gibeah means “hill” in Hebrew, found in verse 5. It was a hill of God that Saul was to go up.
In verse 6 Saul is told, “Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be transformed into a different person.” Saul represented a figure of the future Messiah, found only in Jesus. Jesus went up to Mount Tabor where He was transfigured and there stood 3. It was Jesus, Moses and Elijah. We read that Jesus went on the sixth day (6 represents the number of Man). “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus” Matthew 17:1-3. Jesus too, was turned into a “different person” as Saul was told because He was being shown in His glorified state. Although Jesus was sinless, this glorified state was a different form, from his earthly, Human body.
God’s Word Was Seen
In Numbers 22, we read the story of Balaam and a talking donkey. We see that the Angel of the LORD appeared to only the Donkey, three times (a number that speaks of God’s handprint throughout scripture). The Angel of the LORD is thought, by scholars, to be a Christophany ( an appearance of Jesus before His birth). Here, the Angel of the LORD tells Balaam that He opposed him because he was not within His will. In Numbers 22:32, it reads, “The Angel of the LORD asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.” Because the donkey was able to see the Angel of the LORD, it shows that the donkey had some spiritual insight. Since the donkey obeyed the Angel of the LORD, it also shows that the donkey was within the Lord’s will. Balaam, on the other hand, was not able to see the Angel of the LORD, showing that he was not within God’s will at the time, and we see that by His response to Balaam in verse 32. Perhaps because Balaam was beating the donkey, it showed a physical struggle that Balaam had with God’s will and Word. The fact that God opened the donkey’s mouth is also perhaps symbolic, that His Word is alive and speaks Truth.
In Judges 15:16, we read how Samson slayed 1,000 Philistines with the help of a donkey’s jawbone.
“Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men. And Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
have I struck down a thousand men.”
Here, we can clearly see that once again, the donkey’s jawbone is symbolic of the Word of God. Samson is giving glory to God and is singing a song of victory through the Lord. He is acknowledging that it is the fact that with God’s help, he was able to slay 1,000 Philistine soldiers. Samson was a willing vessel that was used mightily by the Lord. God used Samson to fight the physical battle, while God was winning the spiritual battle, that day.
The Foreshadow of the cross
One of the most fascinating things I found out, was that the donkey is the only animal in the world that has a dorsal and a shoulder stripe. This genetic mystery forms a cross on its back. How amazing! Could this just be a coincidence? My friends, with God, there are no coincidences! He makes things on purpose and with purpose.
A Donkey Carries The King
The story of Abraham and Isaac is a beautiful foreshadow of the amazing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We are told that Abraham was the Father of faith through the act of obeying God’s request to sacrifice his only son. In Genesis 22:3 it says, “So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.” This verse is the day after God asked Abraham to do the most difficult act of faith, in his entire life. It is interesting to note that there is no recorded protest from Abraham. He had gone through the night thinking endlessly, no doubt, about this tremendous command that God was telling Abraham to obey. Since there is no protest in this verse, the reader assumes that Abraham was placing his trust on God’s Word.
Abraham was promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars and the sands of the seashore “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” Genesis 22:17. Here is where the donkey comes in…we have seen that all of God’s chosen men have ridden on a donkey. We see that a donkey is symbolic of God’s Word. So, Abraham was placing his son and faith (not only on a donkey) but Abraham’s fulfilled promise (Isaac) was placed on God’s Word. He completely believed in God’s promise. Although, he did not know how, he knew God had to fulfill the promise he made to him years before the birth of Isaac. He knew God’s nature, that He could not lie and that He fulfills His promises. So, we see how Abraham earned the title of being the Father of faith. It is because he passed his ultimate test of faith and would later be the Father of the nation of Israel. How beautiful.
Tradition holds that when Mary was expecting Jesus, she too was riding on a donkey on her journey to Bethlehem. Although the Bible does not state this, it is assumed because of at least two reasons. First, she was in late term pregnancy and as a woman myself, I can boldly state that there was no way Mary could’ve traveled the 80 mile journey, by walking there. Second, a donkey is the animal we see throughout scripture that is used for royalty and Prophets. Jesus was the King of Kings, it is only fitting, being royalty. If anything, the mode of transportation in that time was by camel, donkey or horse. Again, having been pregnant myself, I can tell you that I would pick a donkey over a camel or a horse, simply because the donkey’s stride is a lot smoother than a camel or a horse.
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, had the welcome of a King. Prior to entering, Jesus asked His disciples to find the colt of a she donkey and to bring it to Him. “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away” Matthew 21:2. There are two donkeys mentioned here and this colt that had never been ridden before, had the privilege of being ridden by Jesus, the King of Kings. Many historians state that riding a donkey was symbolic of “coming in peace” and not war because many Kings ride a horse, in war. I personally, do not think that this was the case, at this time.
Many believe that because of what verse 10 says, “He will proclaim peace to the nations” that Jesus was coming in peace, to bring peace. They acknowledged Zechariah 9:9 and that Jesus was entering Jerusalem, proclaiming He was King. It is known that Kings ride white horses, when going into battle and donkeys, when coming in peace. Unfortunately, for Israel, this was not the case. Verse 10, will be fulfilled because it is through Jesus, that peace, true peace, will finally come not only to Israel, but to the world in the yet future. This will only occur at His second coming, so I believe it has been misinterpreted in that sense. I believe that Jesus fulfilled Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The rest of that prophecy will come, sooner than later. Instead, this verse was fulfilled in its entirety.
Jesus was entering Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill Zechariah 9:9 and to die as the Lamb of God. It is fascinating how Jesus rode a donkey that had never been ridden before. No man had ever been upon this baby donkey. I believe this indicated that because it represented the Word of God, it was not chosen by Man, but set apart by God. Set apart for this day and time. Pure, innocent and unbroken, just like Jesus. Jesus was sinless and hadn’t suffered, but was being presented as King, spotless and as a sacrifice. Another thing to note, is that anyone who would try to ride a donkey that has never been ridden, would basically be thrown off! This donkey was submissive to Jesus and controlled. It was a symbol that Jesus was God! He was declaring, completeness, fulfillment and His place as Messiah. He was God in Human flesh.
Lastly, I leave you with a beautiful analogy of the Messiah, through the parable of the Good Samaritan. If we look at Luke 10:34, we also see that a donkey was the animal of preference. We have summarized that a donkey represents the Word of God or at least the foundation for the Word of God. Luke 10:34 sums up what Jesus did for Humanity on the cross and I love it! It reads, “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.” Isn’t it symbolic of what Jesus does for us when we believe and repent of our sins? Jesus is that Good Samaritan that took our wounds and damaged bodies (through sin) gave us oil (Holy Spirit) and Wine (the promise of a renewed covenant with God the Father, which promised a restored relationship and salvation). Jesus placed us on the foundation of God’s Word and cleanses us from the inside – out! It’s so amazing. I hope this has helped you to see the beauty of a simple animal that is commonly used in mockery to actually represent the highest authority, which is the Word of God, Himself! God’s Word is deep and truly, “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” Hebrews 4:12.