Donkeys were a familiar sight in Bible times. In Old Testament times, before horses became used more regularly, riding a donkey or mule was a common form of transportation, even for royalty (2 Sam 13:29; 1 Kings 1:38). When laws were spelled out by God concerning the treatment of animals, donkeys were specifically mentioned in those instructions. Donkeys are included in the last of the Ten Commandments among the examples of a neighbor’s property that should not be coveted: “Never desire to take
your neighbor’s household away from him. Never desire to take your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his donkey, or anything else that belongs to him” (Exod 20:17). Donkeys were also itemized in wealth portfolios in the ancient world and were symbolic of material blessing. Among Job’s original holdings were five hundred donkeys, a number that doubled following his restoration (see Job 1:3; 42:12). When Abraham’s wealth is described in Genesis 12:16 and 24:35, donkeys are a featured item. One of Samson’s notable victories over the Philistines involved him using the jawbone of a donkey as a lethal weapon (see Judg 15:15-16). The Bible has two famous donkeys: Balaam’s faithful steed, and the colt Jesus rode into Jerusalem during his triumphal entry. Balaam’s donkey provides a symbol of just how far God will go to ensure that his will to done. Jesus’ donkey was a sign of the rider’s identity, which those creating the carpet of coats and palm branches failed to see.
THE DONKEY AND THE ANGEL
Balaam and his unfortunate donkey appear in Numbers 22. They were traveling to pronounce a curse on the people of God. Three times the donkey had to endure a beating when she refused to approach the angel of the Lord who was standing in the road with a drawn sword and whom Balaam could not see. Suddenly, the donkey spoke to Balaam and registered an eloquent complaint.
Then the LORD made the donkey speak, and it asked Balaam, “What have I done to make you hit me three times?” Balaam answered, “You’ve made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you right now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “I’m your own donkey. You’ve always ridden me. Have I ever done this to you before?” “NO,” he answered. Then the LORD let Balaam see the Messenger of the LORD who was standing in the road with a sword drawn. So Balaam knelt, bowing with his face touching the ground. (Num 22:28-31).
Much later, when writing about the destructive effects of false teachers, Peter used the contrast between Balaam and his donkey as an example: “These false teachers have left the straight path and wandered off to follow the path of Balaam, son of Beor. Balaam loved what his wrongdoing earned him. But he was convicted for his evil. A donkey, which normally can’t talk, spoke with a human voice and would’t allow the prophet to continue his insanity” (2 Pet 2:15-16).
JESUS AND THE DONKEY
The donkey has always symbolized a combination of basic transportation with a generous does of humility. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matt 29:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-15). An adult rider looks oddly mismatched on a donkey. If Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem on a magnificent steed or in a fancy horse-drawn chariot, a very different message would have been conveyed than the pictured of a king arriving on a donkey colt. Riding on a unbroken animal pointed to the use of “perfect” animals for sacrificial purposes. Additionally, in small way it showed Jesus’ power over nature-even this inexperienced animal was submissive to him. As both Matthew and John point out, Jesus’ actions were actually a sign that fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah: “Rejoice with all your heart, people of Zion! Shout in triumph, people of Jerusalem! Look! Your King is coming to you: He is righteous and victorious. He is humble and rides on a donkey, on a colt, a young pack animals” (9:9).
Source: THE A TO Z GUIDE TO BIBLE SIGNS & SYMBOLS (Understanding Their Meaning and Significance) Donkey Pg 78.