Have you ever had a two-way conversation with a donkey? The prophet Balaam did several thousand years ago, and his story started when the enemies of God tried to entice him into cursing the children of Israel. Balaam balked. “All the gold and silver in the world won’t make me do that,” he said. “The Lord has refused to let me go with you.”
The enemies of truth tend to be a persistent bunch. Another delegation was sent to convince the prophet to follow the command of the evil king. Driven by curiosity and perhaps a touch of greed, he asked God again whether he could go with the delegation from the Moabite king. This time God said, OK, you can go with them, but you only do what I instruct you to do. So Balaam saddled his donkey and started out.
What happened next is a favourite story of Christian children everywhere. You can read the whole saga in Numbers 22:1–23:12. I’ll provide the highlights.
Heading merrily down the path astride his trusty donkey, Balaam suddenly found himself detouring into a nearby field. Annoyed, the prophet grabbed his staff and beat his wayward beast in an effort to get her back on track. Shortly thereafter, rider and animal were passing between the stone walls of two vineyards and the donkey suddenly jumped to one side, crushing Balaam’s foot against the stones. A few choice words and a harder application of the staff finally set them on their way again.
Then, as they’re squeezing through a narrow place in the road, the donkey simply stopped and lay down. This was the last straw. Balaam attacked the animal mercilessly, striking it and yelling rants.
That’s when things get really weird. Totally confused, the donkey turned her head to face her master and said, “What have I done to make you beat me these three times?” Without missing a beat, Balaam answered, “You have made a fool of me. If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The man was so angry that he failed to notice that he was carrying on a conversation with a four-legged beast of burden!
“Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden to this day?” the cowering beast pressed. “Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” The donkey wasn’t just speaking. She was being amazingly articulate and reasoning!
“No,” Balaam admitted.
That’s when, the Bible says, that “the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn.” So that’s what the donkey had been seeing just before she headed out across the field, slammed up against the vineyard wall and lay down in the narrow passage!
“I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me,” the angel said, delivering a message from God Himself. Then the armed visitor suggested that maybe he should treat Balaam as Balaam had been treating the donkey. The prophet quickly admitted the error of his ways and this time he listened more closely to the instructions God had for him. Long story short, he didn’t deliver a curse on the children of Israel. He blessed them, much to the shock of the king who’d summoned him.
I share this story to introduce a concept that many people don’t fully understand. Angels are very real and they do a whole lot more than talk through donkeys, announce nativities or roll away stones from tombs. They’re busy beings doing the hard work necessary to keep us all on track during our journey to heaven. But someday, they’re going to play a central role in the best moment of our entire lives.
To more fully understand angels, we need to examine how the Bible portrays them.
Here’s a quick rundown of angel attributes taken from the Bible:
- Angels were created in uncountable numbers by God Himself (Colossians 1:16; Revelation 5:11).
- They are heralds—they announced Jesus’ birth to a group of shepherds (Luke 2:13).
- They know everything that happens to us (2 Samuel 14:20).
- They love to sing and shout (Job 38:7).
- They do God’s bidding and obey His word (Psalm 103:20).
- They rejoice when someone turns from sin to salvation (Luke 15:7).
- They constantly proclaim truth and warnings to the world (Hebrews 2:1, 2; Revelation 14:6).
- They provide much-needed courage (Psalm 34:7).
- They never “heap abuse” on sinners (2 Peter 2:11; Jude 9).
- They fight against the devil and his evil angels (Revelation 12:7).
- They stood guard at the entrance to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve chose to follow Satan (Genesis 3:24).
- They prepared a warm breakfast for an Elijah on-the-run (1 Kings 19:5).
- They shut the mouths of lions so that Daniel could live to see another day (Daniel 6:22).
- They wrapped loving arms around the Son of God as He struggled to accept what He must do to save the world (Luke 22:43).
- An angel called Jesus from the tomb (Matthew 28:2).
- They will accompany Christ at His second coming (Matthew 16:27).
However, there’s one more task to which angels have been assigned that’s going to impact you in a very profound way. It will mark a turning point in your relationship with the heavenly being who has been by your side since you took your first breath.
With possible rare exceptions, your angel has been your silent partner, keeping himself hidden from you. When he did appear to function more effectively in one of his many capacities, it was usually as a human being. Seldom do people see an honest-to-goodness angel in angel form—whatever that is. They’re more likely to say, “This man” or “this woman” or “this child” helped me out of a situation. Their lend-a-hand stranger seldom stuck around after the crisis passed. It seems that angels don’t like drawing attention to the fact that they’re angels.
That said, there’s coming a time when you and I are going to see millions of them all at once and one of them will hurry to your side and another to mine. We find that amazing event described by Christ Himself.
Gathering the elect
Speaking of His second coming, Jesus told His disciples, “All the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). For many, that mourning will be short-lived. Why? “And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect [saved] from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (verse 31).
Just a few chapters earlier, Jesus had shared this astonishing insight: Explaining how the second coming will be like a farmer reaping a crop, He said, “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels” (Matthew 13:39).
Did you catch that? If you’re alive at that moment, you’ll suddenly see your angel standing before you, arms outstretched, summoning you to glory! On the other hand, if you happen to be dead at that moment, you’ll hear a voice calling you from a temporal death to an everlasting life, much like what happened to Christ. Can you imagine the earth splitting open and finding yourself standing with many others in the cemetery where you’ve been buried for years, centuries, millennia? Your angel will be the very first heavenly being to welcome you to eternal life! Not Jesus, not God the Father, but your very own, personal, always-been-there-but-you-couldn’t-see-me angel.
What will you say to him?
At long last!
That face-to-face chat will be the first of many, because that angel has become your dear and close friend forever. Finally, as you walk the streets of gold or sail the cosmic winds to worlds afar, the two of you can do some catching up. When you mention some incident in your past, your angel will say, “I was there! I saw it all! When you needed comfort, I provided it. When you were afraid, I gave you courage to keep on going. When you felt lost, I guided you back home to Jesus. When the Holy Spirit brought truths to your mind, I made sure that you had the strength to live your convictions day after challenging day.
“I never left your side, even when you chose to walk alone, apart from God. I remained, urging you to reconsider your decisions.”
I believe that, as much as you’re looking forward to spending quality time with your special angel, that special angel is waiting just as eagerly to spend some quality time with you. Imagine if the roles were reversed and it was you who had sheltered, protected, nurtured, encouraged and revealed truth to someone.
At long last, your human—the central theme of your very existence—can see, hear and touch you. Wouldn’t you be enthusiastic to talk about old times? Wouldn’t you want them to know what part you played in their life, in their struggle to be transformed into a child of God fit for heaven?
I also wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that you’ve quickly picked up some of your angel’s stellar habits. After years of darkness and struggle on earth, you now love to sing and shout. You enjoy hanging out with God. You find yourself endlessly praising your heavenly Father. And your greatest joy is seeing the face of Him who created you and redeemed you.
For me, there can be no better reason to muddle through this dark, dreary life. I want to shake my angel’s hand. No, I want to hug them. I hope you feel the same way about yours!