Posted in agriculture, donkey

Bible topic: the Donkey

Studying the natural history of the Bible is a good thing to do. Plants, places, and animals are constantly mentioned in God’s Word. Processes such as wine-making and agricultural endeavors like threshing and irrigating are mentioned too. Knowing what the references mean helps deepen our understanding of such verses when we study them. For example in Psalm 21:1, it is stated

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.

This is a vivid metaphor that anyone can understand. But knowing that in ancient times and even today, Egyptian farmers by the Nile dig complicated channels in the earth and board the source of each one, and by lifting a certain board at any given time they could precisely direct the channel to a row of crops as they will. Now you have an even more clear picture of the metaphor. (More here)

Or this regarding passing under the rod. In Ezekiel 20:37 it says,

And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant:

which Jamieson/Fausset/Brown’s Commentary says,

pass under the rod—metaphor from a shepherd who makes his sheep pass under his rod in counting them (Le 27:32; Jer 33:13). Whether you will or not, ye shall be counted as Mine

As the shepherd bunked down nightly, he would count each sheep to ensure they were all collected. As each one passed under his rod entering the sheepfold he would count them. Knowing these things could develop into a deeper study of agricultural practices in order to provide background context for scripture study, or simply knowing a little bit about what the rod or the channels of water helps provide  a better understanding of the verse.

There are many animals in the Bible either used in fat or referred to as symbols (like the ant in Proverbs 6:6). Donkeys are an animal mentioned frequently and used as beasts of burden to carry goods or people.

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. (Genesis 22:3)

Donkeys were part of the Law.

If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. (Exodus 23:4)

There are some famous donkeys in the Bible. Balaam’s donkey for example, spoke. Or was it God speaking through the beast?

Jesus’ Triumphal entry was on the back of a donkey. John 12:14 records,

And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

Initially, people who could afford them rode donkeys, such as Judges. (Judges 5:10). After that time, though, horses were imported, and high officials enjoyed riding white horses more than donkeys so they left the donkeys to the poorer folk. When Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on a donkey it was demonstrating his humility and meekness.

Donkeys were a beast of burden used frequently as the preferred animal because they were stoic and patient, and tended to panic less easily than horses. Physically,

Donkeys’ feet have a number of differences, including being more elastic, narrower in shape, and more upright than a horse’s. Donkeys can be prone to developing very long hooves as they do not chip and breakaway as a horse’s would do. The donkey’s digestive system is considerably more efficient than that of a similar sized pony. … Donkeys in general have a very efficient walking pace and to be honest, in most situations it is easier to walk at the donkeys pace rather than try and make them go at ours.  (source)

A boy and his donkey. This is Papallacta, high in the Andes.
The type of saddle has been in use since Inca times. EPrata photo

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9)

Bible topics: The Domestic Ass.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.