Posted in natural history, theology

How ’bout them donkeys?!

By Elizabeth Prata

There are a lot of animals, plants, and activities in the Bible that I have little knowledge about. It was fun learning the process for creating purple dye from murex shells. Or how to get from reeds growing along the Nile to linen garments. And what was it about the sweet onions that the Wandering Hebrews complained that they missed them so much?

I’ve been thinking about donkeys.

I don’t know why.

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Once I started looking in the Bible at the topic of donkeys, there was a lot more there than I’d thought. This turns out to be the case with every topic I delve into inside the Bible.

Donkeys are mentioned in Old Testament 133 times.

Genesis (20)
Exodus (12)
Numbers (16)
Deuteronomy (6)
Joshua (4)
Judges (12)
1 Samuel (16)
2 Samuel (4)
1 Kings (7)
2 Kings (5)
1 Chronicles (3)
2 Chronicles (1)
Ezra (1)
Nehemiah (2)
Job (8)
Psalm (1)
Proverbs (1)
Isaiah (6)
Jeremiah (3)
Ezekiel (1)
Daniel (1)
Hosea (1)
Zechariah (2)

And in the New Testament 7 times.
Matthew (3)
Luke (1)
John (2)
2 Peter (1)

Donkeys are first mentioned in Genesis 12:16. It was when Abram met Pharaoh and Pharaoh liked the look of Sarai and took her, believing as per Abram that she was Abram’s sister, not his wife. Pharaoh gave Abram some gifts in exchange for Sarai, including male donkeys and female donkeys.

Donkeys were domesticated around 4000 BC by the tribes living in what we now call Saudi Arabia.  They were used on farms and in caravans as beasts of burden. The cave paintings in Egypt’s Beni Hasan, estimated to have been drawn at about 1890 BC depict one such caravan.


In many cases, donkeys were preferred because they could travel across the desert well, and ate the thin, thorny grasses that were hard to find and that camels refused to eat. (Info source Public Life in Bible Times, JI Packer, Tenney, White).

Another mention of donkeys is in Genesis 16:12. Hagar had run away from Sarah because Sarah was treating Hagar poorly. In the desert, the Angel of the LORD found her crying. He prophesied that eventually all would be well, she would bear a son named Ishmael who would sire multitudes. He also said that her son, Ishmael, would be “a wild donkey of a man”.

What we know today of the wild donkey is originated from the African Wild Ass.

They live in the deserts and other arid areas of the Horn of Africa, in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. It formerly had a wider range north and west into Sudan, Egypt, and Libya.

The African wild ass is primarily active in the cooler hours between late afternoon and early morning, seeking shade and shelter amongst the rocky hills during the day. The Somali wild ass is also very agile and nimble-footed, capable of moving quickly across boulder fields and in the mountains. On the flat, it has been recorded reaching speeds of 43 mph. In keeping with these feats, its soles are particularly hard and its hooves grow very quickly. Wikipedia

Wild donkeys are good hunters, aggressive if challenged, defend themselves with hard kicks, and are perfectly suited to the desert. They can go without water for days, and have acute vision, hearing, and smell.

Just as Ishmael was prophesied to be a wild donkey of a man, when Jacob prophesied of the tribes, he named Issachar thus: “Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds. He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant,
so he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant at forced labor.” (Genesis 49: 14-15).

So, donkey was used in the Bible as a descriptor several times.

Donkeys are often included in the inventory of wealth when listing a person’s assets.

I think we all remember the remarkable thing the LORD did in opening the mouth of Balaam’s donkey and making her speak.

Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” (Numbers 22:28).

I love that the verse is gender specific. I also love that Balaam argued back!

And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” (Numbers 22:29).

Oh, Balaam! LOL.

Another famous mention of a donkey in the Bible is Samson’s use of the jawbone of a donkey to kill a thousand men. And not just a jawbone, but a ‘fresh’ jawbone. The fresher the bone was the stronger it was. It hadn’t become brittle in the sun.

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.” (Judges 15:15-16).

Abigail was riding a donkey when she met up with David. (1 Samuel 25:20). Caleb’s daughter Acsah was mentioned as riding a donkey. (Judges 1:14). It is likely, though not mentioned, that Mary was riding a donkey when she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for the census.

The most famous donkey of all is the one that Jesus rode into Jerusalem for His passion.

saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. (Matthew 21:2).

Donkeys by this time were used as their beasts of burden by the common people. Kings and nobles looked down on donkeys, and used horses and camels. Zechariah 9:9 reads,

The Coming King of Zion
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.

It indicated that the coming Messiah would be arriving in humble estate.

And He did!

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!” (John 12:14-15).

The second time Jesus comes it will not be in humble manner on a donkey. No! He is riding a war horse!

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in[b] blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Oh what a day that will be!

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

One thought on “How ’bout them donkeys?!

  1. Thanks for the article about donkeys in the Bible. I love donkeys and didn’t realize they were mentioned so many times! I’m going to read through them all just for fun.

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