Of Donkeys and Our Faith DNA
By Carol Duerksen
I love my donkeys, noisy brays and all. So when I come across donkey stories in the Bible, I notice them. Balaam’s talking donkey is a favorite. But I didn’t know about the lost donkeys in I Samuel 9:1-10 until Meghan Larissa Good mentioned them in her book, The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today. (I highly recommend Good’s book, with or without the donkey stories.)
In this story, there’s a man named Kish who has a handsome son named Saul. He also has some donkeys who wandered off and didn’t come home. So Kish sends Saul and a servant boy out on a donkey-finding mission. They spent many days looking, but no wayward donkeys to be found. Finally, one day Saul throws in the towel. “Dad’s going to be more worried about what happened to us than the donkeys,” he says. “Let’s go back.” And the boy replies, “I happen to know that there’s a man of God in this town who knows things. Maybe we could check in with him.” Saul says, “But we don’t have anything to give him in payment. We are out of food. What would we give him?” And the boy says, “I happen to have a quarter. We can give that.” Saul says that sounds like a good plan.
As they near the town, they find out that “coincidentally,” the seer —the man who knows things—is on his way towards them. Because you see, Samuel the seer has been told by God that he will be meeting a young man that he should anoint as the next king of Israel.
They meet, and before Saul can explain anything, Samuel tells him that the donkeys have been found.
The story continues with the coronation of Saul as king of Israel.
Saul may have been on his way to being a King, but it was the servant boy who knew what to do when Saul’s anxiety erupted. It was the boy who wasn’t ready to give up and go home. It was the boy who knew about the seer. It was the boy who came up with the cash. It was the boy who calmed Saul’s insecurities and moved the plan forward for Saul to meet Samuel.
And the moral of the story is?
“It’s difficult to derive much of a straightforward moral—except perhaps never to leave home without emergency cash,” Good says. “The beauty and the challenge of reading biblical narratives is that there isn’t one right answer to what we make of them. Insight emerges when we find a pivotal intersection between the ancient people’s story and our own. Human nature, we will find, has not really changed, and the good news is that neither has God. That means that there is always something to learn from the experiences of those who came before us.”[i]
My first pivotal intersection with this story is the donkeys. But now that there are safely found, I can go deeper. I can see that there is wisdom to be found and appreciated in all ages of people, and all socio-economic classes. I can see the flaws beginning to show up that characterized Saul’s life. I can see how “things come together as they should.”
Meghan Larissa Good notes that rather than wondering about the moral of every little story in the Bible, it’s generally more useful to ask questions like “Who are these people, and what challenges are they facing? How are they similar to or different from challenges we face today? How are these people encountering God, or what is getting in their way? What might we learn from their failures or successes that help us navigate the world more fully aligned with God’s design?”[ii]
This, my friends, is an important part of our faith formation. Reading and processing the stories of our faith forefathers and mothers. Learning from them. Practicing and doing faith in today’s world, today’s circumstances. Writing down and telling the stories for the next generation. Past, present, and future are all wrapped up together in our faith DNA.
And may there always be a donkey story or two to be told.
[i] The Bible Unwrapped, Making Sense of Scripture Today; Meghan Larissa Good, Herald Press 2018, pages 125-126.
[ii] Ibid, page 123
Carol Duerksen is a freelance writer and editor, and on staff of Springs Forth! Faith Formation, Inc. which publishes multi-age curriculum online. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for her own donkey stories.