Christmas Animals Advent Series: The Donkey

Advent has begun, and we turn toward the Bethlehem manger. What new Christmas insights can we discover from the old, beautiful story of Jesus’ birth? In Christian tradition, the manger animals point to some wonderful truths. This week, let’s meditate on the manger’s donkey.

A donkey carries the load of another.
A donkey is a burden carrier.

Did Mary Ride a Donkey?

Actually, the donkey is not mentioned in the biblical Christmas story. But early church history established the animal in art and drama. Commonsense indicates that a pregnant Mary would need transportation to travel some 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Even if Joseph and Mary were poor, it is not unreasonable to believe they would find a donkey in their village to borrow for their journey. Carpenter Joseph probably used a donkey many times to carry his wood.

The photo above from the movie The Nativity Story shows Joseph and Mary on a Jerusalem street as they travel the final six miles to Bethlehem. Do you think Jesus stirred in Mary’s womb while in the Holy City of his destiny? Some thirty years later he would ride on a donkey colt among waving palm branches and the shouts of Hosanna.

“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” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV).

Donkeys like buddies
Donkeys fare better with a  buddy (courtesy of Pixabay).

The Talking Donkey

There are only two animals that speak in Scripture: the garden serpent and Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22). Balaam is a nasty prophet for hire—so evil in leading people away from God that he is mentioned in 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11; and Revelation 2:14. Also, the prophet is so blind to God’s truth that he cannot see what his donkey sees on the road of disobedience. Balaam’s donkey acts like a typical donkey. He stops when he senses danger, he pushes against a rock wall for defense, and he refuses to budge. Balaam beats his donkey mercilessly three times for not following his lead. During the third beating, God opens the animal’s mouth to speak to Balaam, reminding him that he, the donkey,  has been a faithful servant to his master.

Although Balaam is corrupt, God opens his mouth to speak blessings rather than curses on the Israelites. Among those blessings is a future Christmas vision and prophecy:

…The oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High,

who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel…” (Numbers 24:17, ESV).

Stubborn Donkey Stereotype

People who love donkeys protest the saying, “Stubborn as a donkey.” Equine expert Ben Hart says, “A donkey knows plenty of things, but he’s wary of things he hasn’t seen before, things he doesn’t know about. A donkey isn’t good at solving problems that are acceptable to humans. Our problem is that we don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are….A donkey’s nature isn’t to be stubborn or difficult, but purely to learn and survive” (from The Wisdom of Donkeys–Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World by Andy Merrifield).

The Donkey Legend

If you look at the donkey’s back you will discover darker fur in the shape of a cross. Legend says the Palm Sunday donkey could not look at the horror of Jesus on the cross. When the animal turned his back, the cross’s shadow was lovingly tattooed upon him.

The dark brown markings in the form of a cross on a donkey's back inspired a Christian legend.
The dark brown markings in the form of a cross on a donkey’s back inspired a Christian legend.

I never thought much about donkeys until the past two weeks, but I now have a greater appreciation for them. Donkeys are sturdy, dependable, good listeners with their big ears, affectionate, and loyal. Perhaps these are qualities we can cultivate in ourselves during this first week of Advent. And maybe, like a donkey braying its ridiculously loud “Eeyore, eeyore, eeyore!” we can joyfully shout out too:

Joy to the World

Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! The Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Lyrics by Isaac Watts


The movie jacket of The Nativity Story shows the main actors,--Joseph, Mary, Herod, Herod's son, and a star and Roman soldiers on white horses in the background.
The Nativity Story, 2006, stars Keisha Castle-Hughes and Shohreh Aghdashioo. Rated PG, it is a good choice for older children with the warning that the Bethlehem massacre is short and intense.
This book cover shows a donkey with a daisy in his mouth.
I enjoyed reading this book Flash by Rachel Anne Ridge (Tyndale, 2015). The book jacket says Flash is about “the homeless donkey who taught me about life, faith, and second chances.”

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Writer and editor, desiring to entertain and enlighten, focusing on the good, beautiful and true in the present and the past.

2 thoughts on “Christmas Animals Advent Series: The Donkey”

  1. Enjoyed the blog. Maybe I can learn to be a better listener. Sheep – not a baaaad choice for next week. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  2. Good start to Advent! Hope you are having a wonderful weekend in Cali. Will look forward to our next advent animal…

    Cindy replies: Thank you, Shelly. Next Advent animal is sheep.

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