IVP - Strangely Dim - An Ass and His Grass

September 26, 2008

An Ass and His Grass

How much can be learned from a donkey? Plenty. Here's Donkey Tale #5 as we near the halfway point in our Fortnight.

My sister and I have been slowly making our way through the DVDs of the Planet Earth documentary series created by the BBC. First aired on television in 2006, it won an Emmy for its phenomenal footage, some of which has never been caught on video before. If you haven't seen any of the series, you should rent it or borrow it. Today, if possible. (It is, after all, Friday. What else do you have to do this weekend??)

Even if you're not usually into documentaries, especially ones about nature, you should give it a try. It's fascinating, beautiful, awe-inspiring, incredible. I have an even deeper sense of awe and worship for a God who is able to think up and create animals, plants, climates, ecosystems, surviving together in a delicate balance, dependent on each other, and each with just the right characteristics to help them survive and thrive in the place they live.

Now, granted, according to the Bible, we were created above the animals. After God created humans--in his own image--he said, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground" (Gen 1:28 TNIV). We certainly have abilities and capacities that animals can't imagine (imagination most likely being one of them!). And yet, because God is almighty and all-powerful and all-wise, plants and animals are pretty darn complex. In fact, we can learn from them, as scientists and lovers of nature and the producers of Planet Earth know well.

Job knew this too. In some ways, it's surprising that Job thought he needed to learn from anything or anyone. He was, after all, "the greatest man among all the people of the East" (Job 1:3). Yet verse one fleshes out "greatest": he was "blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil."

So it seems that, though Job was extraordinarily wealthy, he was also humble. He didn't take what he had for granted. And he had a lot: "seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys" (1:3).

Verse 3 also says that Job had a lot of servants, so while I'm sure Job himself didn't care for his animals, I'm guessing he knew quite a bit about what was happening with them. I imagine him taking walking tours of his vast property, checking in with servants and shepherds, meeting with his managers to see how flocks and herds are doing, what food is needed, how many new animals were born, etc. The sheer numbers of his animals make me inclined to say he was an expert in his time on sheep, camels, oxen and, of course, donkeys.

With that many animals around, it's only natural that Job would have them on the brain. So it's only natural that, when Job's "friend" Eliphaz (give me a donkey any day over a friend like this) starts judging and accusing Job of sin as the cause of his misfortune, Job uses animals as an analogy to illustrate his innocence:

Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass,
or an ox bellow when it has fodder? (Job 6:5)

The answer, of course, is no. And I'm guessing that Job's "domesticated" donkeys were always well-fed, always well taken care of, so they just might have been the quietest donkeys in Uz--no complaints, no obnoxious braying for no good reason.

And Job, as we know from the beginning of his story, took a hint: he lived in gratitude for what he had, recognizing it as a blessing from the Lord--no complaints, no obnoxious whining that he didn't have six hundred donkeys instead of only five hundred.

Eliphaz either didn't know donkeys or just simply was a lousy friend, because he didn't appreciate Job's line of reasoning. Or maybe he's a lot like me and went through most of his days moaning about what he didn't have instead of being grateful for what he did, not knowing his needs from his wants, not recognizing all the good gifts in his life.

It's true, Job didn't have much to complain about at the beginning of his story. Yet, if you'll remember, he still blessed God's name after he lost it all. And in American culture today, I suspect that "more" does not usually bring gratitude; often it seems to bring only more desire for more.

So take a hint from wild donkeys with their grass: stop your complaining. Then use your human capabilities to actually notice the good gifts you have--spiritual blessings, relationships, provision of food and shelter--and actually stop and give thanks. I'll work at doing the same. And maybe, eventually, instead of being people who think the grass is always greener in someone else's yard, we'll become people characterized by gratitude.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at September 26, 2008 7:56 AM Bookmark and Share


So glad to be able to get your articles again.Enjoyed this very much,- amessage that's always timely, and good to be using the O.T.Donkeys can still be useful, even today!

Comment by: Dorothy Pape at September 26, 2008 6:48 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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