IVP - Strangely Dim - Do Donkeys Deceive?

October 3, 2008

Do Donkeys Deceive?

On this Friday for our Donkey Tale, I attempt to answer the urgent and, I'm sure, much-debated-in-coffee-shops-everywhere question, "Do donkeys ever lie?"

Have you noticed that the number of daily polls increases exponentially during election time? Someone seems to think it's imperative that we know every single day whether McCain or Obama appears to be leading in votes, which of their wives has cuter shoes, which presidential/vice presidential team would be most likely to win a bowling match if they squared off, etc., etc., etc. I know I can hardly face the day without knowing what the public thinks about McCain's tie choice when he was campaigning in Boise.

So, knowing you must feel the same way, I thought a donkey poll would be fitting for our Fortnight of Donkey Tales. You can just let us know your vote with a comment (which means, of course, that this will be a mostly un-anonymous poll, but we might as well all know where we stand when it comes to our opinions of donkeys.) So, here you go:

Do donkeys ever deceive?

__ I wouldn't trust a donkey if my ice cream depended on it.

__ I would let a donkey take care of my child for the day.

__ Why are we talking about donkeys so much?

While you're voting, here's something I know--without even polling you--that we'd all agree on: the usefulness of donkeys. The donkey references in the Bible clearly show donkeys being used to carry people, food and supplies for long trips. They saved people from having to do all the walking and carrying themselves, which would have made the already-tedious journeys even more long and tedious, and sometimes even impossible. As far as transportation went, donkeys seem to be the "jets" of the Old Testament. They get you there in half the time but cost you quite a bit of money.

Donkeys, then, are clearly useful, but are they ever deceptive? I'll give you my opinion (this is your cue to stop reading and vote if you haven't done so yet). Allow me to turn your attention to not one but two Old Testament passages: Joshua 9 and 2 Samuel 16:1-4.

In Joshua we find the Israelites defeating--and destroying--the nations around them as the Lord makes them victorious. By Joshua 9, they've gained quite a reputation for themselves. At this point, their neighbors, the Gibeonites, are terrified that they'll be the next victims, so they concoct a little plan to secure their safety:

They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, "We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us."

Tricky, huh? The Israelites, being as smart as, well, donkeys, buy it. They fail to seek the Lord and agree to make a treaty with the Gibeonites, which eventually contributes to the Israelites' downfall, disobedience and exile.

Move ahead some years to David in 2 Samuel 16. As usual, he's running from an enemy--this time his own son Absalom, who's trying to steal David's throne. At one point in his running, he comes upon Ziba, the steward of Saul's disabled grandson Mephibosheth (we'll call him "Bo" for short), whom David loves like a son:

[Ziba] had a string of donkeys saddled and loaded with two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred cakes of raisins, a hundred cakes of figs and a skin of wine. . . . [He said to David,] "The donkeys are for the king's household to ride on, the bread and fruit are for the men to eat, and the wine is to refresh those who become exhausted in the desert."

Nice, huh? Touching. Thoughtful. When David asks where Bo is, Ziba says he stayed behind in hopes that the kingdom would be taken from David and restored to Saul's family line. David, feeling betrayed by Bo, tells Ziba that he can have everything that belongs to Bo. End of story? No.

In 2 Samuel 19, when David and Bo next see each other, Bo reveals his side of the story: "Ziba my servant betrayed me. And he has slandered your servant to my lord the king."

Apparently, David doesn't have time to decide who to believe (he is, after all, running for his life and trying to regain his kingdom), so he tells Bo to divide what he has with Ziba. But in the honesty poll for Ziba and Bo, Bo gets my vote; he and David's relationship as described in earlier passages seems too solid for Bo to all of a sudden betray David. (We'll save that poll for another day.)

So there you go. Two Old Testament stories in which donkeys--something useful and good--are used to deceive. And though I haven't seen a donkey in person yet this year, these stories feel like my life. Every day I'm confronted with images and words that sound good, look good--and maybe even are good in some circumstances--but that ultimately tell me something deceptive about who I am, or who I should be. And I, like the Israelites, am quick to believe them and forget who I belong to; like David, I'm quick to forget who's been loyal and truthful to me consistently.

Here's what I believe, no matter what the polls say: God is the source of all truth. So if a donkey comes to your door, be discerning. Be slow to believe what it says (because we all know, without taking a poll, that donkeys for sure can talk!), and let the Spirit's still, small voice within speak to you over the braying.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at October 3, 2008 8:43 AM Bookmark and Share

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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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