The other night, after meeting Glimfeather the Owl in C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair, Theia said to me, “Papa, talking animals are only in stories, aren’t they?”
“Are they?” I asked.
“There aren’t talking animals in our world,” she replied. “Only in stories.”
At first, I acted as if I was just teasing her. “There are talking animals in our world, too,” I said. She denied it, insisting that there aren’t. I insisted there were. She laughed, sure I was teasing, and insisted that there weren’t.
But I’ve read the Bible to her and she remembers it. “Do you remember the serpent who talked to Eve in the Garden?” I asked. She did. “And do remember when we read the story about Balaam the prophet and how his donkey talked to him?” Again, she did. “That wasn’t just a story,” I said. “That was in our world. That really happened. So animals in our world can talk.”
Stop a moment and think about that. When it comes to the serpent, it’s easy to say that the serpent spoke because it was impelled to do so by Satan who was somehow linked up with or inhabiting the serpent. After all, the Bible does speak of Satan as “the serpent of old” (Rev. 12), thereby identifying the tempter of Genesis 3 with the devil. So, we conclude, snakes don’t talk — unless, of course, the devil is speaking to them.
But that doesn’t account for Balaam’s donkey. I can imagine someone maintaining that it was really God who was speaking to Balaam, using the donkey’s voicebox to do so, and so people sometimes say, “God can speak through a donkey, and so he can speak through you, too” or something like that. But look at the story. It doesn’t say that God was speaking to Balaam through the donkey; it says that the donkey spoke. And what’s more, the donkey draws on its memory of its past good behavior: “Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” (Num 22:30). It was YHWH who opened the mouth of the donkey, that’s true, but it was the donkey who spoke to Balaam (22:28).
And that means that not just in Narnia, not just in fairy tales, not just in fiction but in this very world in which we live, there have been — and could be — talking animals.
“Yes,” Theia said. “But they don’t talk to us very often.” True. But maybe someday.
Whenever the Word of God comes, it is an end to business as usual. Some people taste life, others taste death, and there is conflict between the quick and the dead. God sends confusion to those who have chosen death, and gives miraculous persevering strength to those who have chosen life. Eventually, the wicked are judged and the redeemed are gathered around God. God lets His Word loose among us to create new life, thresh out the husks and gather the wheat into His barn. He calls the sheep out from the goats and brings them home. He disturbs us to bring us true rest.
Jesus’ parables were a two-edged sword. They forced the believers to wrestle with spiritual truths. They also confused and incited the unbelievers to a showdown that would expose their true natures and hasten their destruction. The Bible is the same. It is living water or a cup of destruction depending upon who is drinking.
The Bible is not an easy book to understand. It takes time, discipline, meditation, a childlike imagination — and the indispensable guidance of the Spirit. God sent it not just as spiritual food but also as a regular workout that brings strength and maturity. Like Jacob, we are to wrestle with it, obeying in faith what we have already learned before God reveals any more. It is a process deliberately designed by God to align us to His way of thinking, to make us wise and mature, able to judge between good and evil. — Michael Bull, Totus Christus: A Biblical Theology of the Whole Christ, 9.
James Jordan, commenting on Israel’s failure to thoroughly conquer Canaan:
It is a temptation to settle down and enjoy the fruits of victory before the victory is fully accomplished. The land was essentially but not thoroughly conquered. This temptation was not unique to ancient Israel. Christianity captured the Roman Empire essentially but not thoroughly. The Reformation captured Northern Europe essentially but not thoroughly. God does promise peace and prosperity as the fruit of victory, but only when the victory is thorough. It is dangerous to settle down too soon and too much. The war is real, and it is never really over. Eternal vigilance is the price of holiness. — Judges: A Practical and Theological Commentary, 28.
The Son of Man must suffer, for is he not the Son of Man? Christ takes Man upon him where he finds him, not in immortality, but in corruption, not in paradise, but expelled and in the wilderness. Adam is tempted in paradise, and then driven forth; Christ is first driven forth, then tempted, for he begins where Adam is, not where Adam was…. It is not enough that Christ should suffer Adam’s temptation and vanquish it; he must suffer Adam’s death besides, and vanquish that. — Austin Farrer, A Study in Saint Mark, 280.