What You Don't See - Numbers 22-24



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There’s always something outside our range of vision. 

There’s always more than we are able to see.

Blind spots. We all have them. And if you drive regularly, you’ve probably been guilty of not seeing someone you should have when changing lanes. Blind spots in life are gaps that others can often see in us but we cannot.  And if we’re open, we can be taught how to account for these and make the changes necessary to become better humans. But this requires openness and humility. And these ingredients, while socially popular are in surprisingly short supply especially when it comes to our habits and preferences. We want to appear open and humble to outsiders but those closer to us often see the other side of things. 

Expand the playing field from social life to all of reality and we come across another challenge. What is beyond what humanity can measure for all our science, philosophy and theology? Are there any blindspots? Who can say what lurks beyond the scope of our scientific, social and philosophical progress? Will we be laughed at 100 years from now for the deep convictions we hold as a culture today? 

There is a Good and Just God who Sees the Whole We don’t see

The Bible warns that we belong to a shortsighted species. A people that put far too much stock in the measurements and assumptions of the here and now. A people that, should a Good and Just God exist, would never be patient or perceptive enough to trust in that God. Especially if that God had to lead them through difficult times to get to a space of peace, wholeness and goodness.

We see this in the book of Job when Job himself is confronted by the creator asking him where he was when the earth was founded. “Do you know the end from the beginning, Job? Can you stand back and see the whole picture?” The Psalmist acknowledges God’s domain as being one that transcends every possible human limitation of understanding and seeing. “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.” “You know when I sit down and when I rise up”. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it” (Ps 139). 

How many times have you been shown the fool because you didn’t see what was really happening? How many times are we acting so foolishly before God because we don’t see even a sliver of what’s really going on? It’s enough to make one stop and ponder. To slow down and put a hand over one’s mouth lest they speak rashly. To humble oneself in penitential prayer before the lord. “Oh lord, have mercy.”

Balaam

Numbers is just such a story. A story of Israel and a parable for us. It involves a prophet. But not a typical prophet. Not a prophet from Israel, God’s chosen people who were to be the bearers of God’s name and His words. It was a foreign prophet, even a sorcerer. Someone in whom we might not expect God’s words to be found. Someone we might not see as a reliable witness to reality. And yet, God speaks to Balaam. Balaam is a seer. A man who can see beyond the confines of everyday happenings into divine things. Things hidden from the typical human. So much so that he was in high demand. Kings paid for his services.

But Balaam himself becomes an example of not seeing for all his “seeing” in this story. It unfolds like this… (see Numbers 22-24)

Israel arrives in the Plains of Moab opposite the Land of Promise. The King of Moab, Balak, is much afraid. He immediately thinks of Balaam. A man who communes with the gods and whatever he speaks comes to be! If Balak can hire Balaam to curse Israel, his fears of this great nation will be gone. But Balaam says that YHWH will not allow him to go. 

But Balak is not to be denied. He insists! This time God allows Balaam to go but he must ONLY speak His words. And this is where we come upon a very strange scene. As Balaam is riding his donkey to go to Balak, the Angel of YHWH comes to kill Balaam! The donkey sees the threat and pulls to the side to avoid danger. Balaam, the mighty sorcerer and “seer” does not see(!) and strikes his donkey. This happens 3 times before YHWH opens the mouth of the donkey and speaks through it. Then the Angel of YHWH reveals himself to Balaam. So, the Super-Prophet misses what a donkey sees. And YHWH speaks through the donkey’s mouth to save the prophet from certain death.

Balaam might look like a noble character in this story. But it also looks like he may be saying and doing things to drive the price of cursing up. Other parts of the Bible will point to Balaam as a wicked opportunist. And we could certainly read his role in Numbers this way. It would explain God’s anger when Balaam goes to meet with Balak. And, it would reveal a thematic link between God speaking through a donkey and God speaking through a money grubbing false prophet intending to curse His covenant people.

Balaam encountered God and it was revealed how much he couldn’t s

Israel

Israel has a role to play here too. The Book of Numbers has highlighted Israel’s shortsightedness when it comes to trusting YHWH. They moan and complain. They fail to take the land when YHWH says go, and they rebelliously seek out war when YHWH says don’t go. They mount a rebellion to head back to Egypt under new leadership and they seek to execute Moses and Aaron. And yet, while they are rebelling, acting out of fear, and generally not trusting in the goodness and protection of YHWH, they are being blessed, far away and unseen on some mountain top by a pagan sorcerer. God speaking his words of covenant blessing to blind Israel through a Pagan Sorcerer. 

The contrast between sight and reality could not be greater in this scene. Not only are they unaware and acting contrary to a God of provision and power, they are being blessed by that God even as they curse Him. 

Us

And so we read. This is not just a matter of history, it is a matter of our story too. Oh to think of the blessing, patience and love being spoken over us even as we grumble, doubt through and bitterly complain of any adversity. It makes the weekly call to confession when we gather so important. To remember God’s great love and patience for His children as we stumble through the difficulties and challenges of this life. To hear His words of pardon and blessing. To bend our knees when we remember that God is God and we are not. And to remember...there’s always more than we are able to see. And that should give us great hope.