I'm not sure what happened last Sunday. Our Youth Group took a little snow skiing trip and I guess maybe they felt the need for comedy so they invited me to come. I hadn't been snow skiing for eighteen years. I think that somewhere down deep in their sweet little hearts they enjoyed seeing me going two hundred miles per hour out of control and into a pile of rocks. I still feel it! When I stood up and checked for broken bones or missing body parts, I realized there were two of me. I saw four skis: they weren't on my feet. I saw two slopes. "Something's wrong." I wasn't about to ski again because I was having a hard enough time with two skis. I wasn't going with four. Finally my vision cleared and I swore I would not get on those things again, until after lunch. And I proceeded with greater maturity, greater caution, more sense, and more pain than I had had until that time. And, by the way, one of you that was in the van, you left your glasses and they're in my office so maybe you've had some vision problems this week, too. So, see me afterwards.
Have you ever experienced double vision? It's no fun. I've met with some of you when you've come from the hospital or something and something wasn't right and you were seeing two of everything. You know, sometimes it's a little fun. In some of your "Little Children's Quiet Library Bags" there are these little lenses (kaleidoscope). I like these little lenses that are in some of your children s Quiet Library bags. Except for one, that is, because I swiped this one out of one of those bags yesterday. Sorry kid. The pastor had need of it. These things are great. You can look through an see multiple images of everything. I like watching the pastor preach through one of these. You see lots of preachers but the sermon isn't any longer! Looking from here, the congregation has grown tremendously but I'm sure the offering isn't any greater. Maybe I should loan this lens to our offering counters!
But try walking with one of these. I tried it a while ago, walking from that door to this door. I walked about three steps and said, "I'm not going that route. I couldn't see. I was getting a little nauseous. And I thought, "Whoa, the world is spinning. I don't like to see with double vision. These lenses are fun, until you start to take them seriously. If you start to do something with them and you're going to crash. You're going to get hurt. The same is true for spiritual double vision! In the book of Numbers chapter 22 we find the story of a man with serious double vision. His name: Balaam.
The Israelites are coming out of the wilderness finally and they are preparing to enter the promised land of Canaan when these events happen. Numbers 22:1-4. Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.
Now, Balak, son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.
The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, "This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field." He is worried. He turns to his neighboring Midianite friends and says, "We need to get together on this one. What's going on? This is too much for both of us to handle."
Let's figure out who's who in this story. The Moabites are actually related to the Israelites because they were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, through his incestuous relationship with his oldest daughter. You remember the story of Lot. The son of that union was named Moab. And these are the Moabites. The descendants of Lot's union with his youngest daughter were the Ammonites. The Midianites were also related to the Israelites because Midian was the son of Abraham through Keturah whom he married after Sarah's death. What a soap opera! Because of these family ties, God had instructed the Israelites not to bother them (Deuteronomy 2). "This is their land. You can camp there, but you are not going to mess with them. They're your relatives. I'm going to give you the land across the Jordan." But the Moabites did not know that God had commanded the Israelites not to mess with them. And so they are all in great fear and perplexity because they have seen what they did to everybody else, and said, "There goes the neighborhood. We're in for it." Just as had been predicted in Exodus 15 in the song of Moses and Miriam. It was said there that the Moabites would be terrified of Israel.
So what does Balak, king of Moab do? Numbers 22:4-6. So Balak son of Zippor, who was king at that time, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the River in his native land. Balak said:
"A people has come out of Egypt, they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the country. For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed."
Balak realizes that this foe is too great for them to handle. He can see the pillar of fire that is Israel's God and decides to fight fire with fire. He tries to get involved in supernatural warfare to help even the odds. Balak seems to know that his own priests and gods were incapable of such business so he sends for outside help. And this is really outside help.
Balaam doesn't live in his camp. Balaam doesn't live in his country. Balaam lived in Mesopotamia, which is currently Iraq: four hundred miles away. That could be up to a twenty-day journey. Well, who was Balaam? Balaam had once been a good prophet of God but had apostatized due to his lust for fortune and fame and now sold his services to the highest bidder.
Verses 7-8. The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, (four hundred miles later) they told him what Balak had said.
"Spend the night here," Balaam said to them, "and I will bring you back the answer the Lord gives me." So the Moabite princes stayed with him. Balaam probably knew at this point what God's answer would be. Don't we often know deep down what God's will is? But sometimes we like to try to wiggle out of that a little bit. We want some lee-way, and I believe that is what Balaam is doing by saying, "Stay the night with me. Let me see what God has to say about this." Balaam has his eye on that wealth.
Verse 9. God came to Balaam and asked, "Who are these men with you?" Do you think God knew who they were? Of course He knew who they were. This is a rebuke to Balaam. It kind of reminds me of many other statements in the Bible, like, "Adam, where are you?" "Who told you you were naked?" "Where is your brother Able?" "Who are these men with you?"
Verse 10-13. Balaam said to God, "Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: 'A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.'"
But God said to Balaam, "Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed." "You can't curse what I have blessed."
The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak's princes, "Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you." Notice that he says nothing about the people being blessed. "God is just not going to let me go." I picture him saying this in a pout. He sees that wealth headed four hundred miles back to its homeland.
Verse 14. So the Moabite princes returned to Balak and said, "Balaam refused to come with us." And they take away some more of the message. The messengers don't even mention that it was because of the Lord's command that Balaam did not come. "He just refused to come." So the King assumes that his price for service is higher that first thought. "We need to go and ask him again with a little bit more wealth." Remember the distance that has to be traveled between these verses.
Verse 15-18. Then Balak set other princes, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said:
"This is what Balak son of Zippor says; "Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me"
But Balaam answered them, "Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God." I wish it had ended right there. We could have said that this man stood up for what he believed to be right. But that is not how it ends. Let's look at verse 19. Now stay here tonight as the others did, and I will find out what else the Lord will tell me."
He said he couldn't go but he'll see what else God would have to say. maybe He's going to change His mind a bit."
How often are we guilty of the same thing. Wanting to do our own thing with at least an excuse from God if not His blessing.
Verse 20. That night God came to Balaam and said, "Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you." Here, the word "Since" is translated more correctly in the King James as "if." "If these men come to summon you." Sometimes God punishes us by allowing us to go our way and thus reaping what we sow. The book Patriarchs and Prophets by E.G. White brings out that "Balaam had received permission to go with the messengers from Moab if they came in the morning to call him. But, annoyed with the delay, and expecting another refusal, they set out on their homeward journey without further consultation with him. Every excuse for complying with the request of Balak had now been removed. But Balaam was determined to secure the reward...." so he hurried to catch up with them. This would explain the anger of God for his actions.
Verse 21-23. Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, she turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat her to get her back on the road. Wow, we can visualize that. Sometimes God disciplines us by sending us on a detour to keep us from harm.
Verse 24-25. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with the walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam's foot against it. So he beat her again. It reminds me when my dad used to give me rides down the hall to my bedroom. He liked to crush my foot on the wall and brush me off. It was a donkey ride and we were playing, Balaam. But this was no laughing matter. Sometimes God disciplines us by allowing us to be hurt between a rock and a hard place.
Verse 26-27. Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord she lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat her with his staff. Sometimes God disciplines us by stopping us in our tracks. Can you picture Balaam sitting on the kneeling donkey with his feet on the ground. How humiliating.
Sometimes we take out our own guilt on somebody else like he did to his donkey. Just when Balaam thought that things couldn't get worse, they did. Balaam was having a bad day. Things were going wrong right and left. Then verse 28 happens!
Then the Lord opened the donkey's mouth, and she said to Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?" To add insult to injury, now his donkey is talking back to him, or, as it says in 2 Peter 2:16, But he was rebuked by a donkey--a beast without speech--who spake with a man's voice. Let's not get distracted here. A talking donkey is not the amazing part of this story! The Bible is full of miracles. God is all powerful. It is no harder for God to make a donkey talk than it is for Him to make a rock talk! This is not the amazing part of the story. God can do anything! The amazing part of the story happens in the next verse.
Verse 29. Balaam answered the donkey. Now we're getting amazing. "You have made a fool of me!" I wonder who is making a fool of who at this point. "If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now." Balaam answered the donkey as if he were in a conversation with a human being. His double vision had so blinded him that he could no longer see anything clearly. He could not discern the very power of God before his very ears! I often hear people wish that God spoke His will more clearly. But, maybe we are not listening clearly because His will is not our will. We want to go our own direction even with God's blessing.
And did you notice this? Balaam is on his way to try to destroy Israel and he can't even destroy his own donkey! We cannot change the world unless we have allowed ourselves to be changed.
Verse 30. The donkey said to Balaam, "Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I have been in the habit of doing this to you?"
"No, he said." The donkey delivered her remarks with the poise of a skilled lawyer. Balaam is forced to answer "No." Thus the donkey is vindicated and Balaam is wrong.
Verse 31-33. Then the Lord opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell face down.
The angel of the Lord asked him, "Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her." The Angel of the Lord possibly the very Son of God. I love the compassion that this angel shows to the donkey. God loves us even more so lets not act like donkeys. Verse 34 shows us just how quickly Balaam's double vision returned.
Verse 34. Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, "I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back." If? Can you believe this? "IF" you are displeased? What has all this been about. God has told him not to go. God had detoured him. God has crushed his foot. God has stopped him in his tracks. God had talked to him through an animal. God has told him in person. And now Balaam wonders if God is displeased! It's a good thing that I'm not God because I would have lost all patience with Balaam and poked him with that drawn sword! Enough of this. But God has other plans. And don't mistake God's patience with God's approval.
Verse 35-38. The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, "Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you." So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.
When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the Moabite town on the Arnon border, at the edge of his territory. Balak said to Balaam, "Did I not send you an urgent summons? Why didn't you come to me? Am I really not able to reward you?"
"Well, I have come to you now," Balaam replied. "But can I say just anything? I must speak only what God puts in my mouth." Just like a mealy-mouthed politician. "You've asked me to come to do something but I'm lowering your expectations right now. I'm not going to be able to do everything like you want." How sad, Balaam wished for wealth and standing more the clear vision of God's will. And there he tried his best to serve Balak. But it didn't work. It's so amazing what lengths people will go through to do their own will even when they know god's will.
Numbers 23 and 24 are so amazing. We find that just like the donkey, God is putting words in Balaam's mouth! He sees the children of Israel, sacrifices a few animals, and blesses them. Look at chapter 23 :11
In Numbers 23:11-12 we find his first attempt at a curse. He's been there. He's offered sacrifices, he's killed animals to try to appease God and he tries his best to curse Israel, but he only blesses them. In verse 11, Balak said to Balaam, "What have you done to me? I brought you to curse my enemies, but you have done nothing but bless them!"
And he answered, "Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?" So Balak takes Balaam to another vantage point in order to get better results. Come with me to another place where you can see them; you will see only a part but not all of them. And from there, curse them for me." And he tries again , and again instead of cursing he blesses Israel. Look at verse 25.
Verse 25-26. Then Balak said to Balaam, "Neither curse them at all nor bless them at all!" "Don't just say anything." But, Balaam answered, "Did I not tell you I must do whatever the Lord says?" Then they try again from another place and with the same results. Look at chapter 24:10.
Numbers 24:10-11. Then Balak's anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, "I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times. Now leave at once and go home! I said I would reward you handsomely, but the Lord has kept you from being rewarded. Does this sound familiar? The donkey says "Why did you beat me these three times?" And Balak says "Why did you bless them these tree times?" A person that tries to have it both ways, a person with double vision just can't be trusted!
Does this sound familiar? "Why did you bless them these three times?" "Why did you beat me these three times?" All this time, Israel is blissfully unaware of the spiritual struggle going on around them. Just as wee are, not knowing the powers that are warring against each other for our benefit. Yet God cleared Balaam's vision one last time and he blesses Israel again and even prophecies about the coming Savior. It amazing what God can do with a dumb donkey and a dumb prophet.
How sad. Balaam had every opportunity to come back to God but he allowed the pleasures of the world to keep him from the pleasures of eternity with the God who loved him to the very end. Balaam also could have been used to convert the neighbors of Israel to the true God but his double vision made him look like a confused fool. Who would be attracted to that?
How many donkeys have you beaten this week, hearing God's voice but going through closed doors anyway? Have you felt His love as he detoured your path? Have you felt His love as he allowed you to come between a rock and a hard place? Have you felt His love when he stopped you in your tracks?
It is time to have our double vision cleared up by putting self aside and putting God in the center of our lives. With God as our vision we can be used by Him in wonderful ways!
Major Sources: Patriarchs and Prophets E.G. White Balaam and His Talking Donkey Larry Wood All the Men of the Bible Lockyer
Hymn of Praise: #334, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing Scripture: Numbers 22:16-18 Hymn of Response: #547, Be Thou My Vision
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last updated February/3/2002 by Bob Beckett.