For the last few weeks, I’ve been spending my time in Numbers. It’s an odd book, really. It reads partly like a history book and partly like an action movie script but if you take the time to digest it, there is some really beautiful, life-giving God stuff in there.
Margaret Feinberg calls it a “sacred echo” – that when it’s really important, God doesn’t just speak it once. He echoes it until you get it.
Sometimes my life is nothing but echoes, like last year when the only word that kept popping up in conversations with my people was the word risk. Which, is why you’re now reading this blog.
Then this year, there’s this sacred echo that I’m not ready to admit to yet but I know I can’t keep running away from it. Though, it would be much easier to just do that and go about my day and pretend like I’m just crazy. But I’m not, and I know that. There are just too many echoes.
It’s times like this when I feel like Balaam’s donkey in Numbers 22.
There’s a bit of inconclusiveness regarding whether Balaam was a follower of God or merely just a “mystic for hire” and I’ll tackle that later. For today, it’s all about this donkey, the donkey that Balaam rode on his way to meet up with Balak in his quest to curse Israel.
Here’s the “Cliffs Notes” version:
God had already told Balaam not to go once, but he goes anyway with the understanding that he’ll only speak the words that God gives to him. On his way back to Balak’s, an angel of the Lord (a scary, sword-wielding one) blocks the path. The donkey sees, Balaam does not, and the donkey bolts off the path refusing to go any further. Balaam beats the donkey back on to the path and they keep on. Later down the road, the angel is back and this time the donkey tries to squeeze by the angel and crushes Balaam’s foot against the wall in the process. Then a third time the angel appears completely blocking the path and the donkey simply submits and lays down in the road. Balaam agains beats the donkey and then it gets weird: God gives the donkey the ability to speak:
‘What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?’ it asked Balaam. ‘You have made me look like a fool!’ Balaam shouted. ‘If i had a sword with me, I would kill you!’ (Numbers 22:28-29 NLT)
Ugh, I’m am SO that donkey sometimes [most of the time]. I don’t submit, I bolt. I refuse, I make excuses, I run.
“Bolt” is a powerful word, the Bible doesn’t say “and the donkey casually meandered in another direction” or “it wandered off the path” — both of which would be typical responses of a stubborn donkey and would be of little note or significance. Instead, the donkey’s immediate gut reaction reminds me that I better be paying attention when my first response is to bolt from whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. You can’t outrun God [I’m looking at you, Jonah] and you can’t use excuses to get out of it [like you, Moses], and maybe “you were made for such a time as this” [ahem, Esther].
Are you bolting from something today?
Maybe you’ve already bolted and gotten back on the path. Now you’re in the “squeeze-by” phase of your echo. In trying to keep both interests [Balaam’s destination and the donkey’s hide] protected, the donkey attempts to squeeze by the angel and crushes Balaam’s foot against the vineyard wall.
This time, both parties are hurt and neither really wins. It’s like an Old Testament ‘can’t have your cake and eat it too’ moment. Sometimes, you have to say no to one in order to fully realize the other.
What needs to be set to the side in order for you to really do as God has asked of you?
When the angel appears a third time completely blocking the path the donkey doesn’t know what else to do except submit.
This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. (Numbers 22:27)
It is then that God gives the donkey the ability to speak, to give Balaam perspective, and ultimately for him to open his eyes to see the angel standing there. The donkey’s actions revealed the power of the Lord, the submission it showed opened Balaam’s eyes — when we submit to God and allow him to speak through us we have no idea who will be changed as a result.
What would happen if you just submitted to whatever it is God has been echoing to you?
May we all be a little less donkey-ish in our faith today.