So this is back in Numbers 22, when the Israelites are still wandering in the desert for forty years. They end up camping out in the land of Moab and the king of Moab gets a little nervous, because he knows how big and powerful the Israelites are. Keep in mind at this time there’s probably well over 2 million Israelites hanging out in someone else’s backyard, and, thanks to God, they could probably trounce just about anyone who looks at them funny.
The king decides his best bet is to find a prophet to come and curse the Israelite people. Then, once they’re cursed, he could take them. He sends a few goons to bribe this pagan prophet named Balaam. Balaam then asks God, “What do I do?” and God says, “Don’t go with those guys.” Now, Balaam isn’t a believer or follower of God, but he’s able to hear God when he speaks to him. As the story goes on, the king of Moab offers more money and Balaam asks God again and finally God says, “Okay, then go with them, but don’t do anything other than what I tell you.” Here’s the main points to get here: 1. Balaam wasn’t a follower of God; 2. Balaam could hear God well, but chose to disobey him.
So Balaam’s on his donkey headed to Moab and God sends an angel to stand in their path. After all, he didn’t want Balaam to go to Moab in the first place. Balaam can’t see the angel, but his donkey can, and the poor little guy is terrified. Three times he tries to stop Balaam from going forward and three times Balaam beats him and forces him to go on. Finally, God gives the donkey the ability to speak and he’s like, “Why are you beating me? I haven’t done anything like this before, have I?” Balaam says, “No,” and at that point God opens Balaam’s eyes to see the angel standing in front of him. Here’s the main points to get here: 3. The donkey did everything he could to get Balaam to turn around and go back the other way; 4. Balaam’s eyes were opened after the donkey talked to him, and presumably Balaam began to realize, “Wait a second–the donkey hasn’t acted like this before. What would make him act like that?”; 5. God opened Balaam’s eyes.
Now the story goes on, and it’s a pretty cool story until you realize several chapters later that Balaam was actually responsible for yet another Israelite downfall and many, many deaths. There’s probably a gazillion different ways you could read this specific part of the story as it applies to our lives, but there’s one way it always seems to hit me: as believers, we’re going to end up feeling like the donkey. And if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up feeling like an ass.
Think about it this way: you’ve got a friend, someone who doesn’t believe in God (1). You know that she can hear God and can see evidence all around her of his Word and his existence (2). Romans 1:20 and on is a pretty good testament to that. You see your friend going in the wrong way and do everything you can to convince her to turn around (3). Your friend may not heed your words, but she starts to notice a change in your behavior, and maybe she starts to wonder what would make you act like that (4). God opens your friend’s eyes to see him (5).
It’s a wonderful progression, when it gets all the way through point 5. But I think so many times we end up stuck somewhere between points 3 and 4. We don’t see God open our friends’ eyes right away so we start thinking maybe we can force them to see. An extreme version of this would be the infamous Westboro Baptist protests. But it’s not like they’re the only ones doing that. They’re just the most overt ones that usually come to mind.
I have a friend I absolutely love and adore and have for many years. Of all my unbeliever friends, for some reason I want more than anything in this world to see her get saved. I’ve spent more time begging God to open her eyes or use me to speak to her than almost anything else. And it still hasn’t happened yet. Because of my impatience, my relationship with her got really awkward for a while there. I’d decided that, even though she already knew my beliefs, every conversation I had with her had to in some way tie back to God and Jesus and the Bible or else I was failing both her and God. As a result, every time I saw her, I could barely carry on a normal conversation because I was so stressed that I might say the wrong thing and I had to figure out how to work God’s name in there somehow or invite her to some church event. But I couldn’t stop, and I actually tried forcing us to get together and hang out so I could somehow bring up church or Jesus. It was miserable for me and, surprisingly, she didn’t respond too well to it. In fact, she avoided me for a long time. I was heartbroken.
And then one day I finally understood point 5: God opened Balaam’s eyes. Not only did the donkey not have any ability to open Balaam’s eyes, but he took a beating in the process. The donkey could have said, “Way to show up now, God, after I got beat three times. Couldn’t you have opened his eyes after the first beating?” He didn’t, though. That’s me, that’s the ass I am. I feel like the donkey with my friends because I try everything in my power to convince them to turn around and sure, maybe I’m planting seeds, but at the end of the day, I’m not the one who gets to open their eyes. And I feel like an ass with God because I start questioning his timing and his methods.
Sure, I read the story, and sure I knew that only God has the power to open people’s eyes, but it took a long time for me to really get it. As for my friend, she’s still not a believer. But after I finally realized the magnitude of point 5, God suddenly started putting her in my path again. I kept running into her at various stores and places around town. And I stepped back from trying to force God’s name in the conversation and instead let my actions speak for me. Note: This doesn’t let me off the hook from sharing the gospel. Several times over the course of our friendship, I’ve had the opportunity to share the gospel with her. She hasn’t responded to it, and that’s frustrating, but the extent of my responsibility. Now my job is simply to keep on loving her and keep on living out the gospel every time I’m around her. Now she seems a lot happier to see me these days. And I feel a lot more like the donkey and a lot less like an ass.