“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near—a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” -Numbers 24:17
Read Numbers 22:21-33, 38; 24:17
The story of Balaam is a wildly surprising affair. I must admit that, when telling this story to neighborhood kids for the first time, assigning a smart, talented intern to play the role of a donkey is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Enjoying the shock of the first words spoken by a genuine talking donkey from Scripture is the real storyteller’s dream—no less when the audience is amazed and giggling first- and third-graders more familiar with the green ogres of Disney movies.
Of the many creative ways we hear of God getting the message through to us, this story of a seer being humbled by an ass who could see what the seer couldn’t see stands apart. If you ever get to observe one seminarian applauding another’s completed sermon, you might hear the old pastor’s joke, “Hey! What do you know? God really can speak from the mouth a [King James Version] donkey!”
Running beneath all the smirking humor of this ancient story is its most unsettling element: a pagan mystic out of nowhere sees God’s plan for blessing God’s people complete with special vision of a far-distant savior whose birth we now remember.
God inspires whom God pleases. God’s messengers are many. Through Christ grace extends to touch every person, culture and generation as all of humanity awaits redemption. The humbling truth is that Scripture’s inspired story, which leads us to our savior, comes through the lives of people we might be inclined to dismiss.
Lord, thank you for revealing yourself to us. May we find ears to hear your word uttered from whomever you choose. Humble us that our lips might proclaim your good news.
Brad Isaak, M.Div. Student, Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary; Youth Pastor,
Selma Mennonite Brethren Church/Kingsburg Mennonite Brethren Church