Who’s the [donkey] now? (Sunday Review)

This past Sunday, our children talked about the story of Balaam and his talking donkey. That’s the part we all remember, but there’s way more to the story.

See, Balaam was a man who could at least receive messages from God. This is a huge point, especially since he’s one of the few non-Jewish Hebrew Bible figures to hear directly from God – Job was another member of this notable club. Balaam had enough of a reputation that a king in the area who was afraid of the Israelites decided to hit him up for some divine smiting of these upstart Israelites who were traipsing through the land on their way to Canaan. Balaam, not quite realizing the situation, agrees to check with God and see if he could provide this service. God was emphatically against the offer, and Balaam refused. But the next time the king asked, Balaam asked God again, and God “allows” Balaam to go along but only say what God dictated. I put quotes there because God allowed Balaam to go the way my mom allowed me to do something she knew was a bad idea after I begged and pleaded. My mom or dad would say in a cold, measured tone, “Fine. Do it.” With those three words, a bit of wisdom would shiver down my spine and I would relent and find another activity. Balaam, however, didn’t get the hint.

On the way, Balaam’s donkey kept veering off the road and getting beaten for it. Finally, the donkey stopped, and Balaam beat the donkey mercilessly, showing that Balaam was less than an ideal prophet. While this beating was going on, the donkey straight up asked Balaam, “What’s your damage, man? You’ve beaten me so much today! How often have I done something you didn’t want?”

Balaam responded sheepishly, “Well, never, I guess. You’ve been a great donkey.”

“Then why on this green earth would you beat me? Trust me a little, man. I saved your life!”

I would like to pause the story here and reflect a moment. What would your reaction be if your trusted pet animal suddenly spoke to you? What if your cat’s purr suddenly became a litany of soothing poetry? What if your dog’s barks suddenly became excited shouts of the traits they loved about you? Well…?

I’d freak right the heck out is what I’d do. Are you kidding me? And Balaam just answered calmly like he was talking to an old friend! How astounding does your relationship with God and the supernatural have to be that a talking donkey doesn’t even phase you!?

Regardless, the donkey points out that there was an angel ready to take Balaam’s life and the donkey’s multiple turns and stops were to save its owner’s life. The angel has a few words to say to Balaam as well about how this mission is against God’s desire and Balaam better watch himself dealing with the Israelites, because they were God’s people. Balaam expresses his deepest understandings and proceeds to bless the Israelites multiple times.

Balaam had his attention everywhere but where it needed to be. He had his attention on making nice with royalty. He had his attention on some fat cash coming his way. He had his attention on the popularity and business working with a king would produce. Ironically, however, the prophet did not have his attention on God. The donkey did. So in this story, the roles of prophet and donkey were flipped. [Hence, the title.]

All creation sings God’s praise. Creation is groaning and waiting for the day when God restores everything to the way it was meant to be. Creation, including donkeys, have their focus where it needs to be: on God. We, though, tend to let our attention wander and we find ourselves in some tricky spots because of it. Maybe not “angel with a sword ready to strike us down” spots, but, you know, similar. By keeping our focus on God, it helps us to see the world clearly and keep our priorities in check. Modeling this for your kids can certainly help them develop a focus on God and God’s desires for us and the world around us.

How can you model a focus on God for your kids? Was there ever a time when you found yourself in a tough spot because you lost focus and your attention wasn’t on God?

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The Problem with Biblical Heroes

When I was younger, I really looked up to King David. And in some respects, I still do. He was the man to stay loyal to God in a culture of idolatry. He fought bravely on behalf of his people and His God. He worked tirelessly in his early years to benefit his people and prepare the way for the building of the Temple. Honestly, he’s got a decently long list of positive achievements even outside of his battle acumen – not forgetting, of course, that famous battle with a giant.

That said, the older I get the more the veneer seems to be wearing thin on David’s shine. He’s described when we meet him as basically a second, better Saul, a Saul 2.0, if you will. David is handsome, well built, tanned, and plays the guitar. You know, one of those guys. He’s a serial polygamist, which starts pretty early in his career. And he’s distinctly cold in the love/kindness department, outside of his best bro, Jonathan. His parenting could also have been a bit better in the role model department. But David is loyal, a man of his word both to God and man.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is the fact that it is mighty hard to have a biblical hero because the Bible does a thorough job of listing out their flaws quite clearly. We are left with no ambiguity whether or not these men and women had issues and shortcomings. And it’s probably for the best.

See, the less we know about someone, often the more able to idealize and eventually idolize them we are. They become the goal, the finish line, the summary of all we want to be. We can build entire worldviews around these heroes, only to watch them crumble into dust when our hero inevitably fails us in some way. It’s a constant reminder against idolizing others and keeping the main thing the main thing.

How wonderful is it, then, that we have a God that has no problem using the broken, out-of-sorts, and misfits to further His story? Even his son conducted his ministry from a place of poverty, itinerancy, and outsider-ness. It’s encouraging to know that we can be used and that we can rely on our God so thoroughly.