This is not your typical Christmas post. While prophets play a huge role in the Christmas narrative and Mary road a donkey into Bethlehem, I am pretty safe in thinking neither this donkey or prophet have ever been part of a December sermon series or advent reading.
If your curiosity is peaked, mine was as well, when my local pastor recently asked us to turn to the book of Numbers. As a semi-educated individual, regular church-goer, and person who has read her Bible for over fifty years, I thought, “What is this young whippersnapper doing? What’s Numbers got to do with Christmas?”
OK, so I didn’t actually think “whippersnapper,” but my mind was questioning him from the outset. Taking copious notes (it’s a habit I’ve had since my youth), I worked to follow his line of thinking, as he took us back even further in the story of Israel. These were God’s chosen people who promised to do all that he commanded, which lasted about a millisecond and resulted in forty years of wandering. The book of Numbers shows us how God deals with an increasingly sinful and rebellious bunch.
I probably would have thrown up my hands a long time ago with the Israelites, but God, in the grace that shows up even in the Old Testament, reveals he is a God who keeps his promises. How did he let them know? Through Moses? No, he had already messed up too.
He revealed it through a talking donkey and a Gentile prophet.
The Moabite King Balak was shaking in his boots over the arrival of the massive group of Israelites that had entered his territory. Everyone knew the stories from Egypt, and nobody wanted to mess with their God. What could Balak do? He needed supernatural intervention, so he sent for a prophet to curse them.
Balaam was no great follower of the Jewish God, but he learned pretty quickly not to underestimate him when assigned such a task. He’d already been told by God not to curse them, but bless them, but even though he got on his trusty donkey to take up the assignment, God knew his heart. He needed a little more convincing that blessing was to override any effort to curse. What did he do?
He had his donkey give him a talking to.
The donkey saw what the prophet could not and after getting a beating for going the wrong way, God opened his mouth and then Balaam’s eyes to see the angel of the Lord that was in his path. Balaam got the message.
What does this have to do with Christmas? It’s coming. As he begins his prophecy, Balaam speaks not only of the present greatness of Israel, but of a future king to come.
How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwellings, Israel…His king will be greater than Agag, and his kingdom will be exalted…He crouches, he lies down like a lion or a lioness—who dares to rouse him? Those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed.Numbers 24: 5, 7b ,9a (CSB)
Through Balaam, we see that the true Lion-King of Israel is the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.
As he continues on, looking down on the vast numbers of Israelites in the valley below, the blessing and Good News is proclaimed.
Balaam is seeing something far off in the distance, and it’s a star of Jacob. This Lion-King comes once as a Savior and again as a Conqueror. These who represent Israel’s trouble in the present day, for the future return represent the ultimate defeat of evil and the enemies of God.
This would not be the last time God would speak through unlikely vessels — I’m reminded of that every day, but it is a wonderful reminder that God’s plan is sure, and he will choose and use those he pleases to fulfill his will on this earth, even if it has to be a donkey and a greedy prophet.
This year of 2020 may be a year that looks nothing like the years of blessing you’ve known in the past. Maybe you’ve felt like a wayward or wandering soul in the wilderness. Take heart that through even the worst of circumstances, God can speak and reveal to you the supernatural workings of his will in your life and in the world at large.
Don’t be afraid to open your eyes to see and ears to listen — he might be speaking through the most unlikely people to bring blessing to your life.
Grace and Peace
P.S. Thanks to Pastor Keith Myatt at Third Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN, for speaking this wonderful word of truth to my heart this Christmas season.
All The Colors In The World by Podington Bear is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License.