May 24, 2015

Numbers 22:21-35

We usually think of volcanic eruptions happening in Hawaii or in some foreign country, but this year is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the massive volcanic explosion in the state of Washington when Mount St. Helens erupted. I was a senior in high school when that happened. I remember it well.

Fifty-seven people were killed as a result of the eruption. A lot of people were killed instantly when the mountain exploded like a bomb, but others died because they ignored the warnings of the authorities.

Sheriff Bill Closner said, “People were in the danger areas around the mountain because they refused to obey the roadblocks. The bottom line is that nobody would listen.” As a result, there were needless deaths and injuries.

That shouldn’t surprise us. We don’t like roadblocks, do we? Roadblocks slow us down. They get in our way. They are an inconvenience. They impede our progress. For some reason we think the signs are for people who don’t have as much sense as we do.

The story from Scripture today is a story about a roadblock. Sometimes God sets up roadblocks in our lives. Perhaps the roadblock you are experiencing right now in your life is God-given. Some of the roadblocks in your life, past and present, may have God’s fingerprints on the barricades. That’s what you should consider this morning after hearing the story of Balaam and his donkey.

This is a humorous story. After all, it is a story of a talking donkey. To make the story even more humorous, Balaam talks back to the donkey like it was a totally normal thing to do.

This donkey must have been a distant relative of Mr. Ed, the talking horse, or something. The only other place in the Bible where an animal speaks is in the Genesis passage where the serpent speaks to Eve in the Garden of Eden.

What are we supposed to do with a talking donkey? Most people who read a story about a talking donkey are going to have some problems taking it seriously.

Thomas Dozeman, a writer for the New Interpreter’s Bible, says that we should see this story as a piece of “slapstick about a clairvoyant animal who speaks a word of common sense to a blind seer.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. II. p.183)

In other words, you don’t have to take the events seriously in order to hear the serious message behind the story.

Of course, this strikes a cord of liberalism in conservative Christians who like to take the Bible literally. But even the most conservative of Christians don’t take everything in the Bible literally. When Jesus said that if your eye causes you to sin pluck it out, or if your hand causes you to sin cut it off, was he speaking in literal terms? You’d have to be psychotic to engage in such self-mutilation and even the most conservative Christians concede on this point.

So we should not get hung up on whether the donkey actually spoke any more than we should get hung up on whether the characters of Jesus’ parables were literal or imaginary.

Of course, God could make a donkey talk. He makes parrots talk, but it certainly wouldn’t be consistent with what we know, but neither is the parting of the Red Sea, or angels standing in the road with a sword.

I hope we can all agree that the most important thing here is the message of this text. What is the message? With any text, there are many messages. Here is one of them. There are times that God sets up roadblocks in our lives in order to care for us.

Here is another: sometimes God becomes our adversary in order to care for us. That sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?

An adversary is an opponent. Of course, an opponent is someone who is against us. Why would God be against us? God isn’t against us. On the contrary, God is for us. However, God is opposed to our ways when we are headed in a sinful direction, that is, in a direction that is opposed to His ways, or will bring harm to us, or will not bring glory to Him.

When our children were small, we bought one of those gates that you can put between two rooms. It was a roadblock. It was for their protection, to keep them out of the kitchen and away from the hot stove when Tina and I were working in the kitchen. Of course John figured out how to climb over that thing on the first day. He didn’t understand that the gate was there to keep him safe. He only saw it as an obstacle in his way to get where he wanted to go.

Many times when God places roadblocks before us we don’t even realize that it’s God doing it. We see a roadblock as something that is in the way to a place we want to go, to something we want to become, to a person we want to date, to some business we want to acquire, to some job we believe we should have and we automatically think that the roadblock is bad news. We need to tear it down or climb over it.

We get mad and frustrated. We pout, complain, without realizing that God has sent a messenger to oppose us from heading in the wrong direction, to keep us from making the wrong choices. Balaam was headed to see the king of Moab. He was riding his donkey along with two servants.

All of a sudden his donkey started acting like the other thing donkeys are called.It turned off the road and ran off into a field. Balaam beat that fool animal and probably had a few choice words for her until he got her back on the road.

Then as she walked a narrow path between two vineyards that had walls on both sides, she pressed against the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot. He beat her again until he got her to get the pressure off his foot that she was crushing against the wall.

Balaam had no clue what was going on. He didn’t know that his donkey was seeing an angel standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand.

The third time the donkey saw the angel, she just sat down with Balaam’s legs caught underneath her. Balaam took his rod and beat her, probably yelling at the top of his lungs.

Balaam couldn’t see what was obvious to the donkey. Having taken enough of these beatings, the donkey finally said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

As if he were used to carrying on a conversation with his donkey, Balaam answered, “You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

His remark to the donkey is our typical first reaction to a roadblock. We want to get it out of the way. Even when God places roadblocks before us for our own good, we want to get rid of them.

Can you identify a roadblock in your life right now that you have not considered that God might be placing there?

The donkey asked Baalam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” “No,” Baalam, answered. (v. 30)

When Baalam stopped being the arrogant master and was willing to stop, listen, and assess what was happening to him, that is when the Lord opened his eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord for himself, standing in the road with his sword drawn. He bowed low and fell face down.

“The angel of the Lord asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.’” (v. 32-33)

When I was a boy my father used to bring home cigars and when I’d find them I would destroy them because I was afraid he’d become a chain smoker like my grandfather who smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day and a box of cigars a month. Although my father smoked cigars in moderation, I became his roadblock. Whenever I found cigars in the house, I’d throw them away. Although I feared being caught, I was putting up a roadblock out of love for his health.

If the Heavenly Father did not oppose some of our actions, how would we know of His love for us? Should some of our plans not be frustrated and all that we put into motion succeed, we’d be a messed up group of people.

Because God loves us, God sets up roadblocks for us because there are times when our actions are reckless. It is true that God does not keep us from reaping the fruits of all of our bad choices. However, it is also true that God does set up enough roadblocks to give Him credit and praise for much of the happiness and prosperity we currently enjoy.

Perhaps this morning you need to give God thanks for some roadblocks that He has set up in your life. Had some of your first choices succeeded, many of you would be in places you should not have been, doing things you should not be doing.

The truth is that we don’t always know what is best for us, but God does. We need to place complete trust in God. Of course every barrier is not God-given, only some of them. It takes the presence of God’s Spirit to help us discern what is of God and what is not.

Perhaps today, God will reveal to you some roadblocks that have been present in your life that He has placed there as a way of keeping you safe and in His will.

Some of you might need to confess some roadblocks that God has set up in your life that you have moved or that you are currently trying to move. If so, you need to be like Balaam. You need to say these words, “I have sinned.  I realize you placed those roadblocks there for a reason. I pushed through them and now I understand why they were there. Please forgive me and help me undo the damage that has been done.”

You can do that because you have complete access to the Father. There are no roadblocks. Jesus made that possible as He walked the road to the cross, removing all the barriers to the Father.

Upon his shoulders he placed every sin you’ve ever committed. Were it not for Jesus, there would be roadblocks between us and the Father – your sins, my sins. Those roadblocks have been removed, if we will only confess our sins.

This is the reason Paul encouraged the Corinthians to examine themselves before eating the Lord’s Supper. He wanted any barriers of unconfessed sin to be removed.

On Pentecost Sunday, listen to the voice of God’s Spirit speak to you. Confess and allow God to remove any barriers of sin in your life.

And if there are other barriers present that you haven’t been able to overcome, listen to the Spirit speak to you. Perhaps God has placed those barriers there for a reason.

Ponder these things now as we come to the Lord’s Table.