Today we slogged through the strange and often ignored story of the seer Balaam and his faithful donkey. If you have not read this story for yourself already, I encourage you to do so. It is well worth the read.
This morning in worship and in the Bible Study we talked quite a bit about the paths that we choose as individuals and as congregations, and how we can get into a rut or commit to a plan that might not always be God's hope for us. We talked as well about how we need to be willing to be shocked by something (like a talking donkey) in order to make a change in direction.
We heard author Frederick Beauchner's reflections on this mysterious speaking donkey. He writes “whereas people as a rule see only what they expect to see and a little more, animals, innocent of expectations, see what is there. The next time the old mare looks up from her browsing and lets fly with an exultant whinny at the empty horizon, we might do well to consider at least the possibility that the horizon may not be quite as empty as we think.”
We also talked more in the Bible Study about another interesting way to read the story of Balaam, and I would like to share that here for those who were not able to join us:
Balaam was much more than a man with a donkey, he was a renowned ancient seer - a man with the ability to bless or curse with just a word from his mouth. He was also a Canaanite, not a part of the people of Israel who were on the move into the promised land. And yet he loved the Lord, the God of Israel, and spoke with God often. He declares to others that it is only the words of God that he is able to obey, nothing else.
King Balak, who has sent for him, has asked him to come and curse these Israelites so that they may not overcome the land. And all three of the times Balak's servants come Balaam refuses, even refusing gold and silver from the King. But after talking with God, the decide together that he should go and see the persistent King in person, though God reminded Balaam to only do what God told him to do.
Then we can jump right over the story of the Donkey and the Angel and start back up at the place where Balaam reaches the King and he is shown three times from different vistas the enormity of the people of Israel. Three times Balak tells him to curse these people. Three times Balaam prays and asks God for guidance. Three times at the direction of God Balaam blesses them again, showing his faithfulness to God.
This is interesting because the story of Balaam and his Donkey on the road, the anger of God, his violence against the animal and the intentions of the Angel to kill him seem totally out of place in the rest of the story.
A number of Biblical scholars have suggested that because Balaam was outside of the accepted community, even though he faithfully obeyed God, even though he brought blessings to the people of Israel, that people of faith became more and more uncomfortable with the strength and abilities of this outsider. This story could very well have been added later to discredit him as an UN-faithful, outsider.
This is an important aspect of discernment that we are called to keep in mind in our Stepping Stones journey together: are we willing to hear voices that come from outside our community? Will we hear the voice of God from our fellow Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Wabash Valley who are also engaged in a time of discernment? Will we hear the voice of God from other Christian traditions that our also seeking to do God's work in this place? Are there ways that we might be guided by other faiths in understanding who we are called to be? Are we willing to learn from others and acknowledge that others outside of our community may have faith to share and ways to help us change direction for the better.
This journey is getting more interesting for all of us as we continue to be engaged in God's word. Let us also be ready to be engaged in God's WORLD as we move ahead in prayer and discernment.