The Bible mentions two animals that talk. First is the serpent that talked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. The second is an ass. After their escape from Egypt, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years searching for the Promised Land. They had almost reached it, when they camped in the kingdom of Moab. The king of Moab was alarmed at the large influx of strangers…
… So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the River, in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the River, in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, “Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak’s words to him. He said to them, “Spend the night here, and I will bring word back to you as the Lord may speak to me.” And the leaders of Moab stayed with Balaam. Then God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?” Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me, ‘Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt and they cover the surface of the land; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I may be able to fight against them and drive them out.’” God said to Balaam, “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s leaders, “Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.” The leaders of Moab arose and went to Balak and said, “Balaam refused to come with us.”
Then Balak again sent leaders, more numerous and more distinguished than the former. They came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, ‘Let nothing, I beg you, hinder you from coming to me; for I will indeed honor you richly, and I will do whatever you say to me. Please come then, curse this people for me.’” Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the Lord my God. Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the Lord will speak to me.” God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise up and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do.”
So Balaam arose in the morning, and saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab.
But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he struck her again. The angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Then Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.” The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.”
Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. The angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.” Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back.” But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you.” So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak. (Numbers 22:35)
It is noteworthy that (1) The first words God speaks are in the form of a question, as was almost invariably the case, (2) Balaam’s pious declaration that he would do nothing contrary to God’s commands proved to be empty words, (3) There is an apparent contradiction in that God first told Balaam not to go, then He told him to go, (4) God opened the mouth of the donkey and the eyes of Balaam almost simultaneously, (5) The angel and the donkey asked the same question: “Why are you beating [the donkey] three times?”, (6) The donkey appears frequently in the Bible and is a symbol of Godly principle, (7) The angel presents himself as an adversary, and (8) Balaam said—the key verse—that he did not see the angel standing in the way—he was blind to God (the donkey has more insight than Balaam) and confessed that this blindness was his sin.
The story illustrates that the tongue and the vision are under divine control, under the principled privileges of God. Balaam’s vision is under his own control, and he lost his insight when he mounted the donkey. He stopped following the principles of God and grew angry and violent when the donkey, whose vision and insight into the path to be taken was better than his, tried to go the right way. Finally, he saw the angel and then he saw the way forward.
An old Methodist hymn written by Clara Scott in 1855 is pertinent to our discussion:
Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready, my God, Thy will to see;
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Open my ears that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.
Open my mouth and let me bear
Tidings of mercy everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with Thy children thus to share.
Open my mind that I may read
More of Thy love in word and deed;
What shall I fear while yet Thou dost lead?
Only for light from Thee I plead. (https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/807)
Donald: This hymn is about asking for sight—but only in glimpses. In silence, the supplicant asks for help in gaining freedom. It boils down to trust in God’s sight rather than our own.
David: The last verse equates vision to insight—to opening the mind and seeing God’s love “in word and deed”. To me, that means understanding God’s love not just by reading the words of Scripture but also by observing the goodness—God—around one. Saul was not reading Scripture when he saw God and became Paul as a result.
Donald: We filter everything we see though our own eyes/mind. The concept rather is to let God’s eyes be the filter through which we see.
Don: How do we make that, or allow that, to happen? Balaam acted as though he was willing to see through God’s eyes until he mounted the donkey, when his own vision took over.
Donald: It comes down to trusting in God’s will, which is not in our DNA.
David: A number of religions and philosophies—Daoism, Buddhism, Hinduism—focus on achieving “enlightenment”.
Jay: But doesn’t that contradict the notion that God wants us in a state of blindness?
David: Job was enlightened when he realized he was blind.
Donald: “Blind” implies complete surrender to the guide, to God.
David: The eastern view of enlightenment is about surrendering to one’s self, to recognizing at a fundamental level who—what sort of person—one really is. But this is also the Biblical view as expressed in the story of the deceitful Jacob, who recognized his true self through his struggle with God and became the honorable Israel. The same applied to the persecutor Saul, who became the apostle Paul. Jacob and Saul were blind not so much to God as to their own natures. We don’t want to know who we really are, and struggle with a God who is ever ready to let us win (i.e., to lose) if that is what we want.
Donald: When we witness, are we witnessing what is our understanding of God? Is that pure? Does it reflect the real truth?
Jay: The truth is unattainable. The best we can achieve is to see through the glass darkly. So is it better to be blind and see nothing at all than to see things wrongly through dark, obscuring glass? Most of us would rather have some vision, even if faulty, than have no vision at all. Why? Because we want to retain some control.
David: As long as one can see, one is on one’s own. But if one is blind, one is totally dependent on some other person or entity in order to live. If we totally trust that person/entity, then life can be lived without fear, without worry. But if we can see, however imperfectly, we are on our own to follow paths that might lead us to a dead end, or over a cliff.
Donald: When we say we feel a certain way, we cannot be gainsaid. But when we say we we know a certain way, we cause friction with people who see things differently. We are expected to witness Jesus as the savior of humanity, but if we start to define what that means we get into arguments, and even war.
Robin: I wonder if our witnessing needs to be based on what Paul said:
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)
If the holy Spirit wants us to go beyond that then it will tell us, but to make disciples of Christ is different from making disciples of a given church. No church should want the denomination to be their witness. It is Christ, and Him crucified.
Jay: Why do people who are blind need to see?
Kiran: Whatever we see is our brain’s interpretation of images. When our vision is incomplete we may misinterpret—we see through the glass darkly. Having no vision and relying completely on God is best. But we all have vision and therefore we end up misunderstanding, like the blind men of Indostan who each felt a different part of an elephant and took the part for a whole.
Anonymous: There is more helpful Scripture on blindness:
“I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness,
I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the nations,
To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the dungeon
And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.
… “I will lead the blind by a way they do not know,In paths they do not know I will guide them.I will make darkness into light before themAnd rugged places into plains.These are the things I will do,And I will not leave them undone.”…
Hear, you deaf!And look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but My servant,Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send?Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me,Or so blind as the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you do not observe them;Your ears are open, but none hears.…
Who among you will give ear to this?Who will give heed and listen hereafter? Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers?Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned,And in whose ways they were not willing to walk,And whose law they did not obey? So He poured out on him the heat of His angerAnd the fierceness of battle;And it set him aflame all around,Yet he did not recognize it;And it burned him, but he paid no attention. (Isaiah 42:6,7,16,18-20,23-25)
This is true blindness, when God’s hand is all around us and we do not see it.
Donald: Are we talking about two different things? I cannot pretend knowledge of science and medicine. Where does faith fit in? We can’t study our way into faith, as we can with knowledge. We can study what our Scriptures call the truth, but whose truth is real? Aren’t we all equal in our knowledge (and ignorance) of the truth about God?
David: To me, there is but one article of faith: To believe in God. As I read the Bible, that’s all God asks. Our studies of science are totally unrelated. Science and religion are bound to clash because they are both Man-made, but there is no inherent contradiction between knowledge of science and simple belief in God. Whether we believe or not we can live a normal life on earth, but if we believe then we are more likely to live a “good” life, it seems to me.
Jeff: Could it not be argued that God prefers us to be ignorant? God’s original plan was a garden of Eden populated by people with no knowledge of good and evil. Humans cannot function in such an environment, however. We have to know. Does the admonition to walk by faith not by sight mean to use faith to make up for what we cannot see? Or does it mean we have no business looking anyway—we should have faith regardless? We can all agree that physical blindness is not the issue. Jesus healed the physically blind. Is ignorance—blindness, total dependence on God—bliss?
David: The forbidden fruit was knowledge of good and evil, not knowledge of science and technology. The only thing we need to be blind to is judgment, discernment of good and bad. We need science and technology all the time; we need to tell good from evil less often. The blindness God wants us to have is very, very specific. It is a blindness that protects us from the urge to judge. Period. Do not judge.
Jeff: Christ says we won’t enter the kingdom unless we become like little children—an allusion to innocence, to ignorance.
David: The Bible says a lot of strange things!