One night a poor farmer was awakened by an angel of the Lord who said: "You've found favor in the eyes of your Maker. He wants to do for you what he did for your ancestor Abraham. He wants to bless you.
Therefore, make any three requests of God, and he will be pleased to give them to you. There's only one condition: your neighbor will get a double portion of everything that is given to you."
The farmer was so startled by all this that he woke up his wife and told her all about it. She insisted they put it to the test.
So they prayed, "Oh, blessed God, if we could just have a herd of a thousand cattle, that would enable us to break out of the poverty in which we've lived for generations. That would be wonderful."
No sooner had they said these words than they heard the sound of animal noises outside. Lo and behold, all around the house were a thousand magnificent cattle!
During the next two days, the farmer's feet hardly touched the ground. He divided his time between praising God for his great generosity and making practical provisions for his newly found affluence.
On the third afternoon he was up on a hill behind his house, trying to decide where to build a new barn when, for the first time, he looked across at his neighbor's field, and there on the green hillside stood two thousand magnificent cattle.
For the first time since the angel of the Lord had appeared, his joy evaporated and a scowl of envy took its place.
He went home that evening in a foul mood, refused to eat supper, and went to bed in an absolute rage. He couldn't fall asleep, because every time he closed his eyes, all he could see were his neighbor's two thousand head of cattle.
Deep in the night, however, he remembered that the angel had said he could make three wishes. With that he shifted his focus away from his neighbor and back to his own situation, and the old joy quickly returned.
Digging into his own heart to find out what else he really wanted, he began to realize that in addition to some kind of material security, he had always wanted descendants to carry on his name into history.
So he prayed a second time saying, "Gracious God, if it please thee, give me a child that I may have descendants." It wasn't long before his wife came to him with the news that she was bearing in her body a life not her own.
The next months were passed in unbroken joy. The farmer was busy with his newly acquired affluence and looking forward to the great grace of becoming a parent. On the night his first child was born, he was absolutely overjoyed.
The next day was the Sabbath. He went to the synagogue and at the time of the prayers of the people, he stood up and shared with the gathered community his great good fortune: now at last a child had been born into their home!
He had hardly sat down, however, when his neighbor got up. "God has indeed been gracious to our little community. I had twin sons born last night. Thanks be to God."
On hearing that, the farmer went home in an utterly different mood from the one in which he came. Instead of being joyful, he was filled with the canker of jealousy.
This time, the dark emotions didn't go away. Late that evening, he made his third request of God, which was, "Lord, please gouge out my right eye."
No sooner had he said these words than the angel who started the whole process came again. "Why, son of Abraham, have your turned to such dark desirings?"
With pent-up rage, the farmer replied, "I can't stand to see my neighbor prosper! I'll gladly sacrifice half my vision for the satisfaction of knowing that he'll never be able to look on what he has because he'll have both eyes gouged out."
Those words were followed by a long silence, and as the farmer looked, he saw tears forming in the eyes of the angel. "Why, O son of Abraham, have you turned the occasion to bless into a time of hurting?
Your third request won't be granted, not because the Lord lacks integrity, but because he is full of mercy. However, know this, O foolish one..you've brought sadness..not only to yourself, but to the very heart of God."
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