Summary: To lose your vision is a tragedy, but to restore it is a blessing.
Come with me in your imagination to the battlefield of Saratoga in New York where in 1777 two battles of the Revolutionary War took place. You will notice on that battlefield an obelisk or pillar standing as a monument to what happened there. At the base are four deep niches for the bronze figures of the generals who fought there so heroically. The first contains the figure of Horatio Gates while the second contains that of Philip Schuyler. In the third niche we see the figure of Daniel Morgan, but when we come to the fourth we see something unusual.
The fourth niche is empty. This one was for a general whose performance during battle merited honor. However, he later committed an act of treason and his name became became associated with being a traitor rather than a hero. Yet at the base of that empty niche, we can see the name of this general engraved in the stone. His name is Benedict Arnold, and that niche will stand forever as a monument of one who went from heroism to treason.
In heaven a great monument is there also consisting of twelve foundations on each of which is the name of an apostle. However, on that celestial monument there is a name that is missing, the name of Judas Iscariot. Oh, the tragedy of abandoning noble purposes!
During the Middle Ages, a young artist sought a model to pose for the child Jesus. After a long search, he finally found a peasant woman whose son fitted his conception. Years later when the artist was an old man, he wanted to paint a picture of Judas, so he searched the criminal quarters and prisons for the man with the right face. He finally found a condemned murderer who met the requirement, and after completing the second picture, the artist noticed a similarity between the face of the child Jesus and that of Judas. He looked up the prison records and discovered that he had used the face of the same man to paint both Jesus and Judas. He had used the man as a child to be the model for the picture of Jesus, and he had used the same man as an adult to model for the picture of Judas. Oh, the tragedy of a lost vision.
Today in this, I wish to illustrate this point by the tragic story of a remarkable man and an equally remarkable donkey. This man’s life spanned two great religious traditions, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. He was both a seer and a prophet, one who discerned the will of God in visions and omens and one who expressed God’s message through proclamation. Three New Testament writers discuss this man: Peter describes this man’s madness, and Jude talks about this man’s error. Finally, John warns against this man’s doctrine. The person I am referring to is the only man who had a conversation with a donkey. Today I wish to tell you the story of Balaam the prophet and the ass with 20/20 vision.
The Children of Israel on their journey from Egypt to Canaan finally reached the land of Moab. The king became frightened and sent messengers to the prophet Balaam, who had the power to bless and curse. God warned Balaam in a dream not to curse Israel because God had blessed them, but the king sent the messengers back to Balaam again, this time with a bribe. Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God” (Numbers 22:18). However, he then told them to spend the night because maybe God would change his mind. That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you” (verse 20).
As Balaam journeyed to Moab, his donkey saw an angel with a drawn sword that Balaam because of his greed could not see. The donkey went off the road and Balaam beat her to get her back. The angel appeared again, this time in a narrow path with walls on both sides, and the donkey pressed up against a wall and crushed Balaam’s foot. Again, the prophet beat the hapless beast. Then the angel appeared third time in a narrow pass, and this time the donkey lay down in the road.
By now, Balaam was really mad and began furiously beating the poor animal. The Bible says: “Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times’” (verse 28)? Now you would think that this would have shocked Balaam, but instead he said, “‘You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now’” (Verse 29). Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam and he saw the angel with the sword. Balaam offered to return to his home, but the Lord told him to go on.