The Donkey with 20/20 Vision

Howard FlynnPastor's Blog, Sermons

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 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 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, I wish to illustrate this point with 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 a third time in a narrow pass and this time the donkey lay down in the road.

By now, Balaam was 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.

When Balaam arrived at Moab, the king took him to the top of a mountain and ordered him to curse Israel, but instead, the prophet blessed them. After this happened three times, the king became enraged and ordered the prophet back home. However, Balaam persuaded the king to seduce the Israelites into sin, and this brought a terrible plague on them. Later, they repented of their sin and ultimately killed both the king and Balaam.

Oh, the tragedy of a lost vision. Balaam prayed this prayer: “Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs’” (Numbers 23:10)! However, the Bible says: “They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword” (Numbers 31:8). Again I repeat, oh the tragedy of a lost vision.

What is that vision? Exodus 20:1-3 tells us: “And God spoke all these words: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.’” Notice the sequence: I am Jehovah. I have redeemed you. Put me first. What does it mean to lose that vision? You lose the vision by not putting God first, and we call that sin.

To illustrate this point, consider what happens when you reverse the word, live. When you turn this word around, you get the word, evil. Thus, we can say that sin is living backward. The Bible says: “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4) Therefore, we can also say that sin is living outside the law. To live outside the law is to live backward, and that is evil.

Now what is the tragedy of the loss of this vision? Consider the crime rate in the United States. A property crime takes place every two seconds and a larceny theft every four seconds. A violent crime occurs every seventeen seconds while a motor vehicle theft transpires every nineteen seconds. An aggravated assault takes place every twenty-nine seconds and a robbery every forty-six seconds. Forcible rape occurs every five minutes while murder happens every twenty-one minutes. Compare these statistics with the words of Proverbs 29:18. “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Having considered the tragedy of a lost vision, let us now consider the blessings of a vision restored. There are some real advantages to keeping the commandments, to living a life of obedience. Commandment keepers do not have to be afraid of AIDS. Commandment keepers do not have to run from the police. Commandment keepers do not have to live with a guilty conscience. Commandment keepers do not have to face the agony of waiting for the jury to return a verdict. Commandment keepers do not have to be afraid of dying. Yes, a restored vision can be a nice way to live.

Yet why was it that the animal could see the angel but the prophet couldn’t? The ass had 20/20 vision while the prophet was blind, spiritually blind. The vision that the animal had, the prophet lacked.

There are advantages to being able to see. For example, when I was a seminary student, I went to apply for a driver’s license. The clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles asked me to read a line on the eye chart. I responded by reading a series of what I thought the correct letters were. To this, the clerk exclaimed, “Sir those were all numbers.” I had read the numbers as if they were letters! Naturally, I needed new glasses, and I will never forget the difference in vision that I experienced when I put them on for the first time.

There are also advantages to being able to see spiritually. For example, consider the case of William Tyndale, the man who translated the Bible into English during the sixteenth century. His enemies had him condemned to death and his prayer at the stake was: “Oh God, open the eyes of the King of England.” Is not this a good prayer for us as well as the King of England? Fortunately, God is both able and willing to restore lost vision if we surrender our lives to him. Dear friends, if you will do this, you will see what a difference a restored vision makes. Now isn’t that good news?