Numbers 21-22, John 2
Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like. – John 2:23-25 NLT
The people of Israel suffered from spiritual blindness. They had the physical capacity for sight, but far too often they were plagued by an inability to see what God was doing. It was this spiritual blindness that caused them to repeatedly complain about their situation and question God’s will for their lives. Even after all God had done for them, they continued to reveal their inability to see and appreciate His divine plan for them. In Numbers 21, this spiritual blindness would result in God’s discipline in the form of poisonous serpents. The antidote was for Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole in the midst of the camp. When an Israelite was bitten, they would have to look on the bronze serpent to receive back his life. Jesus would refer to this real-life occasion as a foreshadowing of His own death on the cross. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 ESV). There was more involved than simply seeing. Salvation required believing. Even in Moses’ day, the people who looked on the bronze serpent had to believe that doing so would bring life instead of death. Those who refused to see and believe would experience death.
In the story of Balaam found in Numbers 22, we have another example of spiritual blindness. Balaam was a pagan seer or diviner who had been hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to bring a curse on the people of Israel. God spoke to Balaam and ordered him NOT to go with the king’s emissaries and NOT to curse Israel. Initially Balaan obeyed. But when Balak’s representatives showed back up offering great wealth in return for his services, God gave Balaam the freedom to make his own choice. Driven by greed and hoping to figure out a way to eventually curse Israel and cash in, Balaam chose to go with the officials from Balak. He was spiritually blind and chose wrong. The seer was unable to see God’s will and, as a result, God was angry. On his way to meet Balak, Balaam is visited by an angel of the Lord. And interestingly enough, the text tells us three different times that “the donkey saw the angel of the Lord” (Numbers 22:23 ESV). But Balaam was blind to this divine encounter. This famous diviner couldn’t see that God was about to take his life for his disobedience. And it wasn’t until God opened his eyes that Balaam truly saw the danger of his circumstances.
What does this passage reveal about God?
As we have seen time and time again through the story of God’s interactions with the people of Israel, He was always in control of each and every circumstance. In this case, God knew the plans of Balak and He knew the heart of Balaam. God was in complete control of the events surrounding this story. While Balaam was blind to the will of God, God knew exactly what was going on within the heart of this greedy pagan diviner. Just as God spoke through a donkey, God would speak through this flawed man.
We see in the stories recorded by John in his gospel that spiritual blindness was still a problem in Jesus’ day. Yes, people could see all that Jesus was able to do. They were amazed that He could turn ordinary water into extraordinary wine, but they were blind to the spiritual significance of these events. John tells us that these signs manifested His glory. They revealed His divine nature and gave proof of His having been sent by God. And the disciples believed in Him. They saw what He was able to do, and they believed in Him. But what was it they believed? At this point they were spiritually blind to the real nature of His divine calling. They believed in His power, but they did not yet understand that His real mission was to involve His own death for their sins.
What does this passage reveal about man?
After Jesus’ miracle of turning the water into wine and His cleansing of the Temple, John records that “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23 ESV). They believed, but theirs was not a saving faith. They believed that Jesus was a special individual with special powers. He was able to do things that they had never seen done before. They were attracted to His ability to perform miracles. But interestingly enough, John goes on to say, “But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like” (John 2:24-25 NLT). John uses a play on words in the Greek. The people “trusted” Jesus, but He didn’t “trust” them. He knew their hearts. He knew that their belief was spurious. Like Balaam, they were blind to the reality of what God was doing. Balaam appeared to be doing the will of God, but his heart was evil, his intentions were impure. Jesus knew the people who “believed in his name” were simply attracted to the sensational nature of His miracles and signs. Such is the case with so many today. They see Jesus as a miracle worker. They view Him as some kind of life coach who can them enjoy everything from improved health to a better marriage. But they fail to see that Jesus came to give them eternal life, not just a slightly better version of the life they had been living. He came to free them from sin and restore them to a right relationship with God. He came to die so that they might be made holy in God’s eyes. But many remain blind to that reality. Like Balaam, they remain unable to see what God is doing around them and what He intends to do within them. As Jesus would say of His own disciples, they have eyes, but do not see, and ears, but do not hear.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Spiritual blindness requires divine healing, just as physical blindness did in Jesus’ day. I need the Spirit of God to open my eyes so that I can see what God is doing in and around me. I need Him to remove the scales from my eyes so that I can fully comprehend His divine will. Otherwise I will tend to see what I want to see. Or I will view life as through a foggy lens that prevents me from seeing accurately and truly. Even though he was a seer, Balaam could not see what God was doing, until God opened his eyes. Even as a child of God, I cannot see God’s divine will unless He opens my eyes. But when I see, I must also believe. I must believe that God is in control. I must believe that God is faithful and worthy of my trust. I must believe that God has my best interest at heart – all the time – regardless of how things may appear. I must believe that what God says, He will do. What He promises, He will fulfill. What He begins, He finishes.
Father, open my eyes so that I can see what it is that You are doing in this world. Don’t let me view life and my circumstances from my limited perspective. Don’t allow me to walk around in spiritual blindness, seeing only what I want to see, but missing out on Your will for my life. I want to see and believe. I want to develop a divine perspective that allows me to view the world and all that is taking place from Your point of view, not mine. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men