“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 his head, and fell on his face.”
—Numbers 22:31 (RSV-CE)
I have never heard anyone say that they love backseat drivers. Most of us have experienced a time or two when we have been distracted by a witty billboard, beautiful scenery along the road, or even a great conversation with the backseat driver through the use of the rearview mirror. I’ll share one of my experiences. Driving home from a night out with friends, I had become distracted by the conversation we were having and had taken my eyes off the road. All of the sudden everyone in the car yelled at the top of their lungs, “BOX”! The suddenness of the screams from a car full of backseat drivers uncomfortably redirected my attention to a giant television box that I was about to hit in the middle of the road! I barely had time to swerve to miss the box. I’m grateful that an accident was avoided.
Recollecting the story of the box in the road made me think of the story of Balaam and the donkey on their way to visit Prince Balak. Three times on the journey, the Angel of the Lord will stand in the middle of the road, sword in hand, threatening the life of Balaam. Balaam’s donkey, that long-suffering, loyal and faithful creature, acts in the narrative as the backseat driver. Three times, his faithful donkey will see the impending danger that Balaam does not and will act in order to save her master (Numbers 22, 25, 27). All three times Balaam beats the poor creature in order to force the donkey back onto the road. Finally, the third time the angel stands in the way, there is no room to move right or left, so the brave donkey kneels to the ground, stopping in front of the angel. Then a miraculous event occurs: God opens the mouth of the donkey so that she can express her lifetime of service and loyalty, the truth of which Balaam cannot deny (Num. 30). At this point, God opens the eyes of Balaam and he sees the Angel of the Lord standing, sword in hand, ready to kill him, the danger that the donkey had seen but Balaam had been blind to. Balaam not only sees the threat of the Adversary Angel, but also sees his guilt in his turning away from God’s will.
It begs the question: If the donkey’s eyes are always open to the Lord, why aren’t ours? Just like Balaam, we live in a world of distraction, and this distraction can lead us away from God and into sin. We should be thankful for the donkeys and the backseat drivers in our life who call our attention not only to the physical dangers within the road but also our own blindness to sin; perhaps God is using them to open our eyes.