In my teens during a summer break, my friend Shirley L. and I took a bus trip from Houston, Texas to Arkansas to visit my grandmother for a week. My Cousin Dorothy and her bevy of teen friends said we could also hang out with them.
The year in mention was long before television remote controls were in use. My grandmother had a large ramshackle home with huge rooms, the heightened ceilings right beneath the sky. Her spacious bedroom contained two full size beds, a sofa, several chairs, and her television. The week of our visit, we “girls” all slept in her bedroom -- Shirley and I in one bed, and Grandma Dora in the other.
My grandmother’s TV sat nearest the wall at the foot of the beds, but electricity powered it through a long extension cord plugged in near her wrought iron headboard. If she fell asleep while watching television and she often did, she could reach down without getting out of bed and unplug the TV.
One night during our visit, all tucked in, we began to watch a late movie. Soon after, we heard my grandmother’s soft snores. An hour of so later, just as the plot of the movie came to what we hoped would be a happy ending, my grandmother roused, thought we were asleep, and pulled the plug on the TV. We never found out how the movie ended.
As I read and meditated on the book of Numbers this week, it caused me to consider the outcomes of individual lives. When God freed the transitioning Israelites from Egyptian slavery, they had choices to make. Because of individual choices most became wanderers and grumblers. But some came to fully trust God and became obedient believers. Even though the book is called “Numbers” (two censuses recorded), it contains a wealth of other information and good news. In Numbers, readers encounter a mention of the promised Messiah when Balaam said, “A star shall come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (24:17).
The account of Balaam riding his donkey is a favorite story included in Old Testament Sunday school curriculum (chapters 22-24). Balaam, armed with curses, rode toward the Israelites. While traversing a narrow path, God placed a sword-drawn angel in the donkey’s path, but only the animal saw the angel. Balaam beat his donkey to get her to move on, but the donkey stubbornly refused. Finally, the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and she spoke to Balaam, questioning his severe treatment. The Lord also opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel. He recognized that the stubborn female pack-ride had spared his life, through God’s plan.
One of the children in our family was born with a very shy nature. One Sunday, the child’s teacher prepared to tell about God, Balaam, the angel, and the donkey by letting the children act out the scenes. Before the children heard the story, she asked who wanted to play the different parts. Our shy grandchild chose the part of the donkey, never realizing the donkey had a speaking part!
When we are young, because of our inherent nature and the circumstances into which we are born, we may think we are destined to manual labor or a profession, to shyness or boldness, to poverty or riches. But God remains the master of our outcomes. He knows the best path to set our feet upon so we can achieve the most for him. Like the Israelites, the outcomes of our lives may differ significantly from our early plans and dreams. Like Israel, we may be the family through whom a significant humble servant arises to help the stubborn human race.
Keep in mind that God still writes the scripts of our circumstances and numbers our days. Compare your life to a movie format? Where are you? Just getting started, or in the middle, or near the conclusion? Wherever you find yourself, look for blessings and hope through the same words God gave the Levite priests to bless the people of Israel.
Index Card Scripture for week four: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).