(By Heather Marshall)
“Count the number of times the people wearing white pass the ball.”
These are the instructions for an interesting test of selective attention (The Monkey Business Illusion). Selective attention is focusing on one variable and tuning out other information so that it becomes almost unseen.
Most people, after watching the video and counting the number of passes, will respond with a number. What follows is usually very surprising: they are asked, “Who saw the gorilla?” More often than not, people completely miss the person dressed in a big, black gorilla suit who walked right through the middle of the other ball players dressed in either white or black shirts. The people taking the test were so focused on counting the ball passes between the white-shirted players that the chest-pounding gorilla remained virtually unseen!
God’s obvious provision for the people of Israel is clearly visible to us as we read the book of Numbers. From the provision of the Law and instructions about the construction of the Tabernacle to details about the various offerings that the people were to bring to God to go into His presence, we see His loving provision for their spiritual needs.
We also see His provision for their physical needs. When necessary, He provided manna, quail, and water (Numbers 11 and 20). He also gave them a full day of rest each Sabbath day. God’s gift of protection is also unmistakable as we read through this book. We see the Lord securing victory for them over their enemies as they traveled to the promised land (Numbers 21 and 31).
Unfortunately, the people of Israel frequently complained and grumbled against God and His servant Moses throughout their journey (Numbers 14, 16, 20, and 21). Each time God judges their sin, Moses intercedes for the people and God offers His forgiveness. Again, another example of God’s gracious provision for His people.
I am convinced that one of the barriers to the people of Israel truly appreciating and entering into the provision of their God was that they were selectively focused on the circumstances, people, and things around them. This resulted in them often missing the amazing work of God on their behalf.
The story of Balaam is an example of how God was still providing for His people even without their being aware of it (Numbers 22-24). The king of Moab had heard about the Israelites, and so he contacted a man named Balaam, a wicked soothsayer who was known to be able to bless or curse with his words. The Moabite king asked Balaam to curse the people of Israel so that he might conquer them and drive them from the land (Numbers 22:6).
Not surprisingly, God intervened for His people. He would not allow Balaam to curse the people that He had blessed. Despite Balaam’s initial refusal, the Moabite king sent more officials who claimed Balaam would earn prizes of silver if he accompanied them to the king to curse Israel. Balaam saddled his donkey and headed to Moab because God told him, “Go with them, but do only what I tell you” (Numbers 22:20).
God then sent the angel of the LORD to divert Balaam’s path on the road to Moab. Balaam couldn’t see Him, but his donkey could (Numbers 22:23). The donkey kept veering off the path, so its owner kept beating it. After the third beating, the donkey turned to him and spoke, asking why Balaam kept beating him. God opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel in the road with a sword drawn.
Then Balaam repented. The angel told him to continue to Moab, but instead of a curse, God told him to pronounce a blessing on the children of Israel, and he ended up blessing them 3 times. All the while, the Israelites in their camp in the land of Moab had no idea that this provision of protection from the curse of Balaam was even happening. This incident, and the resulting blessing pronounced by Balaam, is wonderful proof that God provides for His people even when we don’t see it.
The provision of the “angel of the LORD'' to stop Balaam in his tracks is nothing short of astonishing! Did you know that many Biblical scholars believe that the appearance of the “angel of the LORD” in the Old Testament is thought to be a Christophany? So, the preincarnate Christ appeared to Balaam with a sword drawn. He was not going to let a curse be brought against His people by this soothsayer.
Amazingly, we see Balaam, under the influence of the Spirit of God, bless the people of Israel and declare a prophecy about the future coming of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. “A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel” (Numbers 24:17).
God’s provision was so much more than the Israelites could even imagine. Not only was Balaam prevented from cursing them, but he blessed them 3 times and prophesied Jesus’ coming.
Jesus is the greatest provision that God could ever give us. He conquered sin, death, and hell by His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 3-4). Just like the people of Israel, we can be sure that God is providing for us even though we may not see it and that His provisions are beyond anything that we can comprehend. “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
Let’s be encouraged to focus on His character and His promises so we don't allow the world around us to distract us from seeing His amazing provision in our lives.