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Ordinary and Invisible Providence

Some of my favorite texts in the Bible are the ones when the invisible is made visible, however temporary. In 2 Kings 6, the king of Syria sends an army to seize Elisha so that Elisha would stop telling the king of Israel where the Syrians were heading for a fight. With the town where Elisha was surrounded, his servant despaired, but Elisha prayed that God would open the eyes of his servant to see that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kgs 6:16 ESV). What Elisha’s servant then saw was that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kgs 6:17 ESV). Did the horses and chariots of fire suddenly show up when Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened by the Lord? Of course not! They were always there as God’s means of governing and upholding all things. The only thing that changed was that this servant was enabled, however briefly, to see the invisible outworking of God’s providence.

A second example comes in Numbers 22 when the seer Balaam was on his way to curse Israel on behalf of Balak, king of Moab. As he was on his way, riding on his donkey, three times his donkey acted strangely, turning off the road suddenly or pressing Balaam against a wall along the road. In rage, Balaam struck his donkey, but at that point God opened the mouth of his donkey, and

she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” (Num 22:28-30 ESV)

But that isn’t the most surprising part of the text. After being shut down by his own donkey, Balaam’s eyes are opened by the Lord to see what’s really happening.

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 down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” (Num 22:31-33 ESV)

This episode is rich with irony because Balaam is supposed to be a seer, one who is in touch with the spiritual realm, and yet it is his donkey who is in touch with the spiritual realm. Only when the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes to see his invisible providence did Balaam understand the grave danger in which he found himself.

My point in bringing up these two texts is to remind you that God’s work in this world need not be visible for it to be real. Going one step farther, events like these should make us aware that the Lord will even work invisibly through angelic servants to govern and uphold his creation. Elisha’s servant did not need to see the angelic host protecting Elisha in order for that host to do its job. We do not need to see God’s providence in order for him to govern and uphold all things. We do not need to see—or even be aware of—God’s directing of his angelic host for it to do its work in this world.

Indeed, the writer to the Hebrews, towards the end of his sermonic letter, encourages the church along the same lines when he says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2 ESV). Such was the case, at least for a time, for Abraham, Gideon, and Manoah.[1] Now, this doesn’t mean that we start looking for angelic activity all around us. Rather, it is an encouragement to embrace the ordinary and invisible providence of God. Even when we are unaware and when he works through his servants, God governs and upholds all things.

In the end, these brief glimpses of God’s invisible providence remind us that this world is alive with God’s governing and upholding activity every day and every hour. And that reminder should allow us to confidently step out into this world to do the work of the Lord without doubting whether he is working.

[1] F. F Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 371.

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