Originally published without copyright restrictions, as Naked Paradox, Biblical Insights for the Heart and Mind, by Trinity Methodist Theological College 2006 for discussion groups. 


Horse that wasn't there halftone line.jpg

Rev Doug Rogers

Some years ago I went with my cousin to the Tate Gallery in London. One of the paintings was very familiar, The Haywain, by John Constable. My cousin said it was not the final work, that was in the National Gallery. This was a test piece where Constable sought to get the right composition. “Do you spot the difference?” she asked.

Try as I might I could not remember the famous painting well enough to see the change. Then she pointed out the horse right in the centre of the painting. Constable had decided this distracted from the Haywain which should be the centre of attraction. Since then, when I look at the Haywain, I always look for the horse. What makes it more interesting is that beside the horse there was a dog. The dog is still there still looking at the horse which isn’t there.

The same sort of thing happens when I am due to go shopping. I open the pantry to see what I must buy. But of course I am looking for things that are not there. I need to note down the things we have run out of. Sometimes seeing what isn’t there is important.

Can you think of times when you look at that which is not there? How might we see beyond the obvious?

There is a story in the Bible where an animal sees what his master cannot. Read Numbers 22:22-35. It’s about the roadblock that wasn’t there.

This passage is part of a longer passage that begins in Numbers 22 and goes through to chapter 24. The story tells of a prophet who was sent for by Balek, king of Moab, in order to place a curse on Israel. God comes to Balaam and forbids him doing for this task but in the end Balaam goes anyway. Then comes our story of Balaam and his donkey. Following that story we are given several prophecies given by Balaam. If you have a Good News Bible the illustrator has given us the story in pictures.

  • Why did the donkey stop?
  • Why did Balaam beat the donkey?
  • How did Balaam react when the donkey started talking?
  • What was his reaction when he finally saw the angel?

Now read Isaiah 6:1-8. This is the story of a vision that couldn’t be seen.

Talk about Isaiah’s experience.  What did he see and what did he do? Do you think he was alone in the Temple? If there were others why do you think they failed to see what he saw?

Can we miss the God moments in worship?

Animals in the Bible

The stories of animals that talk in the Bible are either ignored or regarded as miracles. Is there more insight yet to be gained here?