Thursday, October 17, 2013

Curses, foiled again: Numbers 22


Numbers 22 very well might be the inspiration for a certain furry movie character, but I’m going to fade a little bit away from talking donkeys. I do not doubt that all things are possible through the power of God, including the occasional talking animal, and see no point in bickering that out. If there is an omnipotent God, then talking donkeys are no big deal, just like any other miracle. On those issues, we should discuss the root and not the branch: is the God of the Bible the God of the Universe, as described, or is He not? If He is, then talking donkeys and parted seas are merely outcroppings, not real issues to debate.

Instead, I would have you take a look at the broader situation in Numbers 22. Balaam has been hired to put a curse on the people of Israel. So far, the Israelites have put a major beatdown on every enemy they have encountered. This includes wrapping up Numbers 21 by defeating Sihon and Og. These two kings attempted to capture Israel as they passed through their territory, rather than allowing them to pass by.

The king of Moab decided that he would not attempt to face Israel in straight-up battle. Instead, Balak sends for a prophet to put a curse on Israel. He finds a man named Balaam. We do not know a lot about Balaam, and there is no evidence of his FaceScroll Carving advertising himself as a spiritualist. The best we can do is infer that he was some sort of religious celebrity, known well enough that the Moabites send out to the land around the Euphrates to hire him.

I think it is one possibility that Balaam gets this call because the Moabites know the connection between the horde of Israelites they see and that wanderer from the land around the Euphrates 400 years ago, Abraham. This could represent an effort to find someone who has a line to the tribal deity of Abraham’s family, and have that person perform a curse ritual. I do not find much in support of this, but we are looking at the Moabites traveling several weeks to hire Balaam. There has to be a reason.

Balaam comes, and is called upon to curse the people of Israel. He does inform Balak that he can only say what God gives him to say, and then he is sent out to pronounce his curses.

Except God puts these words into Balaam: blessings and prophecies of God’s favor.

Now, much of this builds on Numbers 23 and 24 as well, but I think we should hit this at the beginning:

Blessing and cursing are in the hand of the power of God.

Not in anything else. Not in anyone else.

Only in God’s hands.

Why does this matter?

Because we do not need to walk through this world fearing that we might pick up an accidental curse here or there. Or that we might have been born with one, did not know it, and that’s what has wrecked our lives all this time. If only we had known…

There is no spiritual power that exists at the level of God. Are there other spiritual forces? Yes. Do any of them equal the One True God? No. Nothing is greater than He.

If there is a curse, it is permitted by Him, and Scripture supports, from cover to cover, that curses come from a person’s willful participation in sin. Especially on this side of the Cross, where the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus has made atonement for sin.

So lose the fear. I recognize that there are powers, but the powers of darkness run from the light. Put your effort into following the Light and back away from the fear of darkness. You don’t live there anymore.

And hired guns out to curse you for money, curse you for following God, curse you for the good God has done for you?

They are powerless. Unless you give them your fears to work with.

Today’s Nerd Note:

Dig a little into the identity of the Angel of YHWH. Some call this individual a theophany, or a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus on earth. That’s typically based in a few of the passages in Genesis. It is difficult to nail down—there are non-angelic behaviors, like accepting worship, that the Angel of YHWH does in the Old Testament.

It is also possible that this angel is just an angel, and the Old Testament author is more concerned with the power behind the messenger—the God who the angel works for—than with the angel. Much like you likely don’t remember the name of your UPS driver but you do know where the boxes come from.

This is, certainly, a point worth remembering. We can chase rabbits all day, but it’s about God, not about anyone else.

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