Thursday, November 7, 2013

Take a Hint! Numbers 24

We are nearly to the end of the Balaam Narratives in Numbers. We’ve seen Balaam try and balance personal profit with fearing God. We’ve seen Balaam pronounce blessings that I do not think he expected to pronounce. We’ve seen him talk to his own donkey, and God speaking through a talking donkey deserves an entire blog series of its own.

I digress. Today in Numbers 24, we see Balaam beginning to get the idea. Numbers 24:1 tells us he saw that it pleased YHWH to bless Israel. At which point, Balaam then sets aside his ways of seeking ‘prophecy’ and the true Spirit of the One True God came upon him. (Numbers 24:2) He then speaks words of blessing over Israel, which we could go all Bible-nerdy and debate whether they are blessings that would not have happened had they not been said, or if they were simply foretellings of the blessing of YHWH that would come upon Israel.

Hint: it’s the latter. While our ‘self-narrative’ affects our life, the words spoken by someone with no power or authority over us do nothing. Spiritually, Balaam has no power but God does, so Balaam is not bringing the blessings into existence. God does so, and gives Balaam a peek into the future to report them.

Balaam takes a prudent course of action in this chapter. Let’s look at how he handles the whole thing.

First, he sees what pleases God. Pay attention. Read the Word of God. See what pleases God. Do we actually take time to consider that idea? Does this please God? He is knowable, based on the Word of God where He has revealed Himself. If Jesus wouldn’t do it, it does not please God.

Second, he does what pleases God. It is not enough to see. Doing follows.

Second, he abandons those things which displease God. The divination, the ways of false religion. It’s all out. If you know what pleases and displeases God, then you will do the one and not the other, and both receive equal effort in your life. While it is certainly easier to avoid the bad by doing the good, and one can err by sitting about, hoping to never do wrong by never doing anything, that’s no solution.

Third, he beats feet away from the enemies of God. Balaam’s last statements are about the end-result of afflicting God’s people, the closing chapter of Moab’s existence. So he gets away.

Do we recognize the need for these three concepts in our lives? In our churches?

That our goal is to focus on what pleases God, avoiding evil, doing good, and not partnering with darkness. Even if it’s a “good cause.”

Balaam’s story does not actually end here. Numbers 31 reflects that he counseled Balak that the only way to sideline Israel was to entice them to sin. God had no curse for them, and no outside power could stand against them, but their own sin could be their undoing.

And it was. When we look at the next chapter, we will see the plague brought by the people’s sin.

Balaam is not unlike many of our cultural experts that we listen to in the modern American church. He could clearly see what God did and didn’t approve of, but he found the loopholes to sow Israel’s destruction through themselves.

We must be cautious that we do not draw into our lives the seeds of destruction. Even one who has blessed us in the past may be troubling our future.

Today’s Nerd Note: I’m not going to detail the ways that Balaam’s prophecies come true. Some of these are certainly emblematic and hard to figure.

A few worth noting: Numbers 24:17 reflects the rising of a star, a scepter that shall crush Moab. This could be Davidic or Messianic, depending on how you press it out.

Then there are the references to the Kenites, and they reappear in Judges 4-5.

Just a few spots worth noting.

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