Friday, July 23, 2010

Dance with God

In our previous study, we saw how a talking donkey helped Balaam escape the wrath of God. This study picks up right were that one left off.

Quickly, let us recap. Balak, king of Moab, is worried by the approaching Israelites. So Balak summons Balaam, a non-Israelite who talks directly to God, to come and curse the Israelites. God eventually tells Balaam to go to Balak, but nearly kills him on the way there for no apparent reason. God and Balaam make an agreement, so when Balaam makes it to Balak, he tells Balak that he will only speak what God tells him to speak.

Dance with God
One sign of the integrity of a man is how straightforward he is in his interactions with others. A man of integrity will not give you the run around, but will rather be direct about his intents, purposes, and restrictions from the beginning. One should hope that God is that honest and straightforward in His dealings with His creations. After all, God is supposed to exhibit the highest morality, and so we should be able to learn by His example.

In this study we continue on in a story from Numbers 22 where Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet of God, was headed to Balak, the king of Moab. Near the conclusion of that chapter, Balaam states that he will only speak what God tells him to speak (Numbers 22:38). Keep that in mind as we read more.

Numbers 23:1-12 has Balaam instruct Balak to make 7 altars, and then sacrificed a ram and a bull on each altar. Balaam then goes off to talk to God. It appears that Balaam met with God face-to-face on a barren hill (Numbers 23:3-4). This seems to contradict Exodus 33:20 and Numbers 12:6-8.

God tells Balaam to tell Balak that Balaam cannot curse what God has not cursed, that the Israelites live apart from other nations, and that they have a huge population. Balaam closes out in Numbers 23:10 with an interesting statement:
“... Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like theirs!” NIV
This could be taken a number of different ways; from confirming that death is final to implying that those who follow God will meet with a desirable “end” of life, which could be eternal.

Moving on. Balak is disappointed in Balaam's message, but Balaam reminds him that he must speak what God tells him to speak (Numbers 23:11-12).

If at first you do not succeed, try, try again. This seems to be Balak's motto, as he takes Balaam to another location, builds another 7 altars, and sacrifices another 7 rams and bulls (Numbers 23:13-14).

Balaam then goes “over there” to meet with God. God tells him to tell Balak that God is not like a man, that he would lie, or change his mind, or promise something and not fulfill it. (Of course, that contradicts passages such as Numbers 22:13 and Numbers 22:20 where God did change His mind and all three times God repented.) God goes on to say that no misfortune or misery is seen in the Israelites because God is with them. (And this contradicts other passages as well, such as when God killed some Israelites for wanting variety in their diets.) Furthermore, God says the Israelites like a lion which will not rest until it drinks the blood of its victims (Numbers 23:15-24).

As you may imagine, Balak is again not happy, but he is still persistent. The chapter closes out with another 7 altars built and another 14 sacrifices made (Numbers 23:25-30), but the story continues in Numbers 24.

Numbers 24:1 states that Balaam did not resort to sorcery this time, and then Numbers 24:2 says that the Spirit of God came to him. This gives you the impression that Balaam had used some sorcery to talk to God the previous two times.

(You may recall that in a previous study we discussed Exodus 22:18, which calls for the death of sorceresses, female practitioners of sorcery, and noted that the death sentence did not extend to men. Balaam would seem to be a confirmation of that sexist policy as opposed to showing how God was against any sorcery in general.)

With the Spirit, Balaam rattles off whole chapter's worth of prophesy in Numbers 24:3-25. He blesses the Israelites, speaking of how powerful and mighty they are, how they will have a king who is greater than Agag of the Amalekites, and have an exalted kingdom (Numbers 24:3-8). Then Balaam goes on to say that whoever blesses them will be blessed, and whoever curses them will be cursed (Numbers 24:9).

Balak is angry, and tells Balaam to go home without being payed (Numbers 24:10-11).

That does not stop the prophesy. In Numbers 24:12-25, Balaam states that the king of Israel will conquer Moab, the sons of Sheth, Edom, and Seir, that Amalek will be destroyed, that the Kenites will be captured by Asshur, and that Asshur too will be conquered.

Overall, there is nothing too outrageous in this story, but perhaps what stands out the most is that Balak and Balaam had to go through this dance with God. Instead of God just being honest and complete with Balak through Balaam on the first prophesy, God unnecessarily stretched out this correspondence as if it was done for His own amusement and to embarrass Balak as much as possible. What a great example for all of us to follow.

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