Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Numbers 22, 23, 24 Balaam's Oracles Concerning Israel

Balaam and the Angel, as in Numbers 22:21-25, ...Image via Wikipedia
When Balak, the King of  Moab, saw the Israelites camped along the Jordan River, across from Jericho, he summoned Balaam, a powerful pagan priest who practised divination.  Although Balaam, full of his sense self and his own powers, did not recognize God as Sovereign over All, God did reveal Himself to him.  Balaam could not see God completely because he was too impressed with himself.

In this Numbers account, King Balak summoned Balaam and ordered him to curse Israel. Balak expressed his confidence in Balaam by saying that "I know that those you bless are blessed and those you curse are cursed" (Numbers 22:6).  In earlier readings, we saw that God had blessed Israel numerous times concerning the longevity of the nation.  And yet, here we see that a man, standing in defiance to God, ordered another man, whom he revered above God, to cancel a blessing pronounced by God.

Even though Balaam did tell the King's representatives that he would ask God about their request before agreeing to do anything, I wonder if the confidence the King expressed in Balaam's power by asking that he overturn God's blessing, or God's Will, pitted Balaam's ego against God.  The divination fees did not seem to influence Balaam.  

The first time God appeared to Balaam, He told him not to go with Balak's representatives, so Balaam refused to go.   When the next group of representatives arrived to implore Balaam to go to King Balak, God gave Balaam permission to go providing that he did only as God told him to.

On the journey to Moab, Balaam's donkey stopped dead in her tracks three times in different locations.  Each time, Balaam beat his donkey severely in order to get her to get up and move.  Finally,  during the third beating, the donkey spoke to Balaam, reproaching him for these beatings, citing that this behaviour was unusual for her.  In effect, the donkey was calling Balaam's attention to look beyond the obvious, to see  that something was amiss.  God then opened Balaam's eyes and he saw the Angel of the Lord  (Numbers 22:31) standing in the road with His sword drawn.  Had the donkey had not stopped, Balaam would have lost his life.

So, God told Balaam to go.  He went. But, along the way, something was amiss.  I think that there is a study of contrasts here.  God, who sees into the hearts and minds of men, saw that Balaam was not going in the spirit God had intended for him to go.  Balaam, who saw in the physical, was blind to the spiritual and didn't see that there was a problem between him and God. After this encounter, Balaam knew, no matter what his thoughts or intentions were, that he had to honor God's direction, that he was no match for God.

In all, Balaam delivered four oracles regarding Israel, none of which were curses.  Through all four, God actually revealed Himself to Balaam and the Balak.  Had their hearts been open to God, they had an opportunity to glorify God and to enter into a relationship with Him.  But, hearing God, they still chose, by not aligning themselves with Him, to defy Him.  Balaam delivered the oracles God gave him, but neither he nor the King were pleased about them.

In the third oracle concerning Israel, Balaam ended by echoing King Balak's original request in mirror form.  Numbers 24:9 reads   "May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed."

Reflecting on world history, it can be seen that this oracle was upheld throughout the centuries.  

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