Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Numbers 22-24

In Numbers 22, the Israelites have camped along the Jordan river, across the river from Jericho. Balak, the king of Moab, was fearful because of what Israel had done to the Amorites, so he send a delegation of the elders of Midian to summon Balaam to curse the Israelites. But GOD told Balaam not to go, so they returned his answer to Balak. He sent another delegation, and this time, GOD told him to go with them, but only to do what he said. The next morning, Balaam mounted his donkey and went with the delegation of Moabites, but "GOD was very angry when he went." An Angel of the Lord blocked his path so that his donkey would not continue, and he beat her. This happened three times, and the "LORD opened the donkey's mouth" so that she could ask what she had done to be beaten. Then "the LORD opened Balaam's eyes" and he saw the angel and "bowed low and fell facedown." The Angel told him to go on, "but speak only what I tell you." When he arrived, Balak greeted him and berated him for not coming sooner, but Balaam told him that "I must speak only what God puts in my mouth." After a sacrifice, Balak took him to Bamoth Baal, where he could see part of the Israelite camp.

Over the next two chapters, Numbers 23-24, Balak and Balaam build seven altars on three different sites at three different times, sacrificed a bull and a ram on each, and Balaam provided an oracle. In each of the three cases, Balaam offered an oracle ("the LORD put a message in Balaam's mouth") which refused to curse Israel. "How can I curse those whom GOD has not cursed? ... No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them...Like a lion they crouch and lie down, like a lioness—who dares to rouse them? 'May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed!'" Each time, Balak berates Balaam, and Balaam responds that he had told Balak the he must say what the LORD puts in his mouth. "Then Balak's anger burned against Balaam" and he told him that there would be none of the promised reward. But Balaam delivered another oracle to Balak, telling him that "a star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab...A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city." He also foretold doom for the Amalekite and Kenites and Asshurites, before returning to his home.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I thought that the story of Balaam's ass was later, somewhere in Kings or Chronicles. I was wrong.
  • There are several strange or curious aspects to this story.
    • Who is Balaam?
    • How does he know GOD, and talk to GOD? This is one of the few indicators in the Pentateuch that GOD is not just talking to the Israelites. Melchizedek, back in Genesis 14, was another.
    • GOD tells Balaam to go with the Midianites. The next morning, he is angered when Balaam does so. What's missing?
  • Balak was not a very good listener. (An occupational hazard of royalty, of course.)
  • OK, I'll admit it - sometimes, I have difficulty focusing on the story and the point of the story if there's something about it that distracts me. And what distracts me about this is how did this story get included in this part of the book of Numbers? There are no Israelites here, other than distant object of fear (Balak) and veneration (Balaam). How did the story get into the books of Moses?

Psalms 25

A psalm of praise and supplication. "To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul...may integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you." The psalmist expresses his trust in the LORD, and asks for guidance and protection. Yes, that's a fairly generic comment which could apply to most of the psalms.

Verses 4-5 have been set by Walter Pelz in a lovely anthem which I've done several times, and like.

Psalm 25
Of David.
1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;

2 in you I trust, O my God.
Do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.

3 No one whose hope is in you
will ever be put to shame,
but they will be put to shame
who are treacherous without excuse.

4 Show me your ways, O LORD,
teach me your paths;

5 guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.

6 Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.

7 Remember not the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you are good, O LORD.

8 Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.

10 All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful
for those who keep the demands of his covenant.

11 For the sake of your name, O LORD,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

12 Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD ?
He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.

13 He will spend his days in prosperity,
and his descendants will inherit the land.

14 The LORD confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.

15 My eyes are ever on the LORD,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.

17 The troubles of my heart have multiplied;
free me from my anguish.

18 Look upon my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.

19 See how my enemies have increased
and how fiercely they hate me!

20 Guard my life and rescue me;
let me not be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.

21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope is in you.

22 Redeem Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!

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