February 24, 2016

Numbers 21-23  
The Canaanite king of Arad, ruling in the Negev, heard that Israel was advancing up the road to Atharim. He attacked Israel and took prisoners of war.  Israel vowed a vow to God: “If you will give this people into our power, we’ll destroy their towns and present the ruins to you as a holy destruction.” God listened to Israel’s prayer and gave them the Canaanites. They destroyed both them and their towns, a holy destruction. They named the place Hormah (Holy Destruction).

They set out from Mount Hor along the Red Sea Road, a detour around the land of Edom. The people became irritable and cross as they traveled. They spoke out against God and Moses: “Why did you drag us out of Egypt to die in this godforsaken country? No decent food; no water—we can’t stomach this stuff any longer.”  So God sent poisonous snakes among the people; they bit them and many in Israel died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke out against God and you. Pray to God; ask him to take these snakes from us.”

God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it on a flagpole: Whoever is bitten and looks at it will live.”  So Moses made a snake of fiery copper and put it on top of a flagpole. Anyone bitten by a snake who then looked at the copper snake lived.

The People of Israel set out and camped at Oboth...at Iye Abarim ....& in the Zered Valley. Their next camp was alongside the Arnon River, which marks the border between Amorite country and Moab....They went on to Beer (The Well), where God said to Moses, “Gather the people; I’ll give them water.” That’s where Israel sang a song:...

Israel sent emissaries to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying, “Let us cross your land. We won’t trespass into your fields or drink water in your vineyards. We’ll keep to the main road, the King’s Road, until we’re through your land.”  But Sihon wouldn’t let Israel go through. Instead he got his army together and marched into the wilderness to fight Israel. At Jahaz he attacked Israel. But Israel fought hard, beat him soundly, and took possession of his land from the Arnon all the way to the Jabbok right up to the Ammonite border.... Israel moved in and lived in Amorite country.  Moses sent men to scout out Jazer. They captured its villages and drove away the Amorites who lived there.  

Then they turned north on the road to Bashan. Og king of Bashan marched out with his entire army to meet Moses in battle at Edrei.  God said to Moses, “Don’t be afraid of him. I’m making a present of him to you, him and all his people and his land. Treat him the same as Sihon king of the Amorites who ruled in Heshbon.”  So they attacked him, his sons, and all the people—there was not a single survivor. Israel took the land.  

The People of Israel marched on and camped on the Plains of Moab at Jordan-Jericho.  Balak son of Zippor learned of all that Israel had done to the Amorites. The people of Moab were in a total panic because of Israel. There were so many of them! They were terrorized....Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, sent emissaries to get Balaam son of Beor, who lived at Pethor on the banks of the Euphrates River, his homeland.  Balak’s emissaries said, “...You have a reputation: Those you bless stay blessed; those you curse stay cursed...” “Stay here for the night,” Balaam said. “In the morning I’ll deliver the answer that God gives me...”  Then God came to Balaam. He asked, “So who are these men here with you?...Don’t go with them. And don’t curse the others—they are a blessed people...”

Balak sent another group of nobles, higher ranking and more distinguished. They came to Balaam and said, “Balak son of Zippor says, ‘Please, don’t refuse to come to me. I will honor and reward you lavishly—anything you tell me to do, I’ll do; I’ll pay anything—only come and curse this people.’”  Balaam answered Balak’s servants: “Even if Balak gave me his house stuffed with silver and gold, I wouldn’t be able to defy the orders of my God to do anything, whether big or little. But come along and stay with me tonight as the others did; I’ll see what God will say to me this time.”

God came to Balaam that night and said, “Since these men have come all this way to see you, go ahead and go with them. But make sure you do absolutely nothing other than what I tell you.”  Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went off with the noblemen from Moab. As he was going, though, God’s anger flared. The angel of God stood in the road to block his way. Balaam was riding his donkey, accompanied by his two servants. When the donkey saw the angel blocking the road and brandishing a sword, she veered off the road into the ditch. Balaam beat the donkey and got her back on the road.

But as they were going through a vineyard, with a fence on either side, the donkey again saw God’s angel blocking the way and veered into the fence, crushing Balaam’s foot against the fence. Balaam hit her again.  God’s angel blocked the way yet again—a very narrow passage this time; there was no getting through on the right or left. Seeing the angel, Balaam’s donkey sat down under him. Balaam lost his temper; he beat the donkey with his stick.  Then God gave speech to the donkey. She said to Balaam: “What have I ever done to you that you have beat me these three times?”  Balaam said, “Because you’ve been playing games with me! If I had a sword I would have killed you by now.”  The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your trusty donkey on whom you’ve ridden for years right up until now? Have I ever done anything like this to you before? Have I?  He said, “No.”  Then God helped Balaam see what was going on: He saw God’s angel blocking the way, brandishing a sword. Balaam fell to the ground, his face in the dirt.

God’s angel said to him: “Why have you beaten your poor donkey these three times? I have come here to block your way because you’re getting way ahead of yourself. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she hadn’t, I would have killed you by this time, but not the donkey. I would have let her off.”  Balaam said to God’s angel, “I have sinned. I had no idea you were standing in the road blocking my way. If you don’t like what I’m doing, I’ll head back.”
35 But God’s angel said to Balaam, “Go ahead and go with them. But only say what I tell you to say—absolutely no other word.”  And so Balaam continued to go with Balak’s nobles...

Balak said to Balaam, “Didn’t I send an urgent message for help? Why didn’t you come when I called? Do you think I can’t pay you enough?”  Balaam said to Balak, “Well, I’m here now. But I can’t tell you just anything. I can speak only words that God gives me—no others...”  At daybreak Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth Baal (The Heights of Baal) so that he could get a good view of some of the people.

Balaam said, “Build me seven altars here, and then prepare seven bulls and seven rams.” Balak did it. Then Balaam and Balak sacrificed a bull and a ram on each of the altars.  Balaam instructed Balak: “Stand watch here beside your Whole-Burnt-Offering while I go off by myself. Maybe God will come and meet with me. Whatever he shows or tells me, I’ll report to you.” Then he went off by himself.

God did meet with Balaam. Balaam said, “I’ve set up seven altars and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.”  Then God gave Balaam a message: “Return to Balak and give him this message.”  He went back and found him stationed beside his Whole-Burnt-Offering and with him all the nobles of Moab. Then Balaam spoke his message-oracle:

Balak led me here from Aram, the king of Moab all the way from the eastern mountains. “Go, curse Jacob for me; go, damn Israel.”  How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I damn whom God has not damned?  From rock pinnacles I see them, from hilltops I survey them:  Look! a people camping off by themselves, thinking themselves outsiders among nations.  But who could ever count the dust of Jacob or take a census of cloud-of-dust Israel? I want to die like these right-living people!  I want an end just like theirs!

Balak said to Balaam, “What’s this? I brought you here to curse my enemies, and all you’ve done is bless them.”  Balaam answered, “Don’t I have to be careful to say what God gives me to say?”

Balak said to him, “Go with me to another place from which you can only see the outskirts of their camp—you won’t be able to see the whole camp. From there, curse them for my sake.”  So he took him to Watchmen’s Meadow at the top of Pisgah. He built seven altars there and offered a bull and a ram on each altar.

Balaam said to Balak, “Take up your station here beside your Whole-Burnt-Offering while I meet with him over there.”
God met with Balaam and gave him a message. He said, “Return to Balak and give him the message...” Then Balaam spoke his message-oracle:

On your feet, Balak. Listen, listen carefully son of Zippor:  God is not man, one given to lies, and not a son of man changing his mind.  Does he speak and not do what he says?  Does he promise and not come through?  I was brought here to bless; and now he’s blessed—how can I change that?  He has no bone to pick with Jacob, he sees nothing wrong with Israel.  God is with them, and they’re with him, shouting praises to their King.  God brought them out of Egypt, rampaging like a wild ox.  No magic spells can bind Jacob, no incantations can hold back Israel.  People will look at Jacob and Israel and say, “What a great thing has God done!” Look, a people rising to its feet, stretching like a lion, a king-of-the-beasts, aroused, Unsleeping, unresting until its hunt is over and it’s eaten and drunk its fill.

Balak said to Balaam, “Well, if you can’t curse them, at least don’t bless them.”  Balaam replied to Balak, “Didn’t I tell you earlier: ‘All God speaks, and only what he speaks, I speak’?”

Balak said to Balaam, “Please, let me take you to another place; maybe we can find the right place in God’s eyes where you’ll be able to curse them for me.”  So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, with a vista over the Jeshimon (Wasteland).  Balaam said to Balak, “Build seven altars for me here and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for sacrifice.”  Balak did it and presented an offering of a bull and a ram on each of the altars.

Romans 5:12 - 5:21
You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in...That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. .. 

But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.  Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin...If death gets the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, this the one man Jesus Christ provides.  

Here it is in a nutshell.  Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it... All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers.  But sin didn’t, and doesn’t have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace.  When it’s sin vs. grace, grace wins hands down... Grace...invites us into life--a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.