So we’re only about eight (8) days away from the end of Numbers, and then I’ll move on to Deuteronomy. Very exciting. I think I’m going to start reading ahead at some point. It’s difficult right now because, honestly, as I’ve said before, these chapters get really tedious.
I’ll hit the highlights of Numbers 22- 28.
I had to consult Matthew Henry on this one.
So Balak wants to destroy Israel but fears he cannot for their army is to strong. So he calls on this guy named Balaam, that Balaam might curse Israel and allow Balak, king of Moab, to triumph against them. Balaam prays to God and God tells him not to go with the messengers, because the people of Israel are blessed, and he shall not curse them. Balaam accordingly tells the messengers that he shall not be going with them, and that is that.
Balak, however, does not take “no” for an answer, and sends more messengers to Balaam. Balaam suggests that they spend the night, that he may speak again to God about this matter. This time, God tells him to go with the men if they call him.
So Balaam rises in the morning and goes with the men. His path is blocked by an “Angel of the Lord” which the donkey can see but Balaam cannot. Three times the donkey does not proceed forward and three times Balaam strikes the donkey. At this point, God, in one of his interesting moods, opens the mouth of the donkey and she speaks to Balaam. He takes this surprisingly well, all things considered, and argues back as to why he was justified in beating the animal.
At this point, his eyes are opened to the Angel before him, which tells him that the donkey had the good sense to not press on, and it’s a good thing too, because the Angel would have slain him. Balaam tells the Angel that he admits his sin and will turn back. The Angel says, no, go on ahead this time, for realsies, but only say what God tells you to say.
The thing that confused me here is that Balaam asked God if he could go, and God said yes. But, as Matthew Henry explains, Balaam already knew what God’s will was. He asked again in hopes that he could disobey it with permission. From Matthew Henry:
“He had already been told what the will of God was. It is a certain evidence of the ruling of corruption in the heart, to beg leave to sin. God gave Balaam up to his own heart’s lusts. As God sometimes denies the prayers of his people in love, so sometimes he grants the desires of the wicked in wrath.”
But, even though God did grant Balaam leave to go, God does not approve of the sin. Henry puts this best, so I’ll just leave this quote here:
“We must not think, that because God does not always by his providence restrain men from sin, therefore he approves of it, or that it is not hateful to him. The holy angels oppose sin, and perhaps are employed in preventing it more than we are aware. This angel was an adversary to Balaam, because Balaam counted him his adversary; those are really our best friends, and we ought so to reckon them, who stop our progress in sinful ways. Balaam has notice of God’s displeasure by the ass. It is common for those whose hearts are fully set in them to do evil, to push on violently, through the difficulties Providence lays in their way. The Lord opened the mouth of the ass. This was a great miracle wrought by the power of God. He who made man speak, could, when he pleased, make the ass to speak with man’s voice. The ass complained of Balaam’s cruelty. The righteous God does not allow the meanest or weakest to be abused; but they shall be able to speak in their own defence, or he will some way or other speak for them. Balaam at length has his eyes opened. God has many ways to bring down the hard and unhumbled heart. When our eyes are opened, we shall see the danger of sinful ways, and how much it was for our advantage to be crossed.”
And far from turning away from sin, Balaam is pushed toward glorifying God, because he will not only not curse Israel, he will bless them in the name of God. As he does in…
Matthew Henry makes some really good points here about Balaam’s attempts at divination and sorcery.
“With the camps of Israel full in view, Balaam ordered seven altars to be built, and a bullock and a ram to be offered on each. Oh the sottishness of superstition, to imagine that God will be at man’s beck! The curse is turned into a blessing, by the overruling power of God, in love to Israel. God designed to serve his own glory by Balaam, and therefore met him. If God put a word into the mouth of Balaam, who would have defied God and Israel, surely he will not be wanting to those who desire to glorify God, and to edify his people; it shall be given what they should speak. He who opened the mouth of the ass, caused the mouth of this wicked man to speak words as contrary to the desire of his heart, as those of the ass were to the powers of the brute. The miracle was as great in the one case as in the other.”
Get it? God opened the mouth of the ass. I’m glad I went to read from the commentary now because that’s actually pretty funny. Balaam’s ordeal here reminds me of a passage from C.S. Lewis:
“A merciful man aims at his neighbour’s good as so does ‘God’s will,’ consciously co-operating with ‘the simple good’. A cruel man oppresses his neighbour and so does simple evil. But in doing such evil he is used by God, without his knowledge or consent, to produce the complex good — so that the first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool. For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.”
— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
This is one of my favorite quotes from Lewis. Also, the more I think about it, this raises a really interesting point. If at our best, highest states, our will is compatible and not only that but is in line with God’s will… see, this is what I mean about our souls being like extensions of God. We are divine souls trapped in animal bodies. Not divine in the sense that we are literally God, but divine in the sense that we are, at our core, in harmony with His Essence. Perhaps this is why there exists the idea of Hell, or destruction of the soul. I’ve thought as of late that if there is such a thing as Hell or (in my opinion) destruction of the soul, Nothingness, then it is not God who directly condemns our soul to this place. I think it is us. We choke this soul, we starve it, weaken it by depriving it of what it so desires most, what it needs, which is to return to the God and the Good from whence it came.
We condemn ourselves to death. I know not whether this is the truth, I merely espouse it as an interesting idea. I know not what condemns one to Hell, or how much or how little sin one must commit. I know not how many forms repentance can take, nor how many ways one may be unshackled from sin. But I do find the idea intriguing. Ultimately, Hell or destruction or Nothing or whatever it may be, if it be, I feel is a natural consequence, an inescapable state of mind/being than a direct divine condemnation.
But I’ll have to read further on that.
So anyway, Balak attempts to get Balaam to curse Israel three separate times, and three times Balaam blesses Israel. The third time, he doesn’t even try divination, but opens himself up to the Holy Spirit and speaks the words that God has given. Balaam is an important Biblical figure, I think, even though I have never heard of him. He’s an ass, clearly, but God uses Balaam’s voice to carry His word, and in the end, Balaam gives himself over to God. He seems to just go on his merry way afterward, so hopefully he goes and does good, and hopefully we will too.
Israel starts consorting (as they, and we, are wont to do) with undesirable people, in this case, the Moabites. So God starts another mass killing/plague, and at some point in the middle of all this, Phinehas, son of Eleazar, see’s an Israelite man bring in and show off a Midianite woman. So Phinehas grabs a javelin, heads into their tent, and kills them both in one mighty thrust. It’s the kind of thing that you’d see in an action movie. I’ve heard one interpretation that says that the man and woman were having sex at the time.
Phinehas is a regular Arnold Schwarzenegger. (I’m hoping there was a one-liner involved.)
Also, the woman’s name was Cozbi?
More genealogy and census stuff. They’re numbering all the men of Israel to figure out who is going to be able to go to war.
Oh, yeah! This chapter is why I remembered Korah, because in Numbers 26:9-11, it mentions some of his descendents and clarifies that not all the children of Korah died when he and his family were swallowed up by the earth. I forget whether I mentioned this back when it happened, but I feel like the moral of that story is that one person going against God and Goodness can bring down (get it?) their entire family.
Anyway, there’s a ton of Israelites, and the Bible is clear on the fact that aside from two guys, Caleb and Joseph, “there was not a man [among them] of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest when they numbered the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai” (Numbers 26:64). Because, if you recall, all of those losers were condemned to death and told that they would never make the Promised Land.
Chapter 27 in Numbers describes some stuff about inheritance law for a man without sons.
Following that, God tells Moses that he will (eventually?) go up Mount Abarim and see the land that has been given to the children of Israel. However, at the mountain, he shall be “gathered to [his] people” as Aaron was as a result of Moses’ disobedience and rebellion at the waters of Meribah. Moses pleads that God will find a suitable replacement, that the people will not be “like sheep which have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:17).
God tells Moses that he shall inaugurate Joshua, son of Nun, and give him some of Moses’ authority, that Joshua may stand by Eleazar the priest, son of Aaron.
Moses does this.
There is so much in here about sacrifices that I finally turned to Matthew Henry again. I would go read that if you are interested. Basically he talks about how in a modern Christian sense, offerings of animals have to be reinterpreted as offerings of prayer and praise. This chapter therefore indicates that we should pray and praise God in the morning and in the evening.
The Bible also describes offerings for the Sabbath day, the beginnings of the month, Passover, which falls on the fourteenth day of the first month which is followed on the fifteenth day by the feast, which lasts a week. Then God discusses the offerings for the day of the firstfruits, which I’m presuming has to do with a harvest.
Oy, I do love all this reading.
Good night, all! Peace be upon you.