OT: Numbers 21:1-22:20
Before I get to Balaam, I have to let everyone know that they can breathe easily now: the matter of Numbers has been settled in my soul. I know, I know--what a relief:)! I touched on my interpretation yesterday, but here it is in a nutshell: the OT portrays the relationship between a holy God and sinful man. By all accounts, such a relationship should never have happened, since holiness and perfection cannot commune with sin. The fact that it did happen proves Moses' words that "the Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love, and forgiving sin and rebellion" (14:18). However, due to human sinfulness, such a relationship is bound to be fraught with hardship. When humans live that close to holiness, a lot of death will necessarily ensue, as we have seen. And even with the Law and the priests and the sacrifices in place, man cannot enjoy the true, full communion with God for which they both long. Thus, God sent Jesus to fulfill the Law perfectly and to make peace between God and man. The relationship that we now enjoy is the relationship for which we were designed...and which the Israelites could never experience without that perfect Savior to mediate.
So, I got it. I'm sure most of you were already there and are relieved that I finally caught up with the class:).
Now, on to Balaam. Did I not tell you that this story would rock? Seriously, I found myself laughing out loud, having forgotten some of the details. I was a bit confused by God's anger over Balaam's journey, since He had told Balaam that he could go (22:20). But two verses later, He's angry about it. It seems clear to me that God's allowance was a concession to Balaam, and that He wanted Balaam to understand that He wasn't happy with this whole situation. And you have to love God's method. He puts an angel in the road, so that only the donkey can see it. Do you see what God's going for here? I have a theory that in giving the donkey better spiritual vision than the prophet, God was making a few unsavory comparisons. After all, Balaam's insistence on going with Balak's men shows that he was stubborn, and that he also turns out to be a bit of an...well, you know:). I mean seriously, who's the real talking donkey here? (I'll be here all week, folks:)).
And the physical comedy is hilarious. First of all, the donkey veers off the road. Then, he smashes Balaam's foot against the wall (this is the point where I started laughing out loud), and lastly, the donkey sits down under Balaam (increasing my laughter). And then, of course, it gets even better b/c God lets the donkey talk and calmly, reasonably prove why Balaam is being so...asinine. I know we all read it, but let's relive it together, shall we? First, the donkey asks, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?" And Balaam doesn't miss a beat. He is so mad that he immediately starts arguing with a talking donkey! He tells the donkey that she embarrassed him and that he would kill her if he had a sword. The donkey responds to this hotheaded remark with cool logic, proving herself to be the intellectual superior in the conversation: "Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?" I am rolling by this point. This story always gets me, and if you think I'm overreacting with my enthusiasm, just flip back and look what I have been reading in Numbers the last couple of days. Compared to that, this is high comedy! Then of course, God opens Balaam's eyes, and he sees the angel and makes up with his donkey. And I love God's little comment that He would have killed Balaam but spared the donkey. He really wanted to put Balaam in his place, didn't he?
And it worked. Balaam went on to faithfully relay God's words to Balak, despite the latter taking his turn as a stubborn mule and trying three times to get a curse out of Balaam.
NT: Luke 1:57-80
Today, I found myself loving the idea that John's identity was fixed from birth. God had a purpose and a plan for John. For some reason, I loved it when, after the first recorded game of charades, Zechariah confirms, "His name is John." Not, "I want to name him John," or "We are going to name him John," but, "His name is John." John is who this child is. John's identity is already formed. The people seem to get some sense of the wonder of the situation because they are "filled with awe," and "everyone who heard" about it wondered, "What then is this child going to be?" (65-66). They realize definitively that God has plans for this baby.
It makes me wonder if that is not true, albeit to a lesser degree, for all of us. After all, Ephesians 2:10 says that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." That is true of me and of my children. And I know that my kids aren't John the Baptist, but I still see how to a certain degree, they have a fixed identity, and that God created them in a certain way for a certain purpose. Like Mary, I treasure things up in my heart about my children, and like the people in today's reading, I wonder, "What then are these children going to be?" I see their promise, and I wait and pray in anticipation for whatever God chooses to do through them.
I also love Zechariah's prophecy. I see clearly how Jesus did fulfill all of the things he prophesied, but I also see how Zechariah could have some misinterpretations of his own prophecy even as he says it. For instance, in verse 74, Zech says that the horn of salvation will "rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and...enable us to serve him without fear". Perhaps Zechariah was envisioning a physical escape from oppression; perhaps he pictured people serving God without fear because they had no reason to fear. However, Jesus rescued His people from the hands of their true, spiritual enemies, and He empowered them to serve fearlessly in the midst of adversity.
I don't know if Zechariah thought all that, but for some reason, I find the idea of misinterpreting the prophecy to be comforting. Often, I see things that lead me to believe fully that God is going to do something really cool, and then the really cool thing turns out completely differently from what I pictured. It's comforting to realize that even though God doesn't act in the way I think He is going to, He still is accomplishing great things. In fact, He is undoubtedly accomplishing greater things than the things I was picturing.
My favorite image, though, is of the "rising sun" that "will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (78-79). Beautiful!
Well, David is quite graphic in this psalm! He implores God to "break the [wicked's] teeth in their mouths, and he compares them hopefully to a "slug melting away" and a "stillborn child" (6,8). Lovely.
In verse 3, there is some more imagery that might be pertinent both to the idea of original sin and our ongoing discussion of the function and intention of the psalms. I feel, however, that I have been belaboring those points a bit. Thus, I won't revisit them. (Except to say that it seems impossible for someone to speak lies from the womb. No more, though:).) I could go around and around with myself on this one, so I'll just move on instead.
Ah, these are tough verses. I was going to say that they are tough for women, but one thing I learned from high school is that guys are often bigger gossips than girls! They just aren't catty about it; they vent their feelings outright:). So these verses are tough for everyone. If nothing else, it is hard to hold one's tongue, like verse 12 advises! Since I very much value trustworthiness, I love verse 13. At the same time, though, I tell Greg everything, and maybe that betrays confidences sometimes! I do try to let people know before they confide in me that I will inevitably spill to Greg!