Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15

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!

Psalm 58:1-11

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.

Proverbs 11:12-13

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!


  1. I think today was a refreshing shift - but I still found myself feeling that old familiar sense of defense to a small degree for these people who have the limited human mind like mine..."but you said!" Or, "I dont understand!"

    I think you hit the nail on the head about the whole relationship being the point. I still am pondering how God chooses to show a totally different side of himself to US, present day. I know that God does not change. He is the same today, yesterday and forever ..yet we dont see him sending talking donkeys to people (OR ..we need to spend more time listening to Hurley's friends at his summer home perhaps?) or swallowing people up along with their kids and wives.

    Clearly, he had a different agenda back in the day than he does now. He wants us to see a different side of him through the OT and his relationship with the Israelites. Seeing them as a metaphor for man in general makes sense - in the whole picture they represent what man is incapable of doing, while also showing what God is fully capable doing.

    Like mom always said, you must understand law before you can understand grace.

    Viewing the Israelites from this distance, it is easy to see how absolutely incompetent they were for the task of being worthy of a relationship with God. How necessary it is for God to give us another way to get back to him.

    'Man is not equipped for bridging this gap between us, Israelites and point. NOW, here is a new way, a better way, a way that relies more on ME than on you (you donkey, you :)'

    Luke ..I know it was in yesterday's reading but I have to note that all this discussion about babies moving makes me feel very close to the story presently :) JD did some major shift last night as I was falling asleep. I dont know if he flipped back to front or upside down to right side up but the kid did something so big that I jarred awake and it took me a bit to settle back down. I wonder if that was like what Elizabeth felt? I think alot too, about what my children have in their future.

    I worry about me not providing the right environment for them to accomplish all that God has planned for them, but then again ..just knowing that God does have a plan and purpose for them is a good start for me and them.

    I know when I was a young teenager my mom told me that she had known for a long time that God has special things planned for me. I wonder if I have done that already or there is more to come, but I know that it has given me a sense of purpose and focus that I wouldnt have had otherwise.

    How wonderful for John to be raised by parents who loved God, and we sure of God's role in his own life. What a blessed child he was, and how much easier was the task that eventually was made clear to him because he was reminded of his purpose? I wonder if Mama Elizabeth was disappointed when it entailed wearing animal skins, eating bugs and living in the desert? :)

  2. Numbers: Just a note: I was always taught that reading the O.T. helped you understand the New. However, reading in Hebrews, beginning in chapter 8, has really helped me with Numbers. I have a much better picture and understanding of it. Hope it will help you as well.

    All good stuff...keep reading, meditating, and writing yall. You are all a blessing to me.

  3. Numbers:

    Yeah, that makes sense about man's relationship to God. Again, it is a good reminder of how things would be for us without Jesus.

    Moving on to Balaam, I have thought before that someone should make little cartoons (like comic books) about some of these crazy Bible stories (Balaam, Elisha and the bears, maybe the golden calf incident--"...and out came this calf!"--etc.). I was sort of taken aback at first by God's reaction to Balaam going with the men after He had already told him to go, but I think you're right that God wanted to make it clear that He didn't like the whole situation. I think it was good that he did go, though, so that he could give God's message to Balak.

    About that message... In 23:8 (NLT) it says, "But how can I curse those whom God has not cursed?" and then in verse 21, "No misfortune is in sight for Jacob; no trouble is in store for Israel." Also, verse 19 says, "God is not a man, that he should lie. He is not a human, that he should change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?" It is clear to me that God already has everything planned out and that man cannot change that plan. Yes, from our perspective we are still responsible for making right choices, but we should consult God about those choices because He has the script. Someone might say, "What about prayer? Don't we change God's mind when we pray?" No, I don't think we do. Balaam didn't consult with God so that he could tell God what to do; it was the other way around. We pray to change us, not to change God. When Abraham/Abram asked God to save Sodom for the sake of the number of righteous people there, God was willing to go there with him, BUT I believe that God already knew that there were not that many righteous people there. He knew that Abraham's pleadings were in vain, but it was important for them to have that conversation so that Abe would feel better when it all went down. (Sorry, I know I've already talked about this one before.) Anyway, it is just fascinating to me to read the interactions between God and Balaam. One would think that Balaam would pray to God to curse the people, but it doesn't work that way.


    Continuing the same thought, yes, I do think that we all are born with our own idenitity and purpose from God. He is the potter who makes us each into vessels for His own purposes. Some of us may have more prominent roles than others, but the roles are all ordained by God. Also, some roles may be easier or harder to identity at first than others (and we may have certain roles for certain times in our lives and then end up with different roles later). The point is that all of it is decided by God beforehand. (I am still mulling over the idea, though, of God recording what happens to us AFTER it happens, like He recorded David's tears. I think there must be some connection between the past, present, and future that seems linear to us but all the same to God.)

  4. Psalms:

    Verse 8a, NLT: "May they be like snails that dissolve into slime." Oh my!

    My verse 3 (sorry if you didn't want to talk about it again, but I have things to say) says, "These wicked people are born sinners; even from birth they have lied and gone their own way." Yes, we all know that babies can't talk as soon as they are born, but I don't think David was trying to say that. I think the point is simply that the people he speaks of were lying and getting into trouble as soon as they were able. I'm sure we have all known people like that growing up in school. Some kids are just the "bad kids." Just as you say you see/saw your kids' personalities emerging early on, the parents of these people would have seen wickedness in their children. So, yes, David was using an expression, but it was one that has a meaning that should be obvious to us. I don't think you can use that to say that David doesn't mean things literally. The things that are figurative or poetic are not hard to distinguish from the literal things. For instance, verse 4 says, "They spit poison like deadly snakes; they are like cobras that refuse to listen[.]" I don't think anyone would get confused and take this literally. It just means that these were bad dudes. However, from something like, "He knit me together in my mother's womb" we can get the idea that God specially designed David before he was even born. I don't think it's a stretch to say that He did the same for all of us. That phrase does not say when "life" begins, but it does show that even fetuses in wombs are specially designed by God. They are not simply random cells with no significance to God. (I would say that God designs His people even BEFORE they are in the womb, actually.)


    From reading this passage, I feel as though I should NEVER open my mouth.

  5. Courtney, Good stuff, all around:). The only thing I would say (and I totally think I got what YOU were saying) is that God HAS had the same agenda the whole time: to have a relationship with man. He chose to engage in the process the way that He did (from the OT to the NT) for reasons that I can only barely begin to understand. Like Paul said, I see through a glass darkly. But I do believe that, while the smaller agenda (HOW we have this relationship) changed, the bigger agenda (THAT we have the relationship) stayed the same.

    Aw, and I though of little JD, too. How blessed he is to have a mama who sees his promise from the beginning!


    Wow! Hebrews 8 was a WONDERFUL chapter to read after going through Numbers! It's funny, b/c I have quoted verses 11-12 a few times in the blog this year, but I never went back and reread the whole chapter. I just trusted my memory of Hebrews in general. But you're right--this chapter is great!

  6. Oh, Becky, Becky, Becky:).

    Fine then! Let's talk about this:). (Seriously, I do enjoy deep discussions, and I love delving into these things. And talking to you about the Psalms has definitely helped to refine my thoughts. I just don't want to wonder into too much contention. And I think we have both expressed our points pretty adequately, and we are not going to change each other's mind. Which is totally fine. But let me at least clarify my position:)).

    Yes, I understand that the psalms do contain definite truths. And yes, I also understand that they use figurative language. And yes, I also get that figurative language can be used to describe definite truths. But my argument is that our interpretation of the psalms should be based on the theology that other Scripture describes. Psalms is not the starting point for building a theology, nor should it be used as the cornerstone of evidence for a particular position. The reason is that because they are poetry, the figurative language leaves too much gray area.

    Case in point: Because you already believe in original sin, you interpret 58:3 as figurative in that babies can't talk from birth. And you interpret that it is literal in that they ARE sinful from birth. Because I don't believe in original sin, I interpret 58:3 as figurative in that they are sinful from birth or the womb. And I interpret that it is literal in that these wicked people had grown up sinning. Or that they were seasoned sinners. Something of that nature. Something based on their own cognitive choices that they made at an age where they understood morality.

    Similarly, in Psalm 51, you interpret verse 5 ("Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me") completely literally (though maybe you don't view a single-celled organism as being sinful, so maybe it is at least somewhat figurative for you also), whereas I view it as a figurative description of David's literal feelings about his sinfulness. Two verses later, David tells God, "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." Upon reading that, I did not change my beliefs on the cleansing power of hyssop, but I did take the literal truth that God can make us clean again. Perhaps someone who believes in the physical value of anointing oils and stuff would take that differently!:)

    My point is, the degree to which anyone thinks that a psalm is literal or figurative has everything to do with their preconceived notions and theological beliefs. The interpretations are not provable, and so they can't rightly be admitted into evidence for a particular theology. At least, I personally would not count them as a credible source:).

    That's all.

    Feel free to come back, but I can't guarantee that I can keep up this output. It is a busy week!:)

  7. I think that God's agenda has always been consistent ...totally. He his methods, really are the shift, rather than the agenda. I can see much more clearly now after reading this far that God did have this plan that puts us where we are now, from the beginning.

    I think it is awesome that back when he was smacking around the those Israelites, he had those he would be pouring grace on later in mind. I think its pretty cool - I am glad I am on this side of the lesson :)

    As to the Psalms discussion guys think deeper than I can read so I will have to dissect that nice and slow in my own time.

    For now, let me say that I think that God's word being living and active is exemplified by Christian sisters having discussions like this. I have no idea what I think about the Psalms being figurative or literal, but I know that there are times when they say exactly what I need at the time and they speak to my heart.

    Do I believe in original sin or not? Hmm, dont know. I will have to ponder it further :)

    Good job getting me pondering :)

  8. Okay ..I can see that I really seemed to contridict myself there but I trust you understand my ramblings ...agenda (they gotta understand law, so they understand the grace I will give them later) the same, methods have changed. Not what I actually said in teh first comment exactly, but you HOPEFULLY get the idea.

    Its the kids fault :)

  9. For me, it just comes back to common sense. There are certain things that we know from experience to be true or untrue, so I view Psalms through that lense. Also, I think we have some different definitions of "sin" going on. I believe that there comes a point in a child's life (individual to that child) when they start being held accountable to God for the "bad" things they do. So, if an infant dies, I don't think they go to hell. (So, I don't believe in "original sin" in its true sense.) However, I do believe, based on my own observation, that all people are born with the inclination to do "bad" things. Even if children are not malicious, they are selfish. But, why wouldn't they be? They are in a time of being nurtured to ensure their survival, and they have not yet been taught to think of others. They are not necessarily "sinning" because they don't realize what they are doing, but there comes a point when they get older when they are sinning by being selfish. In today's Psalm, I believe David is describing people who go beyond regular selfishness. These people just woke up on the wrong side of the womb. Their personalities lend them to deceit. These people are not just sinners (as everybody is a sinner), they are actually wicked, evil, malicious people... and they started out that way. I think the difference between them and regular sinners is that sinners can try to be "good" but just screw up, while these wicked people don't even try to be "good." In fact, they may try to be "bad." So, we have four levels of "sinners" (we'll use selfishness as the example "sin"):
    1) Babies who don't know that it's wrong to be selfish.
    2) Adults who try not to be selfish but end up being selfish anyway.
    3) Adults who don't care that they are selfish and who don't care if they hurt others to get what they want.
    4) Babies who show signs of turning into the adults in the third group.

    Anyway, that's probably overkill, but I just wanted to clarify. I agree that one should make sure that their interpretation of a psalm jives with the rest of scripture. However, I also think that observation of the world is a legitimate litmus test in conjuction with scripture. I suppose you could call that preconceived beliefs, but what else have we got to go on?

    Oh, and as for the hyssop verse, that's another one for common sense interpretation. I know through common sense that David doesn't mean that he wants God to physically come and wash him with hyssop. However, the mention of hyssop makes me think, "Hmmm, when else have I read about hyssop in the Bible?" Then I think about the cleansing rituals in the law involving hyssop and I remember that hyssop is used to make one ceremonially clean. SO, I interpret the verse as meaning that David wants God to make him ceremonially clean. Now, from how hyssop is used in the law I might wonder what it is about hyssop that makes it a cleaning agent or if it is only symbolic, but to understand the psalm I just need to know that he is referring to the law.

    Well, I am busy too, but I wanted to get my thought in there. It's fine if you don't have time to respond. Anyway, I think we are largely saying the same things, just coming at it from different angles.