Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Year: Nm 24-27 for Feb 16

Everybody wants to know what the significance of the donkey speaking is, but just as interesting is the significance of what Balaam speaking is in Numbers 22-24!

Not many sermons touch on the exclusion of Moses from the promised land in Nm 20. The first explanation of it comes immediately after the event: God tells Moses "because you have not believed Me ...." (20:12).

In contrast to what we have read regarding the failures of Israel, and even Moses, the reader hears from Balaam, and from God through Balaam, that Israel is "not cursed" (23:8), "not denounced" (23:8), and "blessed" (23:11). The very first thing God tells Balaam about Israel -- and this is after we have read about so many plagues from God (11:33, 14:37, 16:46) and a larger plague from God to come (25:9) -- is that "they are blessed" (22:12).

Therefore, what a contrasting picture is given of Israel in 23:21-24, than what we have learned from their sins! Is this textual corruption? No! Is this documentary fragmentation? No! It is dramatic juxtaposition. Numbers 21-24 is placed squarely in the middle of, and surrounded by, events that involve the sins of Israel and its leaders. But 23:21 states "He [God] has not observed misfortune in Jacob; / Nor has He seen trouble in Israel."

What about the fact that the whole generation except for Moses and two spies dies in the wilderness from what was announced in 14:33? A whole generation dies off in this time between Nm 14:1 and 26:65.

The three chapters, Nm 22-24, containing the prophecy of Balaam about Israel, when combined with what the reader already knows about Israel to this point, and will continue to read in 25:1ff., are some of the most amazing founding documents of any world religion. We may say 'this is typical of prophecy, to look beyond the bleak prospect of present sins.' But here, prophecy is not talking about only the immediate future, but the present (23:21-23), and even the end (23:10)!

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