Thursday, 27 February 2014

(59) February 28: Numbers 21-22 & Mark 7:14-37

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider how God’s desire to bless Israel is evident.

To ponder:
(C21) Israel here fight only when attacked. Their first victory is at Hormah where almost forty years previously they were defeated (14v45). It comes as God’s answer to their prayer and commitment to “totally destroy” their enemies. We will need to remind ourselves at numerous points that Israel’s destruction of the Canaanites was God’s judgement on peoples that engaged in the most appalling practices (Gen 15v16, Deut 9v4). Moreover, it is not as extreme as the final judgement Christ will execute (Rev 14v9-11). Such things are the good and just response of a loving God who is outraged at sin.
            We see however that Israel’s success is due to grace not any righteousness in herself. At the very point the previous generation were kept from the land for sin, and having witnessed God’s victory, this generation grumble again. And so with the poisonous snakes God now stands against them. But the people acknowledge their sin and ask Moses to intercede. God instructs Moses to put a bronze snake on a pole. Those bitten who look to it for deliverance are essentially expressing faith in God for salvation, and so live. Christ refers to this event: As sinners already under condemnation, we are to call on him and look to his death on the cross for eternal life (Jn 3v14-18).
            With a reminder that Israel still look to the sunrise, the place of new dawn, they continue quickly towards Canaan. God mercifully provides water, and total victory over the Amorites, in whose land they settle. The song portrays the victory as over the Amorite god Chemosh. Before then granting victory over Bashan, the LORD reminds Israel they need “not be afraid” for he has handed Bashan over to them. So he is the source of their victory. When overwhelmed by sin or difficulty, this reminds us we can only conquer our spiritual enemies by looking to God’s power and dressing in his armour (Eph 6v10-20).
            (C22) The plains of Moab are where Israel remain for the rest of Numbers and Deuteronomy. Moab’s terror shows that God’s purpose of bringing the nations to know he is God is being fulfilled. They send messengers to ask Balaam, a pagan prophet to “curse” Israel, seeing him as somehow having the power to grant Moab victory. Throughout Balaam says he can only say or do what God commands, and God commands he doesn’t curse Israel “because they are blessed.” So God will ensure his promise to bless Abraham’s descendents will be fulfilled. They will enter the land. Indeed, as Israel begin to face enemies, God will not even allow this prophet to speak against Israel, let alone allow armies to conquer them. This is how certain the culmination of his blessings for us in Christ are (Rom 8v37-39).
            When offered reward by a second delegation, Balaam nobly says he will only do as God commands. God tells him to go with the delegation but is then angry that he does! This suggests Balaam’s motive was wrong, hoping he could curse and so be rewarded (2 Pet 2v15-16). This is confirmed when God persistently resists him not only through an angel, but the astonishing miracle of enabling a donkey to speak. The sense is that just as the donkey said only what God determines, so must Balaam! Balaam’s path was a “reckless one” (22v32). He was blinder to his spiritual danger than a donkey (22v31). Whether done for financial gain or not, it’s a warning to all tempted to nod at God’s commands and then just disobey them.
Praying it home:
Thank God that in Christ, we can overcome whatever forces stand against us. Pray home the armour of God in Ephesians 6v10-20.

Thinking further:
We cannot just discount such an extraordinary miracle, or suggest it was simply metaphorical. The type of literature (genre) and intent of the author must determine how we view it. And it comes not in the form of poetry or parable, but in a book and wider context that is clearly relating historical fact. Of course the Israelites knew donkeys don’t talk. But that’s what makes it miraculous, focusing out attention. The text is very clear “the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth” (22v28), using the donkey for his purposes as easily as he can cause a big fish to swallow Jonah, or a smaller fish to swallow a coin for Jesus.

If you receive this post by email, visit and make a comment.


Post a Comment