Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Battles, A Bronze Snake & Balaam's Donkey

Numbers 21-22:

The people grumble again - becoming impatient with the lot they have been apportioned. Daily bread is not enough, they want daily... (Fill in gap with your personal regular craving.) Again, they do like Adam did, wanting ahead of time what was not theirs - yet.

God judges them with 'fiery' serpents. Just as the fire of God's judgement consumed Nadab and Abihu, then Korah and his followers, now it's coming through the serpents.

The only way of escape is to look on a bronze figure, cast in the image of one of these cursed serpents (the same material as the altar in the Tabernacle was made of), and lifted up on a pole. Here is a mighty picture of Christ who took the form of sinful flesh, whilst himself remaining pure, and becoming the cursed one on our behalf lifted up for all to see as the one perfect sacrifice. Only by looking to him can a person be saved from the fiery judgments of God.

Having seen what the Israelites are up to, Balak summons Balaam to curse them. Balaam sounds like an ok kind of prophet until you realise that what is driving him is not the desire to speak the word of God, but money. He begs God to let him go, because he knows he will get rich as a result. This is the worst kind of sin - (ab)using the things of God for the sake of personal enrichment. It is flatly condemned in the Bible.

Moreover, it shows how useless a prophet he really is when even his simple donkey can see Jesus (the Angel of the LORD) more clearly than he can!

But it's a question worth pointing back at ourselves. How often do I fall into the trap of thinking Jesus is merely a ticket to more "profitable" and comfortable living? He came to create a people who are hallmarked by self-sacrifice, more than self-actualisation.


Anonymous said...

I am puzzled as to why you claim that Balaam sought money. In Numbers 22:18-19 Balaam says, "Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me."

Also, I see no evidence that Balaam "begged God to let him go". Numbers 22:20-21 says, "And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, "If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you." Nowhere in this passage do Balaam and God dispute. Please justify your claims about the story.

In case you are interested, there is an essay on my blog which addresses this passage. Thanks!

Richard Walker said...

I agree, at first glance, the incident of Balaam (and his donkey is an odd one. 2 Peter 2:15 "Balaam loved the wages of wickedness."

When he couldn't curse them directly because God would have killed him, he encourages the Moabites to infiltrate them and encourage them to be unfaithful to the LORD.

See here for more (the links are to the relevant bible verses):

Richard Walker said...

You got me. Begged, is misleading and not there in the text. Not quite sure why I wrote it. hmmm...

But Balaam's motives (namely money) do come out later in the events. Hence the comment from 2 Peter mentioned above. Hope that helps.