Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cursed by ourselves

Balak and Balaam - Artist unknown
Balak and Balaam - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 24:1-25

TO CHEW ON: " ' He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?
Blessed is he who blesses you,
And cursed is he who curses you.' " Numbers 24:9

Today we read Balaam's final two pronouncements over Israel. Not surprisingly they aren't curses either, but blessings that continue on with the vivid word pictures of his previous blessings: Jacob as numerous as the dust of earth (Numbers 23:10), Israel as a lion (Numbers 23:24; 24:9), and a future leader appearing as a star in the sky (Numbers 24:17).

One Bible commenter says about the Balaam-Balak incident:
"There should be no problem in relating this unit to Numbers. For one thing, the prophecies of Balaam affirmed that God's unequivocal commitment to his people will continue well into the future. … Nothing or no one is able to hinder God from doing that. An omnipotent God and not a human manipulator is the determiner of history" - Asbury Bible Commentary (accessed through this passage's "Study This" link on biblegateway.com - emphasis added).

But we know the preceding and following instalments of Israel's story—how checkered it is. Previously we read the story of a mass rebellion where Moses and Aaron's leadership is challenged by Dathan, Abiram, Korah and 250 of Israel's leaders (Numbers 16). A challenge to Aaron's leadership results in his rod budding supernaturally (Numbers 17). The people's complaints and grumbling provoke Moses to strike the rock instead of speak to it as God has told him to (Numbers 20). Poisonous snakes come into the camp as a result of their grumbling (Numbers 21). The chapter following the Balaam-Balak incident is titled "Israel's harlotry in Moab" (Numbers 25).

Our Bible commenter makes a wise observation:

" … the (Balaam-Balak) narrative functions as a condemnation of God's people, at least indirectly. The donkey does God's will. Balaam, albeit unintentionally does God's will. But what of Israel? … Israel's real enemy is Israel. God can change a hireling's words of curse into blessing but he cannot change a community's words of backbiting, criticism, and faultfinding into doxology. God's people need not fear the hex of a religious magician or the threats and taunts of a Moabite king. But whenever they degenerate into a community ruled by a quarrelsome, self-serving and envious spirit, there is cause for grave concern. Unholiness, not magic, is Israel's undoing" - Asbury Bible Commentary (emphasis added).

Might this not be equally true of us in the church? We are right to be concerned about the threats to the church's existence from the outside. Our secular critics would love to shut us down because of our stand on issues like abortion, changes to the definition of marriage, sexual orientation, and euthanasia. But I'm wondering if the biggest threat to the church is not these outer pressures at all but disunity and sin tolerated within. The biggest threat to the church might be the church.

Let's search our hearts, as individuals and as a body, and stamp out these embers of quarreling, selfishness, envy, immorality etc.—sparks that have the ability to ignite and destroy the church body from within.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see myself and my sinful attitudes and tendencies through Your eyes. Help me to make choices for holiness so I will be an asset, not a liability to my local church and Your kingdom. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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