15 March 2010

Mar 15

Reference links:
Old Testament

Let's continue the adventures of Balaam! But first, a remark on story continuity. Today we see a painfully obvious seam between what I guess were two versions of Balaam's story. Yesterday we read,
That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”
That verse ended yesterday's reading. In the very next paragraph (the start of today's reading), we read,
So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way.
Either God cannot keep his opinion consistent for one night or the text cannot keep its story straight for two paragraphs. Either way, such inconsistencies prove distracting for the reader.

In any case, that angel of the Lord blockw Balaam's way three times. Balaam cannot see the angel, but his donkey can. Each time the donkey shies away from the angel, Balaam beats him. God eventually gives the donkey the ability to speak, and the two of them have a little dialog about the beating. After this, God opens Balaam's eyes, and he is able to see the angel. The angel lets Balaam know that the donkey has saved his life. If the donkey had not shied away, the angel would have killed Balaam.

Balaam reaches the place where Balak (son of the king of the Moabites) is and
Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth-baal
That has no particular significance, but it is fun to say. Try it three times fast!

Up on Bamoth-baal, Balak and Balaam build 7 altars and sacrifice seven young bulls and seven rams on the seven altars. The goal of this exercise is to persuade God to let Balaam curse the Israelites. After the sacrifices, Balaam goes off to consult with God, and God sends him back with a blessing for the Israelites (surprise!). This upsets Balak, so he tries again. On another hill, they go through the same routine with the same results. They then try again on another hill, but the reading ends before we can see the result. Cliff hanger! (Well, not really; we can guess what's going to happen.)

The particular wording of God's second message to Balak through Balaam is interesting:
God is not a man, so he does not lie.
He is not human, so he does not change his mind.
God does not change his mind? How many times in the last couple weeks has he threatened to exterminate the Israelites and then changed his mind after Moses asked him not to?

New Testament

Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist, Zechariah gets his voice back, and everyone rejoices. Today's readings were rather heavy on verse. We had Balaam's blessings in the Old Testament reading, the Psalm and Proverbs readings, and a prophecy in verse from Zechariah. Zechariah basically prophecies that John will be an awesome prophet of God. And after all that detail about John's conception and birth Luke's perspective zoom's way out:
John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.
Psalms and Proverbs
Break off their fangs, O God!
Smash the jaws of these lions, O Lord!
May they disappear like water into thirsty ground.
Make their weapons useless in their hands.
May they be like snails that dissolve into slime,
like a stillborn child who will never see the sun.
God will sweep them away, both young and old,
faster than a pot heats over burning thorns.

The godly will rejoice when they see injustice avenged.
They will wash their feet in the blood of the wicked.
This sort of attitude really bugs me. It really triggers my anger when someone who claims to be good rejuices in the suffering of other people. The truly wicked deserve punishment, but those who enjoy the punishment of others are also wicked.

Quite reasonable advice in today's Proverbs reading:
It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbor;
a sensible person keeps quiet.

A gossip goes around telling secrets,
but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.