Day 47: Numbers 24-26; Balaam's Blessing and the plains of Moab

I remember my first student Bible.  It had all the maps in the back.  Sometimes I think its nice to take a look at a map and get some perspective as to where these things are taking place.  This story takes place while the people of Israel are occupying an area on the plains of Moab.  What you can kind of see on this map, towards the bottom, is the kingdom of Edom, which Israel wanted to pass through.  The king of Edom said no, so Israel had to go down and around to get to where they were going.  They camped all over the Sinai Peninsula, which is modern day eastern Egypt.  What we read yesterday is that the people of Israel wanted to pass through the area that is labeled “The Kingdom of Moab” but the king there wouldn’t let them and tried to attack them.  But God was faithful and good and delivered that land into the hands of His people.  I found this picture on Wikipedia.


The main story of yesterday and today was that of Balaam.  This is another story that is likely to be familiar, once again from the Sunday School Flannel Graph board.  There are some extraordinary things that happen in this story, including a talking donkey and the appearance of an angel.  There are some things in here that don’t necessarily strike us as familiar though.  King Balak wants Balaam to curse Israel so that they won’t take over his land.  We probably say “so what” to this.  Curses, like blessings, held a very high standing.  Words, in the ancient cultures, especially the Hebrew culture, were very important.  It was words that were spoken that caused the world to be created.  Words were very powerful.  This isn’t something that necessarily resonates with us in an age where words are a dime a dozen.

But once again, God acts on behalf of Israel, this time through an outsider.  It is interesting that God would use an outsider to bless the people that He has already claimed for themselves.  I wonder what the people of Israel would have thought in hearing this story.  Perhaps this story is yet another display of God’s mighty power of the people and gods of other cultures and countries, in spite of their desires to do harm to God’s people.  In any case, it is clear that Balaam knows God and is obedient to Him and because of that, God doesn’t take his life but instead uses Him to bless the people of Israel, and curse the nations surrounding her (the exact opposite of what he was intended to do).

There are two other sections in our reading today as well.  Remember a couple days ago, we spoke of the imagery of Israel as the Bride of God, and her again we see the people whoring themselves out to other gods.  God’s wrath against the sin here is severe, 24,000 people die.  In this we see the God’s justice and the fulfillment of the stipulations that were talked about.  “If you turn from me, you will be cut off.” God says.  And so it is.  But we also see the fulfillment of God’s promise to those who follow Him as well in the promise given to Phinehas because of his devotion to God.

Finally, we come to another census.  While there may be some reasons why this is here that I am not aware of, I think one of the main points of it is that God has been true to His word to Moses.  All of the people that were present when Israel rebelled because of the report of the spies have died except for Joshua, Caleb, and Moses (for now).  Given their current location and the fulfillment of God’s word, it would seem that they are almost ready to enter into the promised land.

Day 42: Numbers 9-11; Complaining against God

There are two things in today’s reading that, when set up against each other, strike me as being quite ironic.  I often shake my head when reading passages such as these, and chuckle to myself, knowing all to well that I tend to be just like the Israelites.

The first this we read today is how, at the will and movement of God in the cloud, the people of Israel made camp or packed up and got ready to move.  For all we know this cloud/pillar of fire as been with the people since they went out of Egypt almost two years ago.  I think the only exception to this would have been the time that they were camped at Mount Sinai, when the presence of the Lord could be clearly seen and heard on top of the mountain.  All of that time, perhaps maybe 6 months, they were camped at the base of that mountain, offering things for the building of God’s dwelling place, and hearing the Word of the Lord spoken through Moses.  They even agreed that they would follow all the ways of the Lord as He had prescribed.

Fast forward to what we just read… the people have just celebrated the Passover, remembering all that God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt… and immediately they start to complain… about how much better it was in Egypt just because they got what they wanted… Meat.  God has been giving them mana every day, sustaining them as they were in the wilderness.  He has shown His power to them and even His forgiveness after the whole golden calf debacle.  Yet still they complain, so much so that God anger is kindled against them!  Foolish Israelites… we would never do such things now days.

Or would we?  I think about this story in relation to my own life and wonder if I would have been one of the complainers, or if I would have been one of the content people (if there were in fact any of them in the whole camp).  I’ve seen God do some amazing things in my life.  I’ve seen how He has guided me and have received His forgiveness a hundred times over… yet I wonder, “Do I too often complain about my place in life?”  I am certainly more well off than anyone in this nation of nomads.  Perhaps there is a lesson here in contentment, and in thankfulness.  It is interesting, the name that is given to the place where they eat meat and then God sends a plague: Kibroth-hattaavah.  This name means “graves of craving” or “graves of lust.”  Somewhat appropriate I think, but I wonder if there isn’t something in that name that would apply to us as well.  Do we get caught in the desire to always want more, to never be content?  While I wouldn’t want to slice any Bible reading down to a simple morality lesson… I do wonder what our cravings, our lusts, or discontentment is doing to us… giving us life?  or digging our grave?

Day 19: Exodus 8-10; Let My People Go: The Plagues

As we talked about yesterday, the story of Moses and the 10 plagues is quite familiar to us.  It, like the story of Joseph has been made into movies and dramas many times over.  One of the most popular would be that of “The TEN Commandments” starring Charleston Heston.  This movie follows, fairly accurately, the story of Moses from beginning to end (which is also why it is one of the longer films in cinema history).

The Ten Commandments

Despite this popularization of the story of Moses in Egypt, even these fail to truly capture all that is going on in this time between God and Pharaoh.

As we spoke about yesterday, the true battle taking place here is between God almighty and the “god-man” Pharaoh, and what we see here today is not an arbitrary display of power by God attacking this or that.  These plagues, all ten of them, are a systematic dismantling of the entire Egyptian religious system in which God proves His power of the gods of the Egyptian people one by one, decimating Egypt and showing the world the true power, what we would call omnipotence, of the God of the Israelites.

What do I mean by this?  Well there are several main categories of gods that were worshiped by the Egyptians of that time.  Yesterday we talked about Ra, the god of their gods, god of the sun and thus the giver of life.  Along with this came the gods of the Nile, fertility, crops, animals, weather, death, life, and many more.  In fact, there were many gods for each of these categories.  The gods for crops would be for planting, growth, harvest, etc.  If you are interested in this, you can check out “Tour” for a list of the gods and their associations.  It really is quite fascinating.

Anyways… God is systematically dismantling the entire Egyptian pantheon.  Pantheon means “many gods.”  It is a word we often associate with Greek and Roman mythologies but is just as applicable here.  The Egyptians worshiped the Nile and its god Hapi as one of the givers and sustainers of life.  God turns the Nile to blood and then makes the Nile produce frogs which both interrupt life and also end up dying and making the land stink.  Egyptians worshiped the earth and its associated god.  God makes the earth produce gnats which get on and in everything (likely causing bites and disease).  After this God sends flies which we read “ruin the land of Egypt.”  God kills all the livestock of Egypt thus rendering the Egyptian god of livestock moot.  God displays His power over the Egyptian god of health in the plague of boils and over the god of weather by sending hail which decimates the crops.  Then, to prove His power over the gods of the crops, harvest, and all growing things, locusts are sent by god and eat everything, and the land is completely ruined.  At this point, Egypt could be considered mostly desolate with the exception of the large cities and vast amounts of people that still live there.

God then goes after the sun god Ra, who is basically their highest deity.  The sun is blotted out and it is completely dark.  I think we can assume from this that God is also showing his power over the god of the night, god of the sunrise, and god of the sunset.

As we talked about yesterday as well, this isn’t a small showing of power just to the nation of Egypt, or just to Israel, or even to both.  These are done that the entire world would know that there is none like God in all of the earth.  We will see the culmination of this tomorrow when God shows His power over death and life itself, the final blow of the plagues, but not the final display of God’s power in this story.

Day 18: Exodus 5-7; Let My People Go: The Lines are Drawn

So Moses goes before Pharaoh  delivering God’s message to let the people of Israel go.  Pharaoh says no.  The People get more oppressed.  Moses asks again.  Pharaoh says no.  Begin 10 plagues.  Yes… this is the summary of what happens in today’s Scripture readings, and it is what is happening on the surface.

Yet there is a great deal of deeper meaning that is taking place here as well.  This is, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of a battle.  God is drawing the line against the Egyptian god, or rather son of god… Pharaoh.  For the Egyptians Pharaoh, their king, was considered to be the son of their main god Ra, the sun god.  So Pharaoh was a deity to them (hence the pyramid tombs and extensive burial rituals).  Pharaoh, to the Egyptian people, was the ultimate source of everything… life, growth, power, existence, because he was in direct contact with Ra, who they thought to be the sun.  So for the God of the Hebrew slaves, who were detestable to Egyptians anyways if you remember our reading from a couple days ago, to command something to Pharaoh, the “god-man,” was not only laughable, but would have been abundantly offensive to him as well.

To take that a bit further, the mere fact that Moses could even enter into the presence of Pharaoh was only because he would have been recognized as someone who had grown up there, being that he would have likely been some sort of half/step relation to Pharaoh (because he had been raised by “Pharaoh’s daughter,” which was likely the current Pharaoh’s mother.  This, in and of itself, is God’s providence at work, perhaps one of the reasons that Moses was placed in the basket on the Nile river when he was a baby.

And so the stage is set and the battle lines are drawn.  God’s promises, the Covenant made to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob are renewed, and the promise of freedom is made.  God will show His power to the Pharaoh and the Egyptians.  God says it will take time, and that Pharaoh’s heart will be hardened, but in this, God’s glory and power will be revealed.  Not just to the Hebrews and not just to the Egyptians, but through this the power and glory of God will be known throughout the entire world.