Numbers 24

Lest there be any doubt….

High on a mountain, overlooking the Israelites camp, Balaam continues to tell the Moabites king that the Israelites are blessed and chosen by God and it would be futile to try and fight them.

Balaam drops his theatre of divination which is his stock in trade and goes into a transcendental spirit filled state where he sees God’s truth. He launched into another pean of praise for Israel.

Balak, the Moabites king get angry at that point, but Balaam reminds him that he said all along he would tell the truth, before he even agreed to come and give his message to the king. He didn’t mention that he had a conversion experience during the journey where his donkey persuaded him to actually do it.

The king sends balaam away, but before he goes, for good measure he gives a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh message from God about how disastrous it will be if they challenge the Israelites. 7 messages for the 7 sacrifices they offered in the last chapter.

I absolutely love this story. Praise God for such an example of the foolishness of trying to defy him. The is grace and humour in it.

But I fear the Moab king will be to proud to listen.

Numbers 23

Ok you see here how gutsy Balaam was required to be to tell the truth to the Moab king.

He’s expected to sign off on God’s being on Moab’s side in the war. And then he can have lots of treasure.

Three times he sacrifices 7 X2 animals in seven altars. Then asks the lord for guidance, then gives the moab king beautiful extravagent poetry about how futile it is to come up against the God of the Israelites.

The Moabites king asks him why he didn’t just shut up. Why say anything? Balaam is apologetic, but has to tell the truth…

It’s really a heroic example of faith. I should bear it in mind next time I’m tempted to pull my punches talking about God.

Exodus 34

Moses smashed the stone tablets with the law on them back in chapter 32 when he came upon the people apostate. So now he and God do it all again.

The smashed law was the sign of god’s abandonment of them, now Moses take new blank tablets he made himself for God to write on. First was all God, this includes Moses’ participation.

So god makes his promise again and shows his love and compassion to precious, faithful Moses. After that Moses’ face shines, and he has to wear a veil to stop people staring.

The warnings have started about the promised land. They must not comprise with the local religions. I already know that only partially works.

Exodus 31

So here are the people who will actually make all this stuff. It’s a celebration of artisanship, the spirit of God is on them. Their ability is god given. 

Then the Sabbath, the seventh day of rest that still defines our week. The seven day week appears to have been simultaneously adopted by Jews Babylonians and Greeks, and spread very early to Asia. It is a promise, a sign, of god’s attachment to the people, but harsh too… Pain of death if you don’t rest.  Jesus said the law brings death. 

Then the tablets of stone written by god’s finger. There is something about the theatrical smallness of that, from the creator of the world, I find extraordinary. I shouldn’t be surprised of course, he made butterflies as well as volcanos and planets. 

And he invented tickling. He’s the master of context. He made our sense of delight and awe. He could have turned us into robot slaves, or destroyed us of course. He went with props. 

He gave the law written in stone to show us it was important. Like giving children ice-cream with a cherry on top.

Nehemiah 12

Another list chapter largely. 11 and 12 are examples of practical ministry. Everyone is involved, all part of the team. We get the full time religious workers here, and the tin tacks of how they will be supported.

Interestingly the musicians are very important. They are recalled from surrounding lands to Jerusalem and build themselves villages (must have been the cool part of town).

The theatre of the wall dedication involved two huge choirs, starting standing on opposite parts of the wall and moving to meet at the house of God. That must have been something.

Everyone is mucking in and doing their bit. God is at the centre of the culture and everyone’s core life. It’s actually a gripping picture of Christian community.

Nehemiah 7

It’s a freeze frame, a snapshot in the family photo album. Everyone is listed by tribe, who was there in Jerusalem at the completion of the walls, when Jerusalem is again God’s city, for the Jews with its own identity defined by walls to keep it strong.

It sets the scene for 8 where Ezra will read the law, an act of rededication.

Problem is that life goes on. There is precious little in the wonderful task-oriented focus and clarity of Nehemiah (so far at least) to talk about the eventual fall of the physical Jerusalem, once again, and the future destruction of the temple.

Let alone the glorious doctrine of the temple of God being each believers body, or the eternal new Jerusalem, built by the blood of the lamb who is god made flesh and populated by people of all nations.

The last book I read was Daniel. It was shot through with all that. He was always in a state of deep disturbance about his apocalyptic visions. He experienced the saving power dramatically and concretely, but it came with visions that said all the here and now is ultimately to be overwritten by much larger plans of God, part if which will involve hardship.

Still for the people who were there on the auspicious day of the completion of the wall, they got the joy of knowing they had done god’s will, completed his unambiguous mission here on earth. It happens sometimes, and it is to be enjoyed.

Daniel 12

The climax of 3 chapters of visions is the mindblowing vision of Michael, will has been likened to Christ or an archangel, some agent of God, announcing the end of the worst of tribulations for the people of God. We have the book with names written in it, the book of those who are God’s people. And we have the dramatic resurrection of the dead, the earth shaking and erupting. They are delivered and the shine bright like the stars of heaven for ever and ever.  The Jews are in mourning, the premise seems to be dead. Their lands taken and the temple gone.

Daniel gives a short term and long term answer, and is careful to be clear that the two are not the same by giving impossibly long time frames. The short term answer is yes, this will end and you will go back to Jerusalem. The long term answer is that god has a much bigger plan. Suffering will continue and be much worse than this, but salvation will be cosmic and eternal, much better than just getting the land and the temple back. God has a plan to save us for eternal life in his presence. The extra-earthly nature of God’s salvation is shown in the acts of power in the early chapters (fire can’t burn them and lions won’t tear them apart) sandwiched with visions and dreams of the impermanence of earthly kingdoms.

Daniel 4

I had forgotten this story, I used to have it as an arch book “the braggy king of Babylon”

We’ve now had four chapters of God speaking to the king. What it takes for people to hear God!  This time god takes his identity, sending him mad. Then returned it.

Startlingly the first part of the chapter is written by the king, and full of praise to God. He has heard gods voice.

I understand why the dream Daniel interpreted in chapter 2 was so bland. He has the credentials now to tell the king his identity will be stripped and not have the king kill him.

God’s messages to the king have been ever more dramatic… You would think any one would be changed by the furnace miracle in the last chapter. But god has to personally show him who is boss.

And for the Jews in exile it is schadenfreude with a kick back. If they are tempted to cheer god’s demonstration of power over the conquering king, they should be realising that they are being spoken to through adversity as well.

Psalm 29

The voice of god.

What a voice!  It’s huge, the creator voice. People say they can’t believe Jesus and the gospels, because how could he turn water into wine or raise the dead?  By speaking with this voice.

Fave images from a great series: Lebanon skipping like a calf, the oaks whirling, the forests stripped bare, flashing fire and thunder on the waters. An eternal throne over the flood.
Ends with a prayer, that he will lend his people this strength, and bless them with peace.  David is very good at endings, what a perfect last word. Lord, bless me with peace.

Psalm 24

I think I may have read or maybe just guessed this psalm is a going-to-the-temple chant. I think of it as a bit like those marching chants in u.s. war movies “I don’t know but I’ve been told” or cheerleader cheers and/or protest call and answers: “What do we want?” “When do we want it? “.

It’s about purity and meeting God. Climbing the hill, excited anticipation. Open the big door, the mighty, the true God is coming. Who is he? Mighty. Who is good enough to meet him? Gotta be pure of heart and have clean hands. “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” Jesus said.

I’d love to write a wild chant for singing this psalm. Like bootylicious, godilicious or something.

Writing with tears today however, for the daughter of a friend, a beautiful strong girl in her early 20s. She’s asked us to pray for her, and she’s not someone for whom prayer has ever been an option before, but she’s rapidly losing her daughter to a completely baffling condition.  Pray for rikki, pray for Lisa.