Sunday, September 20, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 22

Chapter 22
Summary:The people of Israel traveled on, camping in the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River by Jericho.

King Balak, the son of Zippor and king of Moab, had seen what the people of Israel had done to the Amorites, and his kingdom became scared and distressed by the large amount of people in the Israeli army. Balak spoke with the elders of Midian, voicing his fears that the Israelites would "lick up all that are around" them, "as an ox licketh up the grass of the field".

The king then sent messengers to Balaam, the son of Beor, living in the land of Pethor near the Euphrates River. He summoned Balaam explaining that these people who have come out from Egypt (the Israelites) are beginning to cover the face of the earth, and that they are against him. King Balak begged Balaam to come to Moab and curse the Israelites and drive them out of the land, as they were too mighty for his armies to repel. King Balak was aware of the blessings that fall upon all that Balaam has blessed, and the doom that falls all that Balaam has cursed.

The messengers that delivered the message were amongst the elders of Moab and Midian, and came bearing a reward of money as they delivered King Balak's message to Balaam.

Balaam told the messengers to stay for the night and that he would speak with them again after speaking with God.

God came to Balaam and asked who these men were that were staying with him, to which Balaam replied that they were sent by King Balak of Moab. Balaam repeated to God what the king had said to him, about a horde of people who had come out of Egypt and that he had been asked to curse them in the hopes that it would drive them out of the land. God tells Balaam that he is not to go with these messengers, nor is he to curse the people, for they are blessed.

Balaam awoke in the morning and told the messengers to return to their land, as God had refused to allow him to leave with them.

The messengers returned to King Balak and told him that Balaam refused to come with them. King Balak sent another group of messengers consisting of even more noble leaders than the last, and they went to Balaam begging him to return to Moab with them. The messengers told Balaam that the king has promised to bestow a great honor upon him and whatever reward he chooses.

Balaam answered the men stating that even if the king had offered his palace filled with silver and gold, that he would still be unable to to go against God's word. Balaam tells the men to stay the night and that he will again speak with God to see if he had anything further to say.

God again came to Balaam that night and told him that if these men came to summon him, then he shall go with them, but tells Balaam that he is to only do what God tells him to do.

Balaam awoke the next morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab. God became angry because Balaam went with the messengers (despite having commanded him to go with them the previous evening) and placed an angel in his way to stand as an adversary against him. Balaam was riding his donkey, along with his two servants, when the donkey saw the angel standing in the way with a sword drawn in its hand. The donkey turned aside out of the way and went into the field, so Balaam beat her to get her back on the path.

The angel stood in a path in the vineyards between two walls, and the donkey seeing the angel thrust herself against the wall crushing Balaam's foot against the wall, so Balaam beat her again.

The angel then moved ahead further to a more narrow space where there would be no room for the donkey to turn right or left. When the donkey saw the angel, she fell down under Balaam. Balaam became angry and beat the donkey again with his staff.

God then "opened the mouth" of the donkey, and the donkey said to Balaam, "What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?"

Balaam replied to his donkey that he beat her because the donkey had mocked him. He added that if he was armed with a sword that he would have killed her.

The donkey then asked Balaam if she had not served him well until this day, and had she ever done anything like this before, to which Balaam conceded that she had not.

God "opened the eyes" of Balaam, and he then saw the angel standing in the way with its sword drawn. Balaam bowed down his head and "fell on his face".

The angel asked Balaam why had he beaten the donkey three times and stated that it stood in Balaam's way because his actions were "perverse". The angel explained that the donkey had seen and turned from the angel three times, and that if she hadn't the angel surely would have slain Balaam while sparing the life of his donkey.

Balaam then told the angel that he had "sinned" because he was unaware that the angel was standing in the way against him. He then tells the angel that he will turn around and head back if he has displeased the angel. The angel tells Balaam to go with Balak's messengers, but to only say what he is told to say by God.

Balaam went with the messengers, and when King Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to greet him at a city in Moab, on the border of the Arnon River.

King Balak then asked Balaam why he had delayed his coming, and why his offers of reward had not motivated him to come sooner. Balaam responds by saying that although he has came, he is no power to say anything except what God tells him to speak.

Balaam then went with King Balak to Kirjathhuzoth, where the king sacrificed oxen and sheep, giving the animals to Balaam and the messengers that were with him.

The following morning, King Balak brought Balaam to the top of Mount Baal, where he could see the people of Israel spread out before him.
Thoughts:This chapter introduces us to the king of Moab, King Balak, who is fearing the growing army of the people of Israel after seeing what they had done to the Amorites.

King Balaak sends some dignitaries down to a prophet named Balaam, who lived in the land of Pethor near the Euphrates River. The king tries to summoned Balaam, explaining his fear of his kingdom being conquered by the Israelites, and asks Balaam - who he knows has favor with God - to curse them, in order to drive them away from the land of Moab.

Balaam tells the messengers to stay for the night and that he would speak with God that evening and give them an answer in the morning.

That night God visits with Balaam and says something curious, he asks Balaam who these men are that are visiting. Most believers attribute omniscience and omnipresence as characteristics to Yahweh, but clearly here he is shown to be ignorant towards the identities of Balaam's visitors. If God is an omniscient being he would know who these men were, and if he was omnipresent, he would have seen King Balak send these men. Obviously, this chapter is yet another example that God is not quite as omniscient and omnipresent as he is commonly described as.

Balaam then has to explain to God (in spite of God's alleged omniscience and omnipresence) who these men are, and repeats the message they delivered from King Balak. God tells Balaam that he is not to go with these messengers, nor is he to curse the Israelites, as he explains to Balaam that they are blessed people.

In the morning Balaam tells the messengers that he cannot accompany them as God has refused it, and sends the messengers back home.

Upon the messengers returning without Balaam, King Balak now sends a second group of messengers comprised of higher nobility to beg Balaam to come back and curse the Israelites promising Balaam whatever reward he wishes.

When the second group of messengers arrive, Balaam tells them that even if the king gave him a palace filled with silver and gold, he would still be unable to go against God's orders. He has the men to spend the night and tells them that he will speak with God again and will see if God has anything further to say about the matter.

Again, God speaks to Balaam that night and tells him that he's allowed to travel back with the men, but that he is only to say and do what God tells him to do.

The next morning Balaam saddles his donkey and went with the messengers, and God gets angry with Balaam for leaving with them. This seems puzzling, considering that God gave Balaam permission the previous evening, but it is thought that Balaam's eagerness is what angers God, despite that the bible does not imply this at all. The way this chapter reads, it appears that God changes his mind about Balaam leaving with the men and gets angry with Balaam for leaving, which is not any fault on Balaam's part.

So God places an angel armed with a sword along the path that Balaam is traveling. Balaam's donkey sees the angel armed with a sword and turns off of the path heading off into a field. Balaam angry at the donkey leaving the path beats the donkey until it returns back to the path.

The angel then moves farther up the path between two walls in a vineyard. The donkey again sees the angel armed with a sword and tries to squeeze tightly against the wall to avoid the angel, in the process crushing Balaam's foot against the wall. Balaam once again beats the donkey to correct it's path.

Once again the angel moved farther up the path to an area leaving no room for the donkey to maneuver around it. When the donkey saw the angel blocking the path, the donkey lay down. Balaam became furious and beat the donkey a third time with his staff.

God then makes the donkey talk which for some reason doesn't seem to alarm Balaam at all. Now we've read a lot of crazy stuff so far, and while this isn't the first time we've encountered talking animals, I have to admit that this is probably one of the silliest and most far fetched things we've encountered thus far.

I understand that the bible can be taken many different ways. More sensible people tend to interpret a lot of the sillier verses in the bible to be taken more along the lines of parables, and that the focus is to teach a story with exaggerated flourishes. However, there are also quite a few people who believe that the bible is "inerrable fact", (some even going so far as to suggest that the bible is somehow a "history book") including our tale here about Balaam's talking donkey. The mental gymnastics one would have to perform to justify the belief that Balaam's talking donkey was an actual historical event is just mind boggling to me.

Why isn't Balaam showing any hint of shock or surprise that an animal he's presumably owned for quite some time is now suddenly talking to him? Do we presume that due to his lack of surprise that perhaps he's spoken with his donkey before?

Anyways, the donkey asks an unshaken Balaam what she did to deserve getting beaten three times. Balaam gives a puzzling answer stating that he felt that he was being mocked by the donkey's disobedience, while adding that if he had a sword on him, he would have slain the donkey for this apparent "mockery". The donkey points out that she has never behaved like this or deliberately disobeyed her master in the past, to which Balaam concedes is true.

At this point, God "opens the eyes" of Balaam allowing him to see the angel armed with a sword - as apparently we're left to surmise that only the donkey was able to see the angel previously. The angel turns the tables on Balaam and asks Balaam why he had beaten his donkey three times.

Another bothersome contradiction within this story arises when we are faced with the angel condemning Balaam for beating his donkey. God has previously condoned beating slaves both in the story of Sarah beating a pregnant Hagar, as well as Exodus 21:20-21 allowing for slaves to be beaten - as long as they don't die within one or two days - as they are considered property. By all accounts, Balaam's donkey should be considered his property as well, so God's angel should have no problem with Balaam beating his donkey for disobedience either. Personally, I actually agree with the angel here, that Balaam's actions of beating a defenseless animal were actually "perverse" and deplorable, but again, this isn't consistent with God's accepting view of beating human slaves, who are deemed property to their masters, the same as an animal.

Anyways, again the angel states that he would have slain Balaam with his sword because he found Balaam's actions "perverse", which basically gives Balaam a taste of his own medicine - threatening Balaam's life, the same as he had threatened the donkey's.

Balaam sees the error of his ways, and admits to having "sinned", rationalizing that he had done so because he was unaware of the angel's presence. He then tells the angel that he will turn around and go back home if he has displeased the angel that much. The angel instead tells him to continue on his journey, but to only say what he is told to say by God.

Meanwhile, upon hearing of Balaam's impending arrival, King Balak goes out to meet Balaam on the outskirts of Moab. When Balaam arrives, King Balak admonishes Balaam's hesitation and delay. Balaam responds by stating that although he has agreed to come, that he has no power to say anything except what God has told him to speak.

The king then sacrifices some oxen and sheep, giving the animal remains to Balaam and the messengers who accompanied him.

The next morning, the king takes Balaam up to the top of Mount Baal, where the people of Israel could be seen spread out before them.

No comments:

Post a Comment