Archive for the ‘Numbers 23’ Tag

Grace: Free, Not Cheap   1 comment

Above:   The Prophet Balaam and the Angel, by John Linnell

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Numbers 22:22-35; 23:7-12

Psalm 56:10-13

Acts 8:9-13, 18–25

Mark 4:21-23

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In God the LORD, whose word I praise,

in God I trust and will not be afraid,

for what can mortals do to me?

I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God;

I will present to you thank-offerings;

For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet from stumbling,

that I may walk before God in the light of the living.

–Psalm 56:10-13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Grace is free yet certainly not cheap.  Also, most, if not all people might have their price, but God has none.  We find this theme in Numbers 22 and 23, in which Balaam, despite having his price, obeys God.  We also find this theme in Acts 8, in which Simon Magus offers to purchase the Holy Spirit, succeeding in giving us the word “simony.”

The attitude in Psalm 56:10-13 is preferable:  Be loyal to God.  And, as we read in Mark 4, what we put in determines what we get out.  Grace is free yet not cheap; it requires much of us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES LEWIS MILLIGAN, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCULF OF NANTEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-ackerman/

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Numbers and Luke, Part XI: Atonement   1 comment

pieta-michelangelo

Above:  Pieta, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 23:4-28 (Wednesday)

Numbers 24:1-25 (Thursday)

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning–Wednesday)

Psalm 97 (Morning–Thursday)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening–Wednesday)

Psalms 16 and 62 (Evening–Thursday)

Luke 22:47-71 (Wednesday)

Luke 23:1-25 (Thursday)

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How can I damn whom God has not damned,

How doom when the LORD has not doomed?

–Numbers 23:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

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It would have been nice (per Numbers 31:16) if Balaam had maintained that attitude.

Balaam, in Numbers 23 and 24, did as God instructed him, to King Balak’s dismay.  This was risky in the short term, I suppose, but the two merely parted company. Thus that part of the story ended.

Among my essential books is A Short History of Christian Thought, Revised and Expanded Edition (Oxford University Press, 1996), by Linwood Urban.  Father/Professor Urban’s volume is a wonderful resource for reading about Christian theological development.  These doctrines which we Christians affirm, refute, or discuss did not fall fully formed from Heaven.  No, theologians wrote and debated.  Bishops gathered at council and synods.  And, more often than not, they got it right.

Urban devotes a chapter to the doctrine of the Atonement.  He contextualizes it in Scripture and theology.  And he traces three understandings of the Atonement in the Bible and the writings of Church Fathers.  To summarize:

Reconciliation or atonement is said to be accomplished by the Incarnation itself, by the sacrificial death of Christ on Calvary, and by the conquest and defeat of the Devil.

–page 106

I recommend reading Urban’s chapter for full citations to the Bible and named Church Fathers.  These are matters of theological history.  Thus the existence of more than one ancient interpretation of the mechanics of the Atonement in Christian theology is a matter of objectively correct and confirmed history, not opinion.  As the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, everybody is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.

As for me, I grew up learning St. Anselm of Canterbury’s theory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.  Jesus took my place on the cross, people told me.  This does not satisfy me, for it makes God seem like a vindictive thug.

I will not be satisfied until I see my son tortured and executed,

I imagine such a deity saying or thinking.  I recognize the Conquest of Satan theory in the Scriptures, and I hear echoes of the Incarnation-as-Atonement in the Gospels before their Passion narratives begin.  But we must come to terms with the death of Jesus.  That even played a vital role in the Atonement process.  Yet me must not stop there, for dead Jesus did not redeem us; resurrected Jesus did.

My conclusion follows:  The entire earthly life of Jesus was necessary for the Atonement to occur.  The Incarnation was vital, as were the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  And Jesus was one whom God had neither damned nor doomed.  No, his death pointed out the futility and cruelty of scapegoating people.  And his Resurrection from the dead showed God’s power, which God had demonstrated many times.  Now and again, however, we mere mortals seem to need reminders.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 26, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF ISABEL FLORENCE HAPGOOD, ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/devotion-for-wednesday-and-thursday-in-pentecost-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Numbers and Luke, Part X: Obedience to Our Sovereign God   1 comment

balaam-and-the-angel

Above:  Balaam and the Angel

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 22:1-20 (Monday)

Numbers 22:21-23:3 (Tuesday)

Psalm 5 (Morning–Monday)

Psalm 42 (Morning–Tuesday)

Psalms 84 and 29 (Evening–Monday)

Psalms 102 and 133 (Evening–Tuesday)

Luke 22:1-23 (Monday)

Luke 22:24-46 (Tuesday)

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A Related Post:

Luke 22:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirty-eighth-day-of-lent-maundy-thursday/

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NOTE:

This post continues a sequence which began in LENTEN AND EASTER DEVOTIONS.  You, O reader, may find the immediately prior post in the sequence at this URL:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/devotion-for-the-fiftieth-day-of-easter-day-of-pentecost-lcms-daily-lectionary/.

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Parts of the readings from the Book of Numbers prove to be inconsistent with my Western and scientific worldview and mindset, which I have inherited from my post-Enlightenment culture.  What influence might one non-Israelite prophet’s curse have upon them?  And we all know that donkeys lack the capacity for human language.  But these details are trivial matters; the main point of the Balak and Balaam narrative is to affirm the sovereignty of God.  Balaam, hired to curse the Israelites on behalf of Balak, the King of Moab, disobeys God by setting with Balak’s agents.  The the prophet receives divine permission to continue on the journey but only to speak as God, not Balak wishes.

To digress briefly, who stops Balaam and his donkey in their tracks?  The narrative, in 22:22-26, uses a Hebrew term for “the adversary,” or the Satan.  The theology of Satan changed from the beginning of the Bible to the New Testament.  Here, in the Book of Numbers, as in the Book of Job, the Satan was an angel who worked for God.  Free agency, such as we see in the New Testament, came later.  This is a well-documented pattern of facts, one which serious study of the texts reveals.  There are even entire books on just this subject.

While I am wearing my higher criticism hat….

Luke 22:24-27, set immediately after our Lord’s betrayal by Judas Iscariot and the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Last Supper, bears a striking resemblance to Matthew 20:25-28 and Mark 10:42-45, both of which follow on the heels of James and John, sons of Zebedee, asking for high status for themselves (or their mother, our Lord’s aunt, asking for them, depending on the account one reads) in the Kingdom of God.  And the passages from Matthew and Mark precede the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem almost immediately.  Such discrepancies did not trouble the Church Fathers who approved the New Testament canon, so I will not permit them to disturb me either.  Besides, I know that the Gospels are not documentaries.

Anyhow, the theme of obedience we find in Numbers 22 runs through Luke 22 also.  Jesus obeys God.  Those who defy the Greco-Roman system of age and patronage, a system which oppressed people while impressing them with moments of generosity, obey God.  Those who stand by Jesus obey God.  Even Judas Iscariot played his part in salvation history.  If nobody had betrayed Jesus, would he have suffered, died, and risen?  Again we see the sovereignty of God playing out in the texts.

Sometimes agents in these dramas of the sovereignty of God are less than savory characters.  Consider the Numbers and Luke readings for examples of this, O reader.  Balaam, for example, obeyed God until he did not; consult Numbers 31:16.  And, elsewhere in the Bible, the narrative presents the Assyrians and the Babylonians as agents of divine sovereignty and punishment–agents those texts also condemn.  The fact that you, O reader, and I have roles to play in divine plans does not necessarily bode well for us.  Yet may we be on God’s side.  It is better for us, and I propose that God prefers it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 26, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JEREMIAH, BIBLICAL PROPHET

THE FEAST OF ISABEL FLORENCE HAPGOOD, ECUMENIST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-in-pentecost-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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