Numbers 23:1-24:9 Balaam’s first oracle extolled Israel as God’s Chosen People, whose promises God made to the patriarch Abraham were now coming true. Balaam’s second utterance of blessing on Israel was more eloquent than the first, describing Israel’s covenant, its deliverance from Egypt, and its mighty military victories. In his third oracle, Balaam again praised Israel and its special status among the nations.
Deuteronomy 24:1-4 God’s pedagogical approach to his people was a gradual educational process designed to effect incremental change to prepare them for Christ’s coming. The moral laws that we recognize today were revealed to Moses by God. Through his laws and interaction with the Chosen People, God established, over a long period of time, a culture based on objective standards of morality. Polygamy, for example, was not abolished in the time of Abraham, and, under the Mosaic Law, divorce was easier to obtain; in the New Testament, Christ taught that marriage had been intended to be INDISSOLUBLE from the very beginning an that divorce was a TEMPORARY CONCESSION to the stubbornness of the people under the Old Covenant: “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19:8). (CCC 1610)
Ch 24:5-22 While the violation of the Law often carried with it severe penalties, it can clearly be seen that these measures served the purpose of ensuring fidelity to the Law. Moreover, many of these laws secured more humane treatment and compassion for servants, workers, families, strangers, the sick, and the poor. (CCC 1934-1938, 2401-2406, 2411, 2414)
Ch 24:14-15 Paying unjust wages to a worker is a serious sin against the Seventh Commandment because it involves keeping what fairly belongs to another. A just wage is a rightful reward for labor. Fair compensation should take into account the particular needs of an employee to provide for himself and his dependents, his or her productivity and contributions to the workplace, the financial state of the business, and the common good. It is not enough to merely have an agreement or contract since the poor and needy often find themselves without a position to negotiate a just level of remuneration. (CCC 1867, 2409, 2434-2436)
Ch 24:21 This stipulation is part of the Sabbath of years; it recognizes that the resources of the earth are meant to provide for everyone’s welfare. This moral norm is defined by the Second Vatican Council as the “universal destination of goods.” (CCC 2452)
Ch 25:1-3 The Law allowed a maximum of forty “stripes,” or lashes of the whip. For this reason, Israel’s judges often would sentence the guilty to “forty stripes less one,” or thirty-nine, so as to ensure the maximum punishment was not exceeded. St. Paul said he had received this kind of punishment five times (cf. 1 Cor 11:24). The scourging that Christ received from the Roman soldiers may have FAR EXCEEDED this number of blows established by Jewish custom.
Ch 25:5-10 The Levirate law, by which a man would marry his brother’s widow if his brother were to die without a son, was meant to keep bloodlines and inheritance within the family. The first son born of the second brother’s union with the woman would be considered the child of the deceased brother and would receive his inheritance. It was from this perspective that the Sadducees posed the question to Christ regarding seven brothers who each married the same woman and left her childless (cf. Mt 22:23-33)
Ch 25:13-16 The reference to a large and small weight pertains to the use of scales in order to sell grain and other goods by weight. To misrepresent the weight of a product in order to cheat the buyer is a sin against the Seventh Commandment. (CCC 2409, 2412)
Psalm 106 In this instance, rather than beseeching God to come to his aid and focusing exclusively on all the almighty works of the Lord, the psalmist realled the sins of the people of Israel and God’s just punishment for those sins. Even so, the psalmist recognized that God had remained faithful to them, choosing to chastise rather than abandon Israel. This unbounded fidelity on God’s part was a cause for praise and rejoicing. Stood in the breach: As Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God, the people had turned back to the worship of idols, casting a golden calf out of the gold they had collected. When God said he would destroy the people for their infidelity, Moses intervened on their behalf, and the punishment was eventually reduced. This episode says much about Moses’ loyalty to and love for those under his care. Always in great awe of the Lord, Moses became bolder in his dealings with God as their relationship grew more intimate. Like Abraham, who bargained with God over the destruction of Sodom, Moses convinced God to issue a lighter punishment. The Lord is, above all, a God of LOVE AND MERCY; because of his steadfast love and faithfulness, he will NEVER FORSAKE HIS PEOPLE. Out of that same steadfast love, he sent his Son into the world for our salvation (cf. Jn 3:16). (CCC 2577)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Once Balaam arrives, he is taken three times up to a high place where he can see Israel and pronounce a curse upon them.
But instead of a curse, God so inspires Balaam that he can only utter prophetic oracles that bespeak the future blessing and greatness of Israel.
This frustrates Balak, just as Balaam was frustrated with his donkey.
Finally, Balaam gives a fourth blessing oracle that foresees a great king arising from Israel, accompanied by the sign of a great star: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Nm 24:17).
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through the Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
We continue our story with Balaam and Balak
There will be a couple more times yet where Balak tries to convince Balaam to curse the people of Israel
It is not going to go any better
Everything you read in the New Testament that references Balaam and in the Early Church Fathers, no one sees Balaam as a good guy
In fact, when you read the text itself, it SEEMS Balaam is doing what God has asked him to do
Balaam says, “I will only say what God tells me to say.”
And then Balaam says what God told him to say
The interpretation of this is that Balaam is A MAN FOR HIRE, OUT FOR HIMSELF
He is not interested in doing God’s Will as God’s Will
But he is only interested in doing what someone pays him to do
Do you see this?
God even USES someone like Balaam to BLESS HIS PEOPLE
This is REMARKABLE
God used a donkey yesterday to speak his words
Now, God uses a BIGGER DONKEY in Balaam to speak his words
In a couple of days, we will see that when God is blessing his people, SOMETHING ELSE IS HAPPENING
Tune in next time, on Bible in a Year (or in a couple of days….no spoilers ;) )
Deuteronomy 24-25: we have the continuation of various laws
Laws about marriage
Laws about crime and punishment
One of the things that is UNITING the laws is this: THE SOURCE OF THE LAW
The Lord our God is the SOURCE of the Law and the giver of this wisdom
WHY DID THESE LAWS HAVE TO BE GIVEN?
We read these various laws and may seem unnecessary and arbitrary to US, here in 2021
Have you ever tried to organize a game with a bunch of kids?
Freeze tag anyone?
You have to make rules as you go because people will BREAK THE RULES
Same with LAWS
OH MY GOODNESS FATHER MIKE MENTIONED KICKBALL!!!! (I was a pitcher in an adult kickball league in Washington D.C. back in the day and threw some nasty curveballs)
So think about kickball, the base runner gets hit with the ball before they reach the base safely and is out
At some point, someone will get hit in the head by the ball on their way to the base
So what happens, does that count as an out or not?
Well guess what, that player IS NOT OUT because you have to be hit between the shoulders and knees with the ball
That rule is usually made up on the spot, depending on the league rules
That is what we are seeing right now
What we are seeing are a number of situations that MUST HAVE ARISEN within the people of Israel
Ok maybe this instance is necessary for a law to be made
Other situations seem more random
The command in Deuteronomy 24: “When you are cleaning your field, you are bringing in the grain, or when you are picking the grapes of your vines, you only go over them one time and you leave whatever else is there for the stranger, the sojourner, the orphan, or widow.”
There is so much forethought and goodness in there
Deuteronomy 25: If there is a dispute and these men are fighting, and one is accused by the other of being guilty of something. If that person is found guilty, they shall be beaten in accordance with the severity of the crime, 40 lashes, BUT NO MORE THAN 40
Because more than 40 lashes would DISHONOR THE MAN
But with Jesus, we see in the Shroud of Turin that Jesus himself had been LASHED WAY MORE THAN 40 TIMES!
Because Romans did not follow Jewish Laws
Romans gonna Roman
There was a restriction on the number of lashes so as not to dishonor an individual
The very next command is that, “You shall not muzzle an ox as it treads out the terrain.”
What’s THAT about?
As the ox is WORKING, he gets to eat of the grain that he is treading
As the ox is wandering through and doing the work, the ox gets to eat
There is kindness to animals that even pops into the commands of the People of Israel
This is what we will find as we move forward through Scripture
It might not be what we anticipate, but IT IS WHAT WE NEED
THAT IS SUCH A GREAT GIFT
As we continue to try to be faithful
As we continue to rely upon the Lord when it comes to our prayer, when it comes to letting his Word CHANGE OUR MINDS, CHANGE OUR HEARTS, and SHAPE OUR LENS, LET US PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER!!
Especially those of us who struggle with reading Scripture and have questions, even misgivings about what we are reading
Pray for each other
Let’s keep praying and don’t stop praying for each other
Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we thank you so much for your gift, for your Word. We thank you for the reminder, this Psalm 106. We give you praise for it because it is just this synopsis and it invites us to do, Lord God, what you keep reminding us to do, which is to remember. Remember what you have done. Remember your faithfulness. And remember all the ways in which we are broken, all the ways in which we have failed to belong to you. And yet, you continue to call us back to yourself. Lord God, today, please call us back to yourself. Today give us a spirit of repentance. Today give us a spirit of trust and confidence in your mercy for us. And give us your Holy Spirit, that we may be your people this day and every day. We make this prayer in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”