Day 72: The Plains of Moab
Numbers 24:10-25 Dismissed for his failure, Balaam offered a prophecy predicting the destruction of Moab, Edom, and other peoples in Israel’s path. A star shall come forth out of Jacob: The oracle foresaw THE COMING OF CHRIST, whose Birth was signaled by the STAR OF BETHLEHEM. This prophecy foreshadowed the arrival of the magi, wise men from the East, who recognized the signs of a newborn king and came from afar following the star leading to the infant Messiah. (CCC 528)
Ch 25:1-18 In time, many men of Israel were committing sins of lust with Gentile women and were subsequently being drawn into the worship of their idols. If an Israelite man would marry a Midianite woman, both parties would be slain; this measure was intended to remove idolatry thoroughly from among the Chosen People. The punishment for transgressing the First Commandment was severe as an effective measure of maintaining the purity of belief and morality amid such temptation. Sins against the First and Second Commandments were a recurring problem in ancient Israel, and for them sacrifices of atonement were officiated by the priests of the Old Covenant. (CCC 2110-2114)
Deuteronomy 26:1-15 The “land flowing with milk and honey” would produce abundant harvests, the first fruits of which were to be offered to God in thanksgiving. A “sacred portion'' from each year’s harvest was to be set aside and given to the needy and to the Levite priests every third year. This is one more indication of the priority that both divine worship and the poor have in the eyes of God. (CCC 2402, 2828-2830)
Psalm 107 Another hymn of thanksgiving extolling the steadfast love of God, this psalm uses images that point to events in Israel’s history but that are stated generally enough to apply figuratively to many other situations. Wandered in desert wastes: This allusion to the Israelite’s sojourn in the desert en route to the Promised Land describes aptly any person who searches for God or one whose aridity in prayer requires perseverance and fortitude. Some sat in darkness and gloom: This image is reminiscent of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt or exile in Assyria and Babylon. It also could describe any experience of despair, uncertainty, or powerlessness. Sick through sinful ways: This phrase indicates belief in the connection between sin and illness, but it can be applied equally to any instance of poor health or moral struggle. Illness often serves as a means to bring about conversion, a deeper spiritual life, and a greater reliance on God. He turns rivers into a desert: As God blessed the harvests in the Promised Land, so he provides every good thing that we need in due season. (CCC 231, 1502)
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Balak’s attempt to have Balaam weaken Israel with a curse fails miserably, so Balak initiates a new assault upon Israel.
Following Balaam’s advice, he sends out the daughters of Moab to seduce the men of Israel and get them to worship the Moabite gods.
This plan meets with great success. Many Israelites come to the Moabite sacrifices, eat their festive meals, and bow down to the Baal of Peor and the Moabite idols.
Just as he had done at the golden calf, Moses calls upon those loyal to the Lord to slaughter the apostates.
Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, burns with zeal and spears an Israelite and the foreign woman he is sleeping with in one thrust.
Because Phinehas was “jealous” for the Lord—a significant word because Israel is accused of “playing the harlot” with false gods—he and his line are rewarded with a perpetual covenant of priesthood.
This act of idolatry leads to a plague that smites twenty-four thousand people.
What Balak could not do militarily, nor Balaam spiritually, Israel does through the self-inflicted wound of idolatry.
The lesson is clear: The Lord will protect Israel, but if she is unfaithful, she will fall through her own sin.
Infidelity to God can place the blessing given to Israel in jeopardy.
This will prove a very important lesson for Israel as she prepares to enter the Promised Land at the close of this forty-year period.
The Star Out of Jacob
At the time of Christ’s birth, pagan astrologers, referred to as “wise men” (magi) in Matthew’s gospel, look up and wonder at a sign in the heavens.
Balaam’s oracle given so long ago would likely have been recorded among the many oracles of such pagan diviners and would have directed the magi to Jerusalem, the ancient capital city of Israel, which would be the logical place to search out a newborn king of the Jews.
From there the Sacred Scriptures directed the magi to Bethlehem.
The “book of nature” (the star) begins the magi’s journey, and the “book of the soul” (in the use of human reason) directs them to Jerusalem, but it will be the “book of Scripture” that finally reveals the Son of God.
King Herod the Great, the Edomite usurper of the throne of Israel, will fear for his reign upon hearing Balaam’s oracle, which specifically foretells that this “star” shall dispossess Edom (Nm 24:18).
This paranoid king, who had already killed his own wife and children out of fear for his throne, will command the terrible slaughter of an obscure village’s children.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through the Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
Numbers 24 and 25: Remember that Balak, the king of Moab, had asked Balaam to curse the people of Israel
Balaam decided to do it because he was offered the right price
Yet, Balaam was not able to curse Israel
He could only do what God said he could do
So FOUR TIMES, Balaam say WORDS OF BLESSING over the people of Israel
This is REMARKABLE not only because God is telling this soothsayer, Balaam, what to say and the words God speaks are BLESSINGS
But AS THIS IS HAPPENING, the people of Israel are in the plains of Moab RIGHT BEFORE THEY ARE ABOUT TO ENTER THE PROMISED LAND
What do they do?
They begin to PLAY THE HARLOT with the people of Moab and they begin to WORSHIP THE gods of MOAB
Here is this generation of people about to enter the Promised Land WHILE THE LORD GOD IS PROHIBITING BALAAM FROM CURSING THE ISRAELITES
THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL ARE BEING FALSE TO THE LORD
They are hooking up with the daughters of Moab
These men of Israel were intermarrying, they were also adopting the religious practices of the Moabites
They were TURNING AWAY FROM GOD
They were being UNFAITHFUL
MEANWHILE, God on the hill with Balaam is making Balaam BLESS THESE UNFAITHFUL PEOPLE
This is the GOODNESS OF GOD
But, this is also THE DARKNESS OF OUR HEARTS
Numbers 25: Zimri, the Israelite man, takes a Midianite woman, Cozbi into the Tent of Meeting
The Bible seems to back away from EXPLICITLY SAYING that these two individuals were NOT JUST HANGING OUT in the Tent of Meeting
But they were HAVING SEX in the Tent of Meeting
So Phin’ehas, the son of Elea’zar, the son of Aaron, sees this MASSIVE DESECRATION happening in the HOLIEST PLACE THAT EXISTS
IN GOD’S PRESENCE!!
A violation, OBVIOUSLY, on a BUNCH of levels
So Phin’ehas puts a spear through both of them as they are there on the ground in the TABERNACLE OF THE LORD, having sex
God declares that it was the RIGHT THING TO DO
Phin’ehas is later praised in other parts of Scripture, in Psalms (Phin’ehas ROSE UP)
The people of Israel had not only TURNED AWAY FROM GOD to worship other gods
That was DEADLY ENOUGH
But they did it in SUCH A WAY that VIOLATED in SO SO MANY HORRIBLE WAYS the HOLINESS OF GOD (I mean seriously, picturing two people having sex on the tabernacle…...that’s just unfathomable and it makes me SHUDDER to even contemplate it)
Deuteronomy 26: The tithes and the first fruits
Not only are the people of Israel commanded to give tithes, the first fruits of their flocks, their fields, of the yield to the Lord
They are also called to give that tithe on the THIRD YEAR
Not just for The Lord
But for the SOJOURNER
For the FATHERLESS
For the ORPHAN
For the WIDOW
For THOSE WHO DON’T HAVE ANYONE TO CARE FOR THEM
This is REALLY REMARKABLE that marks our Judeo-Christian heritage
We don’t necessarily look to others, like a political system or a government, to take care of the poor among us
In fact, the commandment is this: YOU TAKE CARE OF THE POOR
Imagine if you will, What if all of us ACTUALLY DID WHAT THE COMMAND OF THE LORD IS
What if ALL OF US actually gave 10% of our yield for not only for the worship of God, but for the SERVICE OF THOSE WHO COULD NOT CARE FOR THEMSELVES?
THOSE WHO ARE STRANGERS AMONG US
THOSE WHO ARE FATHERLESS
Imagine how TRANSFORMED our PARISHES WOULD BE
Imagine how TRANSFORMED OUR WORLD WOULD BE
If just on a regular basis, we gave our first fruits of worship to God
If on a regular basis we gave our first fruits of tithe to take care of those who could not take care of themselves
We wouldn’t look to others people to take care of it
WE LOOK TO OURSELVES
WE LOOK TO OUR COMMUNITIES
WE LOOK TO OUR PARISH
Fr. Mike really likes how the government takes care of the roads (clearly he hasn’t been to many places in the DC Metro area ;) )
But, if we are going to be followers of GOD’S WORD, maybe this is an INVITATION
Maybe this is a WORD OF CONVICTION of saying, “To what degree am I being called to give my first fruits in worship, but also my first fruits to the care of the people around me, the stranger, the widow, the orphan?”
This is something that ONLY THE LORD can convict in our hearts
Let us all pray and ask God:
“God if you need to convict me because I’m not doing this, you have my permission. And God, if I am doing this, and you want to console me in the sense of KEEP IT UP and YOU’RE DOING WELL, then you have my permission to console me. Whether to console or convict me, Lord God, you have my permission. Whatever I need, I will receive from your hand. Amen”
Let us keep praying for each other because the Word of God CONVICTS US
The Word of God MOVES US to belong more and more to Him.
Keep praying for Fr. Mike
Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven, thank you so much for your Word. Thank you so much for your blessing. Thank you, God, that we know that we have enemies in this world. We have enemies in the natural world. We have enemies in the spiritual world. We have enemies in the supernatural world. And yet you are on our side. You fight for us. And yet while others may desire to curse us, Lord Jesus Christ, in your own name, you bless us. In your own name, by your own power, by your own goodness, by your own love for us, you utter a blessing over every one of us. And I ask you, Please Lord God, once again this day as we are listening to these words, send your Word of Blessing into our lives, into our hearts, into the people that we love, the people that we care about, the people that we have tried to help, but it seems like nothing helps. Oh God, speak your Word of Blessing over all of them and over all of us. We make this prayer in the mighty name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”