Friday, February 21, 2014

Numbers 23-25 Two birds with one spear

From Numbers 23-25

Q. Do you think the LORD treats Israel differently in different circumstances?

Num 23.1-12 Story; Balaam's first oracle blessing Israel. Balak spits the dummy at Balaam.
Num 23.13-26 Story; Balaam's second oracle blessing Israel. Balak tells Balaam to shut up.
Num 23.27-24.13 Story; Balaam tries to run away, but the Spirit of the LORD comes on him giving the third oracle blessing Israel. Balak threatens Balaam.
Num 24.14-25 Story; Balaam gives the final oracle blessing Israel and predicting the defeat of her enemies.

Num 25.1-9 Story-Sin; Israel hooks up with foreign women and worships their gods. The LORD sends a plague in punishment. Phinehas kills a couple having sex in the tent of meeting with one strike, thus atoning for Israels sin. The plague stopped.
Num 25.10-18 Story; Phinehas is commended as righteous with a covenant of peace. The offending couple are named and shamed.

Passage and Comments
Following on from yesterdays account of Balak and Balaam, Balak is still trying to get Balaam to curse Israel.
[23:1] And Balaam said to Balak, “Build for me here seven altars, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” [2] Balak did as Balaam had said. And Balak and Balaam offered on each altar a bull and a ram. [3] And Balaam said to Balak, “Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go. Perhaps the LORD will come to meet me, and whatever he shows me I will tell you.” And he went to a bare height, [4] and God met Balaam. And Balaam said to him, “I have arranged the seven altars and I have offered on each altar a bull and a ram.” [5] And the LORD put a word in Balaam's mouth and said, “Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” [6] And he returned to him, and behold, he and all the princes of Moab were standing beside his burnt offering. [7] And Balaam took up his discourse and said,
“From Aram Balak has brought me, the king of Moab from the eastern mountains:‘Come, curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!’[8] How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced?[9] For from the top of the crags I see him, from the hills I behold him;behold, a people dwelling alone, and not counting itself among the nations![10] Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel?Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!”
[11] And Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.” [12] And he answered and said, “Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?” (Num 23:1-12)
It's clear the LORD will not budge on allowing Israel to be cursed. What is curious about this passage is the segway of this mini story to that of the main story between the LORD and Israel. We have here yet another account of Israel's sin.
[25:1] While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. [2] These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. [3] So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. [4] And the LORD said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” [5] And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
[6] And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. [7] When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand [8] and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. [9] Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. (Num 25:1-9)
Israel survives another near miss being wiped out by the LORD's wrath. A couple comments here.

Firstly, note the contrast in the way the LORD is dealing with Israel. (I refrain at this point calling them his people) In the story of Balak and Balaam his displays continued loyalty to Israel and his promises by not allowing Balaam to curse Israel and predicting their success over their enemies. In dealing with Israel directly however, we are continually reminded of Israel's sin, the LORD's wrath and the intercession of various people.

Second, note the associations between covenant and righteousness associated with Phinehas' actions.
[12] Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, [13] and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’” (Num 25:12-13)

Story of Israel
This story is remembered in Psalm 106,
[28] Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor, and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;[29] they provoked the LORD to anger with their deeds, and a plague broke out among them.[30] Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stayed.[31] And that was counted to him as righteousness from generation to generation forever. (Ps 106:28-31)
Story of Jesus
The same kind of covenant and righteousness association is made by Paul in Romans 4;
[2] For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. [3] For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:2-3)
[9] Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. [10] How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. [11] He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, (Rom 4:9-11)
An important aspect of the covenant is that it's members must fulfil their end of the agreement.

For Phinehas, this meant obeying the LORD's command and killing the idolator’s. Thus he atoned for their sin. For God, this means fulfilling his covenant promises.

For Abraham, this means believing in the covenant promise of God.

For us it is very similar to Abraham. Believing in the promise of the gospel. That in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we believe God will also raise us up from the dead. In this hope we were saved (Rom 8.24)