Snake-bites and perfect love…..

28 03 2011

DAY EIGHTY-FIVE : Numbers 21 v. 4 – 22. v. 20; Luke 6 v. 12 – 36; Psalm 37 v. 21 – 31


NUMBERS

The Bronze Snake – En route, the Israelites grow impatient, and speak against God and Moses. “No bread! No water! Detestable food”. God sends poisonous snakes, and many die of snake bites. The people repent and ask Moses to pray for God to take the snakes away. Moses prays. God tells Moses to make a bronze snake which will prevent the bitten Israelites from dying :
“When anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus Christ is the one who was lifted up for our sin, just as Moses lifted the bronze snake in the desert (John 3 v. 14)

Moab – more stops at Oboth, Iye Abarim, Zered, Arnon (border of Moab), Beer (sounds like a good place, that!), Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth and to Moab.

Interested to find out a little more about the “Book of the Wars of the Lord”…..this is the only reference to ‘it’ in scripture – suggests an ancient text, recording Israel’s military exploits, as produced by most empires…

There’s a well in Beer (a Beer well?), where God’s people made up a song as they drank
“Well, well, well –
You spring up and we’ll sing out
Princes dug you, nobles sank you
Royalty prepared you with their sceptres and staffs
Well, well, well”

Sihon and Og – Israel requested safe passage through Sihon, but this was not granted; rather Sihon sent their army out and there was a battle at Jahaz. The Israelites ‘won’ and too over the land from Arnon to Jabbok. Israel captured the Amorite cities (Heshbon etc – great song quoted regarding Heshbon’s capture from Moab to Sihon).
Israel settled in the land of the Amorites. They captured Jazer (after a spying trip).
Then there’s King Og of Bashan (what a great name!!) – he brings his army out to meet the Israelites at Edrei. The Lord gives Israel the promise of victory and the whole army of Bashan is defeated and destroyed.

Balak Summons Balaam –
The Israelites press on towards Moab, camping along the Jordan opposite Jericho. All Moab is terrified of the reports they’ve heard about the Israelites conquering the Amorites. King Balak sent for Balaam, son of Beor, who was down by the river, at Pethor, that Balaam would put a curse on Israel so that they would be easily defeated (“Those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed.”)
Balaam is clearly some form of sorcerer/diviner (the elders of Moab and Midian take a divination fee with them).
Overnight, God visits Balaam and asks him who the men visitors are. Why is that question significant ?
God gives a clear instruction that the Israelites are blessed and Balaam is not to put a curse on them.
The visitors return with the message that the Lord prevented Balaam from going with them. So, Balak sends some other princes with a different message – ‘don’t let anything prevent you from coming – I will reward you richly and do what you say. Come and curse these people.’
This time, overnight, God visits Balaam and says it’s okay for him to go with them, but only to do what God says…..

Balaam is fascinating character – a diviner for the pagans who is visited by God, and becomes (even temporarily, for this time) obedient to God, and a vessel for bringing God’s message to the pagan nations….

LUKE
The Twelve – when Jesus has a very important decision to make, he goes up the mountainside to pray – all night ! When He appears in the morning, He is ready to appoint twelve from the greater number of disciples, who He also then calls ‘apostles’ (those ‘sent on mission’).
I always think it’s a shame for Judas that he is introduced to us from the beginning as the one ‘who became a traitor’.
The list of names underlines that fact that God chooses ordinary people – a real mixed bag.
I’m also hit with the realisation that the ‘twelve’ initiate the new chosen people / nation God is creating (cp twelve tribes of Israel).

Blessings and Woes – there’s a large crowd of disciples (funny how we often think of merely twelve disciples – here, the picture is of many disciples, but twelve disciple-apostles), and many, many people suffering illnesses who come for healing (simply to touch Jesus for power to come from Him).
You are blessed if
~ you are poor : God’s kingdom is available to you
~ you are hungry now : God will fill you completely
~ you are weeping now : God will bring laughter to you
~ you are hated, excluded, insulted and rejected : God will reward you greatly in heaven (and God’s prophets have always suffered such treatment)

You are unblessed (not quite ‘cursed’, I guess. Woed?) if
~ you are rich : God says you’ve had your good time, your comfort, don’t expect more
~ you are stuffed with food now : God says you will experience intense hunger
~ you are laughing now : God says you will know mourning and weeping
~ you are spoken well of, flattered, honoured : God simply hints it’s not the end of the story – history has shown that

i.e. don’t look for flattery, praise, honour….you can tell you are doing the prophetic good thing if you are encountering opposition, hatred, insults….eeek!!


Loving Enemies – really tough teaching, beginning with ‘are you really listening?’ (there are levels of listening, aren’t there).
‘Love enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you’ (a good mantra for each day, to go deeper in our discipleship).
Turn the other cheek (real insult to be slapped in the face); hold loose to possessions – if someone takes what’s yours, don’t demand it back; give to everyone who asks; the golden rule:
‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (a good catch-all guide to how we learn to treat others)

Don’t just love those who love you (no credit/reward there); don’t just do good to those who are good to you; don’t just lend to those who will definitely give back;  Jesus restates : ‘Love enemies, do good to them, and lend without expecting back’.
There will be a great reward for living this way – ‘you will be sons of the Most High’.
In summary, ‘show mercy to all, because your Father God has shown such mercy to you.’

This really tough teaching reminds me that Christian discipleship is a never-ending deepening spirituality, challenging us more and more each day, towards a Christian perfection (perfect love – for God and for others) which is only possible as our walk with Him, dependence upon Him increases.

PSALM
“The righteous give generously…
If the Lord delights in a man’s way, He makes His steps firm;
Though he stumble, he will not fall…
The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it for ever…
The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.
The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.”

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