Lent Devotion for March 1
"A Donkey Talks!”
Reader: "Whoever you bless is blessed,”
Response: “and whoever you curse is cursed.”
SCRIPTURE: Numbers 22:1–6
1 Then the Israelites traveled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.
2 Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, 3 and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.
4 The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.”
So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, 5 sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the Euphrates River, in his native land. Balak said:
“A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. 6 Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”
(I’d encourage you to read the whole of chapter 22.)
Reader: "The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
This is one of the more interesting accounts in Scripture! A little background may prove helpful. (I’m indebted to the New Living Translation for some of this material.) First off, the Moabites were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. You’ll recall Lot fathered two boys with his daughters, the sons were named Moab and Ammon. (Gen.19:30-38) The Moabites and Ammonites were a thorn in Israel’s flesh. Here is another example. At this point, the Israelites were close to entering the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. They were encamped on the east side of the Jordan River. The sheer number and power of the Israelites were overwhelming to the Moabites and so they hired a diviner, Balaam, to speak a curse on the Israelites. This was a common practice before going into battle. The elders of Midian are also involved in the story. The Midianites are descendants of Midian, a son born to Abraham and Keturah, a woman Abraham married after the death of Sarah. If it seems like everyone was related, they sort of were, which may explain all the battles!
Anyway, Balaam was hired to read signs and omens to determine the future and could by proclamation, it was believed, change future events. The king of Midian sent for Balaam to come and pronounce a curse on Israel. Balaam sent the messengers back to the king telling him God would not let him come to pronounce the curse. The king sent them back to Balaam with a second request to pronounce the curse. In what is a little surprising, God spoke to Balaam and told him to go to the king but not to curse the Israelites. Balaam was in it for the money, so he took the job. We see God’s sense of humor here. He knew Balaam was a shyster and enabled a donkey to speak because the donkey had more insight into what was going on than did Balaam. The Lord was poking fun at the foolishness of a diviner and of the idea that Balaam had the power to change future events. The conclusion was that Balaam spoke what God told him. God was the one, the only one to shape Israel’s future.
Recently, an inscription was found written on a plaster wall at Dier ‘Alla, eight miles east of the Jordan River in the very area where this passage of Scripture occurred. The text identifies Balaam as a “seer of the gods” and names a god similar to Shaddai, “Almighty,” as delivering a message to Balaam bringing judgment on the world.
“Speak, O Lord” by Keith and Kristen Getty (Watch on YouTube)
May the time not be distant, O God, when Your name shall be worshiped in all the earth when
unbelief shall disappear and error be no more. Fervently we pray that the day may come when all shall turn to You in love, when corruption and evil shall give way to integrity and goodness when superstition shall no longer enslave the mind, nor idolatry blind the eye when all who dwell on the earth shall know that You alone are God. O may all, created in Your image, become one in spirit and one in friendship, forever united in Your service. Then shall Your kingdom be established on earth, and the word of Your prophet fulfilled: "The Lord will reign forever and ever." On that day the Lord shall be One and His name shall be One.
- The New Union Prayer Book, 1975