The Story So Far, Week 10 – Balaam and the Spirit

Rembrandt, Balaam and His Ass, 1626

First off, we’ve now completed double-digit weeks of Year in the Bible! Congratulations.

Back in the Old Testament, Numbers slows its pace down to tell the reader about the diviner, Balaam. He’s known for his abilities to discern spirits, speak oracles, and generally relate to the spiritual world. King Balak wants to use Balaam’s abilities to bring down curses upon the peoples of Israel. They are great in number and are looming at Balak’s doorstep. But God will not allow his people, whom he has blessed, to be cursed by Balaam.

Because of God’s will, Balaam says he will not go, but Balak pushes him again and again. Balaam eventually goes, but only once God allows him, and even then, he has a stern message for the diviner on the road.

Balaam is riding his old donkey, with which he seems to have shared many rides. But on this ride the donkey refuses to continue. An angel of God stands in their way. The donkey won’t succumb to Balaam who tries to drive him on becase the donkey knows better. Balaam gets angry until God opens the donkeys mouth to speak to him and then opens his eyes to see the angel. The great irony of this story is that the person who is known in the land as being able to see spiritual things is here blind, while a mere donkey can see what is right before them. How humbling for the diviner, and how revealing to us how spiritual understanding is given. God has to give it to us.

And that is what we see given to the whole church in Acts. God gives his own Spirit to the people and they are given speech, like the donkey, and they are shown all spiritual truth. God’s Spirit lives in believers now and that has changed everything.

Just think of the implications. Take a moment.

To look at one example, think about the selection of the disciple who replaces Judas. The disciples cast lots. After Pentecost, when the Spirit comes upon the church, do you see lots cast again?

It is amazing to live in a time in which we all have greater access than so-called diviners like Balaam, for God has made his dwelling place among us and in us by his Spirit.

Week 10 – Numbers and Acts

Balaam, the Angel and the Ass; Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (from Wikipedia)

Welcome to Week 10.

We’re back to just reading two books this week as the Psalms are taking a week off. But in its place we have another hearty week of Numbers and seven chapters of Acts.

In Numbers we have some well known stories like when Moses brought forth water from a rock, a bronze snake that heals the Israelite people, and a donkey that talks. We finish this week as the Israelites come to the end of their wandering and are readying themselves to enter the promised land (again).

Acts is a continuation of Luke, written by the same author, continuing the story of what happens once Jesus is raised. It is often described as Acts of the Holy Spirit, and that is what it is. You’ll see the way that God’s Spirit empowers the early church and the disciples to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. We’ll read about Pentecost, healings, opposition from the Jewish establishment, and Stephen’s wonderful testimony before the Sanhedrin and subsequent stoning. Stephen is considered the first Christian martyr.

Hope you enjoy this week. If you have questions or comments, send them this way and I’ll do my best to respond and share with everyone else. I’d love to have you join me this summer at either reading groups, which you can find more information about at the above link. Some things take breaks as school is out in the summer, but you can always find yourself welcome at a reading group.