college travels

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sabbatical with Balaam #2

It’s good to set aside time to think. I’m enjoying it and have been find it enormously refreshing. Whatever love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength means, it has something to do with dwelling on, thinking about, listening to, trying as best you can to understand and make sense of who God is and what he has done.

"What he has done"? A memorable phrase, this time from earlier on in the story, goes - God replied to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." It’s a phrase that has left people puzzling ever since. But one thing does seem clear. In this announcement God indicates to Moses that he will be known through what he will do. And this, of course, will be entirely consistent with all that he always has been. Numbers takes the story past Exodus and tells us more of what God did and said and thought. From it we are meant to understand who God is.

"As best as I can"? Well when the Old Testament talks about the heart it has in mind, not so much our emotional centre, as the centre of our thinking. This is the place where we make decisions, resolutions and commitments.

It’s good to set aside time to think. I’m still in Numbers. I’m still thinking about Balaam, donkeys, messenger-angels swords and so on. It’s a weird passage but it was included in the book of Numbers and so my hunch is that the author / complier of Numbers didn’t find it nearly as odd or weird as I do. And so I’m focussing a lot of my attention, at the moment, trying to understand what the world, or rather what a small part of the Near East looked like around the time that people first began to use iron implements.

Iron had been known about for some time. But it was known to be soft, easily corroded and of little practical use. That was until people learnt to combine it with other elements, and until new technologies allowed furnaces to be much hotter than had previously been possible (cf. Deut 4:20). This useless element became a prized substance and a key ingredient in economic and military success and domination (cf. Josh 17:16; 1Sam 13:19).

So what was it like living at the end of the Bronze Age?
What sort of technologies did they have?
How big were the cities?
How effective was communication?
How efficient was agriculture?
Who were the key players within village communities?
What sort of government did they have and who made the decisions?

These are the sorts of questions I am trying to find answers to. Not simply to amass trivia that is hardly likely to come up in anyone’s Bible Trivia Quiz. I’m trying to find answers to these questions that I might better understand what is going on in Numbers 22-24. I’m convinced that these chapters are profitable for for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. I just don’t have much experience of that profit yet. But with persistence, perseverance and with God’s help I will do.

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  • Thanks for the thoughts Andy,
    It was actually at a house party trivia event that i first heard the question, 'The bible has a talking donkey in it... True or false?'
    8 years later, I dont feel any the wiser in regards to Balaam and the events surrounding him.
    I look fwd to hearing more from you.

    By Blogger Dan, at 5:40 pm  

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