college travels

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sabbatical with Balaam # 3: Searching for the Big Picture

If you’ve seen any of my previous blogs then you will know that I have been enjoying a period of study leave during which I’ve been taking the time to try to understand the Balaam narratives throughout Numbers.

The Balaam story takes place as we come to the end of the Bronze Age. Israel are on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. It’s a journey that takes them through a number of foreign territories and there is opposition on every side. The Book of Numbers tells us about successful engagements against Sihon and Bashan...then comes the Balaam story.

There are hints and suggestions that help us answer some of our questions about leadership, diplomacy and international relations here. But I can’t help thinking that I need to know more to understand the passages better.

It used to puzzle me that part of the second world war was fought in Burma. Why Burma? What were they doing there? I have since found out that it has to do with the bigger picture and especially with the need to secure certain key resources. These days it puzzles me that in Numbers 22 Israel seems to be going in the wrong direction! They are headed towards Egypt, not away from it. It makes me wonder whether that has to do with the bigger picture as well!

Sometimes when we read a document the background provides important clues. A card saying “I love you” might seem pretty clear cut, but if it is timed to arrive on February 14th then there is another dimension that needs to be taken into account. I’m hoping that as I read about 2nd Millennium BC Ammon, Edom and Moab, I will be able to understand more about this curious story by being able to see more clearly the details of the bigger picture.

I still don’t know very much about Ammon, but I’m beginning to see Moab was, like Israel, a fairly young nation. They were a people who were establishing themselves in lands formerly dominated by Egypt. They were a nation who were anxious to establish themselves in their own region and to secure their borders against others. And this, it seems to me, has everything to do with Balak’s invitation to Balaam to help him against this new clear and present danger - Israel.

It’s a helpful reminder too, that when we think of Scripture, we know that men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Although, we also know that those men lived, breathed and ministered within a particular historical occasion. It doesn’t matter what Scripture we are talking of, whether it is Numbers or Malachi, Matthew, Colossians or Revelation, the more we give ourselves to understand what was going on, what were the people of God going through at that time, the more we will understand and the better we will be able to respond to God today.

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