Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Life is full of ups and downs for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike. I once heard a pastor comment on it that everyone is either entering a crisis, in a crisis, or coming out of a crisis. For an unbeliever, a hard day is… well, it’s a hard day. But for a follower of Christ, difficult times are a wonderful opportunity to see God continue to work through even the worst of times. Why is that? Well, through Jesus, all who believe are what I would call, “PermaBlessed.” That is to say: they are blessed permanently.
The Children of Israel spent 40 years in the desert. Most people would consider this to be a bad time for them. In fact, many of them thought so as well. I mean, they faced hunger and complained about it,
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:2-3).
They also faced thirst, and complained about that in Exodus 17:3, “But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?’” And after eating the same food for a long time, they complained about that too,
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the first we ate in Egypt at no cost- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6).
On top of that, the people found out, after wandering the desert for quite a while, that the land they were going to was filled with fortified cities and armies of people waiting to defend themselves against the renegade slaves from Egypt (that is, the Israelites). This didn’t sit so well,
That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord brining us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:1-4).
Now I’m not trying to make light of or belittle the Israelites woes. God’s Chosen People faced some serious hardship in the desert: hunger, thirst, mind-numbing monotony, and hopelessness. Oh, and after that last complaint, the Lord said that everyone who was 20 years or older when they came out of Egypt would die in the desert. As I said, most people would consider this situation to be one of those “down” times in the “up and down” scale. And yet, God considered the Israelites blessed.
Wait, what? Did the Lord not notice all the suffering the people of Israel were going through in the wilderness? Of course he did. But check this out; as the Israelites were nearing Moab, its king, Balak started panicking (because the Israelites had just wiped out two other countries). Therefore, he reached out to a prophet of God, Balaam, for help. Scripture records,
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, sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the 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. 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 country. For I know that those you bless are blessed, and those you curse are cursed” (Numbers 22:4-6).
At first Balaam was a little leery of speaking against God’s Chosen people, but after a bit of prodding and an incident involving a talking donkey he went to meet with Balak. The two got everything ready and even burned a sacrifice to the Lord so that Balaam would be able to curse Israel. Numbers 23:7-8 tells us the results,
Then Balaam uttered his oracle:
“Balak brought me from Aram,
The king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
‘Come,’ he said, ‘curse Jacob for me;
Come, denounce Israel.’
How can I curse
Those whom the Lord has not cursed?
How can I denounce
Those whom the Lord has not denounced?
Hmm, that did not go to plan. But, to Balak’s credit, he wasn’t a believer in God, so he might have messed up the sacrifice or the location or something. “Ok, ok, let’s try this again.” To this end, Balak took Balaam to another location to see if he could get another reading, this time maybe a more favorable one. We read,
Then he uttered his oracle:
“Arise, Balak, and listen;
Hear me son of Zippor.
God is not a man that he should lie,
Nor a son of man that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
I have received a command to bless;
He has blessed, and I cannot change it.
No misfortune is seen in Jacob,
No misery observed in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them;
The shout of the King is among them” (Numbers 23:18-21).
Not only did the Lord once again affirm that he has chosen to bless Israel, but he even goes as far as saying that things aren’t going badly for them either. Now the people didn’t really agree with this point, but God makes sure that we know that the Israelites were blessed even in their hardest time. Why? God was with them.
By this point I’m sure Balak was considering asking a refund while he kept trying to change the odds through this prophet. However, no matter what they tried, Balaam, who could only bless or curse at the Lord’s command, kept blessing the enemy. The Holy Spirit lit Numbers 24:8-9 up in particular for me,
God brought them out of Egypt;
They have the strength of a wild ox.
They devour hostile nations
And break their bones in pieces;
With their arrows they pierce them.
Like a lion they crouch and lie down,
Like a lioness- who dares to rouse them?
May those who bless you be blessed
And those who curse you be cursed!
The end of this blessing is especially noteworthy because it tracks back to something that God told Abraham, the ancestor of all of the Israelites,
I will make you into a great nation
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And whoever curses you I will curse;
And all peoples on earth
Will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2-3).
So while his people were struggling with despair in the desert, God not only affirmed that his intention was to bless Israel, but also reaffirmed a promise that he made to their forefather.
Where am I going with this? When we come to Jesus, we are adopted as sons into God’s family. For Paul writes,
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Romans 8:13-17).
So according to Paul, those in Christ are to be counted as children of God. As children of the Lord, we inherit all that has been promised to Christ, the Son of God. Now, I am not denying that Paul also notes that those who are with Jesus will suffer, because they will. However, those who suffer in Christ will reap eternal blessings. What’s more, when we come to a belief in Jesus Christ and repent of our sins to him, we’re not just integrated into Christ’s family; we’re also brought into the fold of God’s Chosen People. Paul goes on a bit later,
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you (Romans 11:17-18)
Now this passage deals mainly with how the Gentile believers shouldn’t get arrogant about having Christ on their side, however the message that accompanies it is that through Christ we are brought in to the same group of people who Balaam blessed oh so long ago. When the Israelites were at their very worst, God called them blessed. How much more are you and me, when we are facing hard times, subject to the Lord’s blessing? Never forget this as you go through your life, God doesn’t change his mind: if you’ve come to Christ and been accepted into the family of believers through his blood sacrifice, then it’s already done. You’re already permablessed, no matter how your life may look on the outside. So those of you who are fellow believers, I suggest that no matter how tough your day may seem, open your eyes and look around (you might have to ask the Holy Spirit for help if you’re having a particularly bad day) and watch as God helps to move things your way.