Prophet VS Grace
Our reading comes from the one of my favorite versions of the Bible - the Black Bible Chronicles. The Black Bible Chronicles takes the stories of the Mosaic books and makes them very now and very relevant. Anybody interested in reading this book may purchase it from Amazon.com. Many people who have read from this particular book have found the book so enjoyable they have spent hours reading from it. Any version of the Bible that makes people excited to read and apply the stories of the Bible to their hearts is wonderful.
The section I am reading is a very condensed version of the story of Balaam and his donkey that is found in the Black Bible Chronicles. Starting with Numbers 22:22.
Now the Almighty sent an Angel to stop Balaam dead in his tracks . . . as the donkey started forward again, he saw that Angel, and well, he just wasn't going to jock this dude. Balaam . . . took to hitting that donkey every which way. And the Almighty put words in the donkey's mouth so that the donkey asked Balaam, "Look, man, why do you keep hitting me?" . . .
But surprise! . . . Balaam could see that Angel too and it was made clear now why the donkey sat on his behind.
"You oughta thank that donkey," said the Angel. "He saved your life, boy . . .
So, Balaam repented 'cuz he was real grateful that he hadn't bitten the dust . . .
Balaam took Balak up to the top of a mountain so that he could see the brothers and sisters of Israel . . . "Look, King Balak of Moab. You brought me out here to curse these folks. You said, "Put a curse on 'em.' But I'm here to tell you, I can't curse what the Almighty doesn't curse. I ain't nobody compared to Him. . .
And he at last prophesied that all those who went before the children of Israel would bite the dust 'cuz no one was strong enough to beat the Almighty . . .
The commentator James Smith describes Balaam as being like "Bunyan's Mr. Face-both-ways"(1). You could say he was two-faced.
Smith compares Balaam with the "large-headed" and "cold-hearted" religion professors who talk religion but do not walk with the godly(2). Balaam reminds me more of the television evangelists and of the supposedly religious political figures who will attack virtually any group for political or financial gain. Many of these profit oriented false prophets focus attacks on queer Christians. They end up doing a lot of harm to Christianity, to God and to His people, because they do not walk or talk like godly people.
There is much irony in the story. A donkey sees the angel before the prophet. Adam Clarke observes that God's visions were seen only by those who were interested(3). There are times when asses are more open to God than those who say they speak for God. And many times those who society feels are just donkeys compared to the "real spiritual leaders" speak for God with more accuracy and with more authority than those who think they have the God-given authority to speak for the Lord. We see many gay Christians coming out of the closet and articulating God's love and grace more clearly than it has traditionally been spoken from pulpits. I do not know how many times I've heard people with little or no formal theological training, who were not regulars in churches and who understood intuitively that God's grace is extended to all of His people, including to gays and lesbians. Something is very wrong with that picture - those who should understand, not understanding, and those who should not understand, understanding. As the text today shows, this is not a just new problem and it has not only been a problem shared by queer Christians.
Adam Clarke makes an interesting observation. He says, Balaam loved the pay of being unrighteous, but he was willing to stop if God was not happy with his actions. Then he says, many called Christians "see that the thing displeases God, and yet they proceed"(4).
Godly people have taken to task some of the people who are widely thought to speak for God, because those people so strongly condemned gay people. But the media pastors, the family-oriented ministry leaders still speak out against God's queer children.
Curses were taken seriously by the ancients. A curse might be invoked against a person who opposed you or might oppose you(5). Once a curse or a blessing was said, it could not be revoked(6). So Balaam blessed God's people and the blessing could not be undone, taken away, taken back or revoked(7).
The story of Balaam must be seen in context. Back up a chapter in Numbers. The children of Israel began to bellyache. God sent snakes that bit the people, causing many to die. God had a snake made and put on a pole. Those who the snake bit and looked at the snake on the pole lived.
Balaam, who was commonly thought to speak for the gods, did not really comprehend God's grace about God and God's grace. Fortunately, God can speak grace through those who do not quite comprehend grace. As you read Balaam's blessings in Numbers Chapter 23, you may see what Balaam did not understand. God's people, people of grace, are:
Forgiven - Verse 21(8). He [God] hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel. Matthew Henry, the well-known conservative commentator says there was iniquity in Jacob and God saw it, but God was not going to abandon His people(9).
God is aware of your mistakes and sins but does not see your sins when you are forgiven. No matter how many times you have complained against God, doubted God, hated God for what He's done to you or for who He made you, you are forgiven. Regardless of how much you've hated God's wonderful creation - yourself - God looks on you and sees good things. Because of Jesus' atoning death, God only sees Jesus' perfection when He looks at you. That means in spite of all of the times you've hated God and hated yourself, God sees no iniquity in you!
Delivered - Verse 22(10). God brought them out of Egypt. God delivered Israel from slavery. The Lord is delivering you too. Your delivery is no less of a miracle than the children of Israel's delivery. In the stories of Jesus Christ, we get the picture of God the Son coming down to earth to personally rescue you. God personally rescued you, because you are worth rescuing.
I want to stop for a moment, so this will catch your attention. God came to the earth - that is what it means when we take a classical Trinitarian understanding of God and the Son. And God personally chose you. Remember physical education classes, where the captains picked the teams. Of course, they only chose the best, the jocks. You were chosen picked to be on God's team, because in Christ you are a jock. Your sexual orientation, your gender expression and your gender identity did not stop God from picking you to be on the winning team.
Protected - Verse 23(11). Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob. God's grace protects God's people. Just as God protected the children of Israel from the attacks of so-called prophets trying to invoke God's curses, you are protected from those so-called prophets of today who, because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, try to curse you in the name of God.
Courageous - Verse 24(12). Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion. In Hebrew, the word translated rise up has the meaning to abide(13). Abiding in God, remaining faithful to God takes courage. And God gives us the courage to be faithful.
Grace is a gift. Faith is also a gift. Those touched by grace have the courage of a lion to abide in God. But this is not just any lion. This is a young lion, a teenager lion. We know teens tend to take chances, because they do not really understand their own mortality. Somehow, they just don't understand they could die. I cannot think of people who show much more courage than those who attend and support queer congregations. They have the courage of lions, the courage of teenaged Christian lions.
Victorious - Verse 24(14). The people who have grace are victorious. There are many people who are not comfortable with any of the Biblical references to spiritual battles. War seems very opposed to Christian values. There are struggles for gay people. The struggle against hatred, hate crimes and the struggle for equality, human rights and protection can feel like a real war when we are carrying the load, instead of letting God carry the load for us. When God carries the load, when we let God take the responsibility for success or failure from our shoulders, we can labor for justice without being turned into bitter soldiers.
Witnesses - Verse 23(15). It shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought! The first creation was a real testimony to God. Every time we see a beautiful flower, hear the song of a bird, enjoy the companionship of a faithful dog or a loving cat, we experience a living testimony of God's creation. Paul talks about Christians being a new creature(16). The word could be translated new creation(17).
All who taste God's grace show the world what God has done. As God's new creation, your life is a witness to God's re-creation. People inside and outside the Christian church are starting to look at gay Christians and say, What hath God wrought!
Have Joy - Verse 21(18). the shout of a king is among them. This is not just the shout of any king. This is the shout of the King of Kings. Grace brings joy. In Hebrew, one can almost get the picture of a bunch of trumpets sounding at once - the joyful clamor of trumpets(19).
You are a forgiven, delivered, protected, witnessing and courageous people. All of those things are things to celebrate. So clamor, blow the trumpet of your heart, the trumpet of your life, for God has given you grace. Celebrate Jesus.
(1) James Smith. Handfuls on Purpose. Vol. 3. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Pub., 1947), 115-116.
(2) Smith, 118.
(3) Rick Meyers. "Adam Clarke's Commentary." e-Sword. Version 6.5.0 Computer Software. (Leiper's Fork, TN - www.e-sword.net).
(4) "Adam Clarke's Commentary." e-Sword.
(5) Walter Riggans. The Daily Study Bible: Numbers. (Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 1983), 167.
(6) Riggans, 167.
(7) Riggans, 168.
(8) Smith, 118.
(9) Rick Meyers. "Matthew Henry's Commentary." e-Sword. Version 6.5.0 Computer Software. (Leiper's Fork, TN).
(10) Smith, 118.
(11) Smith, 119.
(12) Smith, 119.
(13) Rick Meyers. "Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionary." e-Sword. Version 6.5.0 Computer Software. (Leiper's Fork, TN).
(14) Smith, 119.
(15) Smith, 119.
(16) Galatians 6:15.
(17) "Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionary." (e-Sword) gives creation as a meaning of the word translated creature.
(18) Smith, 118.
(19) "Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionary." (e-Sword) uses the words clamor, blowing of trumpets, joy and rejoicing for the word translated shout in the King James Bible.