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Even those people who are somewhat familiar with the bible have heard of the talking donkey story. They may not know of the spiritual meaning and the protection God provided for his people, which is the true lesson of the story, but they remember something about an ass that talked.
Balak is the king of Moab who hires Balaam, a sorcerer that also seems to know (and is able to hear from) the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to curse the Israelites that are passing through his land. At first Balaam confers with God who tells him not to go because the people are God’s chosen and blessed. Balaam tells the kings representatives, who return with the bad news to the king. The king sends higher ranked people with promises of even more wealth, and Balaam asks God again if it is OK to curse the people.
God tells him to go if he must but warns him it won’t turn out well. Balaam ignores the warning and leaves. On the way his ass turns aside three times from the main road, infuriating Balaam to the point when he gets off and starts to beat the beast. That’s when the ass talks to him and asks why she is being whipped? The truth of the matter then comes out, as God open’s Balaam’s eyes and allows him to see the angel of death with his drawn sword waiting for Balaam to come within reach. If not for the ass turning aside (because she saw the angel at each of the three places) Balaam would have been killed. Realizing his sin he says he will return, but the angel tells him to continue and that he must say whatever God tells him to say.
Balaam gets to the king and tells the king that whatever God tells him to say he must say. The king also ignores this warning and the first time Balaam confers with God he ends us blessing the people. Balak is angry for Balaam doing so, but Balaam reminds the king that he can only say what God tells him to say. Two more times Balak tries to get Balaam to curse the people, and two more times they are blessed. In anger Balak tells Balaam he better run back home before harm comes to him, and Balaam says first he must tell Balak and the other kings there with them what will happen in the future. God gives Balaam a prophetic message about the eventual rule of Israel over Moab and the other countries, then he leaves.
This parashah ends with the people being seduced by Moabite women into worshiping Baal and after a plague is sent to punish the people Pinchus (son of Aaron) spears an Israelite prince and the Moabite woman he was flagrantly showing off in front of Moses, which ends the plague.
It is later, in Numbers 31:16 that we learn the idea of using Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men into bringing a curse on themselves was the brainstorm of Balaam.
You may be aware that for every Parashah reading, there is an additional reading from some other part of the Tanakh. This is called the Haftorah reading. Today’s haftorah is from Micah 5-6:8. This is what I want to talk about today.
It is supposed this is at the time when Manasseh was ruling as king of Judea. That was one of the most sinful and degraded times throughout the history of Judea. Through Micah God asks what he has done to the people to make them turn so far away from him. He reminds them of all that he has done to save them, to support, protect and nurture them since he brought them out of Egypt. The haftorah ends with Micah 6:8, considered by the Rabbis to be the most important prophetic utterance in all of scripture:
It has been told thee, O man, what is good: only what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.
Simple, isn’t it? There are 613 commandments in the Torah, and the Christian world believes there are over a thousand commandments in the New Covenant writings. In truth there aren’t any- everything in the New Covenant is from the Old Covenant. Yet, with all the commandments, laws, regulations, ordinances and rules that God has given to all of us we are told that there are only two important commandments: to love God and to love each other (Deut. 6:5, Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:36) and that all God requires of us is to love justice, be merciful and walk humbly with him.
It really is like Moses told the children of Israel when he said these commandments are easy to do (Deut. 30:11.) Just love God, love each other, be merciful and humbly obey God by doing as he has instructed (this is how I interpret “walk humbly with your God.”)
How many times do we forget all that God has done for us? I include myself in this group and confess I often get angry and frustrated (in the opposite order) when something small and insignificant goes wrong. I forget all that God has provided for me, all that he has done and can continue to do. It seems so silly of me that in spite of his wondrous miracles and blessings I get pissed when I lose Internet connection for a minute. I misuse God’s name when I curse out the screw that stripped when I was trying to tighten it and I yell at others when they have done nothing wrong because I am having a bad day.
Has anyone ever done this: in the middle of a really bad day stopped to think that it is only because of God’s many blessings in your life that you are even there, alive and able to experience that bad day? I know I haven’t, and I also know that I should. I would think it impossible to continue to feel bad after that realization.
I once wrote a post called “SWISH!” which stands for So What, I‘m Saved, Halleluyah! I wrote that and felt it for a day or so, then forgot all about it. Oy! Vat a schmendrick!
God has done, is doing and will continue to do wonderful and miraculous things for us. The world isn’t such a great place to be in but God can overcome the world, and those who worship God and try to obey all he has said we should do will be blessed- that is God’s promise (Deut. 28.) So, when things go bad or when we feel tempted by the world and it’s fleshly rewards, we need to SWISH; we need to remember Micah 6:8; we need to remember that as humans we tend to forget what was done for us and revel in our own authority and power (even though we really have neither) turning from God’s ways and thinking we are OK in doing so.
It’s this simple: first we have to repent of our sin. Then we must accept Yeshua as our Messiah so that through him we can receive forgiveness. Then all we need to do to remain in good standing with the Lord is this: love God and people, show mercy, act justly and live humbly.