Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

What You’re Told To Say

And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. – Numbers 22:20-21

But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. – Numbers 22:22

Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak. – Numbers 22:34-35

Setting aside the talking donkey for a moment, what is up with this? Balaam asked once and God said no so he didn’t go. Then better princes come and he asks again and God said to go. So he goes and God gets mad and sends an angel to kill him. Balaam admits he’s wrong and offers to not go but the angel says to go. Anyone else get whiplash following that?

From the information I’ve summarized above I can’t see where Balaam did anything wrong. He asked God and didn’t go till God said yes and if a donkey crushed my foot against a wall it would probably get a good crack on the hinder too. So is God just being fickle here? May it never be! As Balaam himself says in the very next chapter, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” So assuming Balaam is right here what gives? The Angel of the LORD tells Balaam and us:

And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me…” – Numbers 22:32

The problem wasn’t with Balaam going, it was with why he was going. It appears that despite what God had told him, he was planning on doing what Balak had asked him to do: curse Israel.

Look at Balaam’s response to Balak’s people. First, in verse 13 he says, “Go to your own land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.” Then in verse 18 when the second set comes he says, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more…” When God lets him go in verse 20 he says “But do what I tell you.” Then after Balaam’s encounter with the angel when he meets Balak in verse 38 he finally gets it and says “Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” It looks like the meeting with the angel is what convinces Balaam that going or not going wasn’t the issue. He really has to do what God told him and will tell him. Period.

Okay, so what about the talking donkey? It is entirely possible that God temporarily gave the beast the ability to speak her mind. However, since her conversation during that brief interlude was so focused and the angel takes up her defense even though he says that his mission was to oppose Balaam, I kind of think that was the angel speaking to Balaam through the donkey. She doesn’t speak any more after the angel starts talking so perhaps he’s done with her. Even if the donkey were speaking of her own volition, she is doing what Balaam should have been doing. She was saying nothing more and nothing less that the LORD told her to say.

Bible: Thoroughly Human, Thoroughly Divine

I’m going to use a comic book reference to make a point. If you’re not a comic book kind of person, just stick with me for a moment, I think it will be worth it.

Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly and most recently Dollhouse but my favorite is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blogthinks he knows why DC Comics tank but Marvel’s do pretty well these days. Here’s how it is summarized:

“Because, with that one big exception (Batman), DC’s heroes are from a different era. They’re from the era when they were creating gods.” Whedon explains to Maxim that DC’s characters, like Wonder Woman, Superman and Green Lantern, were “all very much removed from humanity.”

From Whedon’s perspective, the stories that succeed these days are those that are more human than superhuman. We don’t want to hear about people who are not like us. People who don’t have problems. We don’t want Greek gods anymore, we’re more interested in special humans. Midas over Hercules.

When Mohammad received the Koran, an angel came and forced it upon him. Mohammad dictated the Koran from Allah. He would sit in a cave and the angel would come upon him and he’d start talking. His friends with him would write down what he said on whatever they had at hand. Skins, clothing, bone fragments, whatever. When Allah’s word came, it came.  Later these writings were gathered together and put on paper.

Wait, come back! I’ve actually got a point to make here! Honest and I’m about to make it now.

The Christian Bible is a thoroughly human document and a thoroughly divine document. Here’s how Peter put it:

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2Pt 1:21

First, the context of 2Pt 1 is bigger than just oral prophecy, it includes the scriptures as well. Next, notice he says. “Men spoke.” Man. Humans. People spoke, people wrote. They didn’t repeat what they’d heard. They spoke. The Bible is a human document. It is written by people, in their time and culture, from the personal perspective, in the language they spoke.

At the same time, these men spoke “by the Holy Spirit.” The Bible is also a divine document. These folks didn’t write just any old thing, they were “carried along” in their speaking and writing by God. God had them speak what he wanted them to say because prophecy is never generated by human will.

We need to keep the two together, the human and the divine. Does that sound familiar? It should, we have that same struggle with the person of Jesus. His is 100% human (minus sin) and 100% divine and he is the Word (Jn 1). God’s word is like that too.

So what does this have to do with Joss Whedon and the Koran? To me the fact that the Bible is a human document as well as divine makes it much more appealing. More personal. God didn’t drop it from the sky or force the words out of a prophet’s mouth. As he was writing history, he was also writing his word in history. Men spoke as the Spirit carried them along.  In Jesus, God entered time and walked in our sandels, felt our pain and disappointment, he can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because he “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15). His word isn’t removed from our difficulty and disappointment and struggle either. Job speaks honestly from his pain and confusion. Jeremiah laments with real tears and is really heartbroken. Solomon is sincere when he looks back upon a life wasted in self-satisfaction in Eccelsiasties.  Solomon also experience real romantic love and desire for his wife in Song of Songs.

Were God to drop his word into our world, etched on a onyx stone in a language so unlike ours, we’d worship the stone rather than listen to the words. The medium would eclipse the message. Instead, God speaks in such common forms that we’re left with nothing but the message to heed. It is comforting to me that the Bible is a human as well as a divine document. It doesn’t lead me to doubt its trustworthiness because human’s wrote it. It shows how intimately God is involved in his creation, not distant from it.