Saturday, May 18, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Numbers 23-24 and Origen's De Principiis: Preface 7-8

Numbers 23 – Balaam tells King Balak of Moab to build seven altars and to prepare seven bulls and seven rams for sacrifice on the altars.  Then he goes off to consult the Lord. 

When he returns, he delivers the following oracle: King Balak has called him to come and curse Israel, but “How can I curse whom God has not cursed?” (23:8) “Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!” (23:10) He can’t do it.

King Balak takes him to where he can see only part of them, and asks him to curse “part of them” (23:13). Again they do the altars and sacrifices, and again Balaam goes off to consult God. God tells him to tell Balak that the people of Israel are “rising up like a lioness, and rousing itself like a lion! It does not lie down until it has eaten the prey and drunk the blood of the slain” (23:24). 

This seems like what God is saying is that the people of Israel, a new nation, is full of energy and vigor and will not be stopped until it has established itself—even if such establishment requires the blood of the slain.  Balak asks him not to curse them or bless them, but again Balaam tells him only the Lord can tell him what to say (23:26). Again they move, this time to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland.  Again they set up altars and again Balaam goes to consult God.

Numbers 24 – This time, Balaam does not go somewhere away to seek an oracle.  He looks out over the camp of the Israelites and sees through the Spirit of God that the people of Israel are blessed of the Lord.  Balaam is described as “the man whose eye is true, . . . one who hears what God says, and knows what the Most High knows” (24:3-4).

This man gives the following oracle: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; your encampments, O Israel! They are like gardens beside a stream, like the cedars planted by the Lord. His wills shall yield free-flowing waters, he shall have the sea within reach; His king shall rise higher than [illegible] and his royalty shall be exalted.  It is God who brought him out of Egypt, a wild bull of towering might.  He shall devour the nations like grass, their bones he shall strip bare.  He lies crouching like a lion, or like a lioness; who shall arouse him? Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you.”
Balaam is testimony to the generosity of the Lord to bless all those who are attentive and obedient to the will of the Most High.  He will give them the spirit of wisdom and open himself to him.

The next oracle Balaam delivers, some of the church fathers have seen as prophetic.  Balaam’s words include the following: “I see him though not now; I behold him, though not near: a star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel” (24:17). He recounts all the peoples who have inhabited the lands Israel will take—Amalekites, Kenites, Ishmaelites—and then Balaam leaves as does Balak.

Origen (185-254 AD)
De Principiis (First Principles)
7 – The Church believes that “the world was made and took its beginning at a certain time, and is to be destroyed on account of its wickedness. But what existed before this world, or what will exist after it, has not become certainly known.” There is no clear teaching about this.

8 – As for the Scriptures, the Church teaches that they “were written by the Spirit of God, and have a meaning, not such only as is apparent at first sight, but also another, which escapes the notice of most. For those (words), which are written are the forms of certain mysteries [sacramentorum], and the images of divine things. Respecting which there is one opinion throughout the whole Church, that the whole law is indeed spiritual; but that the spiritual meaning which the law conveys is not known to all, but to those only on whom the grace of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in the word of wisdom and knowledge.”

The term “incorporeal” is not well used in many writings, and even in our Scriptures. He makes reference to its having come from a text called The Doctrine of Peter. He reminds us that this is not a work included with the authoritative books Christians use. We do not know for sure who wrote it.

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