Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Paying Attention

God, to the prophet Balaam:

“You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.”

Now check out when this statement is made. It’s at the tail end of almost 40 years of what must have seemed like absolutely pointless wandering, basically filling in time. It’s made about a people who had just spent years watching their parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts die in the wilderness for their disobedience.

Blessed, huh?

Eleven Days Plus Forty Years

Israel took no more than two years to get from Egypt to Canaan, a distance that could be covered on foot in eleven days by a small party traveling efficiently and with some degree of urgency.

Even bearing in mind there were well over a million Israelites moving at the pace of the slowest child, pregnant woman, elderly person or animal; that breaking camp and setting it up again would have been massive processes; and that eleven months alone were spent at Sinai receiving the Law, that’s still a long time.

Then add approximately 37 years tacked on when the first party sent by Moses to spy out the land came back with an “evil report” from 10 of its 12 members, and Israel rose up against Moses and God. Cursed to wander until the rebellious generation had died off, and convinced of their own inability to take the land without God’s help by a crushing failure in battle against the Amalekites and Canaanites that drove them back to Hormah, Israel wandered outside Canaan until all that rebellious generation except Caleb and Joshua had fallen by the way in fulfillment of God’s word.

Now that eleven day journey looks like forever.

Not This Way

Just prior to God telling Balaam that this people were “blessed”, they had traveled north on the east side of the Jordan river, skirting Edom, whose king refused to let them pass through his territory. More discouragement, more backtracking.

Back at Hormah again, this time they won a victory after being attacked by the king of Arad, but got … nothing visible out of it. No land, no riches, no inheritance. Basically, they torched the place to fulfill a vow.

Then, finally, an unexpected victory against the Amorites, who attacked them after Israel politely requested peaceful passage through their territory, followed by a victory over Bashan after yet another unprovoked attack from their king, Og.

Hey, they won. This is a good thing. But on the other hand, Israel was not even in the Land of Promise yet and they’d already had three armies come out against them that, so far as we can tell, they had never planned on fighting. By the time they camped on the plains of Moab and Balaam received his request from the Moabite king to come and curse the people of God, the average Israelite could be forgiven for looking at his circumstances and wondering what exactly was going on. Where was the blessing of God?

And God says to Balaam, “You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed”.

Gifts and Calling

My rather windy, meandering point is this: the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. If God says you will be blessed, well then, that’s just how it is. The blessing is coming, even if we can’t see it, and even if (perish the thought) generations go by in the interim. Or perhaps it’s already here — much like the manna in the desert, the protection from enemies or the glory of living under God’s law in a pagan world — and we’ve come to take it for granted.

The fact that Christians are a blessed people has nothing to do with how we feel about our circumstances. The fact that we can’t see victory coming does not mean we’re not about to win one, by the grace of God. The fact that we have, as a group, failed miserably to live up to the calling of God has no bearing on our ultimate destiny. The fact that God disciplines those he loves does not mean he treats us the same way he treats the world, or that the final outcomes for each will be remotely similar.

Is the Church under attack today? Check. Has it lived up to its calling? On the whole, probably not. Does the Body respond to its Head as it should? Not always. Does the overall trend of world events around us look encouraging? Not so much.

Enumerate Your Reasons to be Happy

That’s just being real. Anyone who imagines being a Christian is going to be a cakewalk in the next few years is probably not paying attention.

But whether we grasp it intellectually or not, whether we enjoy it emotionally or not, whether we live like it practically or not, we are a people truly and irrevocably blessed, a people upon whom God has placed his name.

“Count your blessings,” says the old hymn. “Name them one by one, and it will surprise you …”

But only if you haven’t been paying attention.

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