By Dane Neufeld
A Reading from Numbers 24:1-13
1 Now Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, so he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens but set his face toward the wilderness. 2 Balaam looked up and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. Then the spirit of God came upon him, 3 and he uttered his oracle, saying,
“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
the oracle of the man whose eye is clear,
4 the oracle of one who hears the words of God,
who sees the vision of the Almighty,
who falls down but with eyes uncovered:
5 How fair are your tents, O Jacob,
your encampments, O Israel!
6 Like palm groves that stretch far away,
like gardens beside a river,
like aloes that the Lord has planted,
like cedar trees beside the waters.
7 Water shall flow from his buckets,
and his seed shall have abundant water;
his king shall be higher than Agag,
and his kingdom shall be exalted.
8 God, who brings him out of Egypt,
is like the horns of a wild ox for him;
he shall devour the nations that are his foes
and break their bones.
He shall strike with his arrows.
9 He crouched; he lay down like a lion
and like a lioness; who will rouse him up?
Blessed is everyone who blesses you,
and cursed is everyone who curses you.”
10 Then Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. Balak said to Balaam, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but instead you have blessed them these three times. 11 Now be off with you! Go home! I said, ‘I will reward you richly,’ but the Lord has denied you any reward.” 12 And Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not speak to your messengers whom you sent to me, saying, 13 ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord, to do either good or bad of my own will; what the Lord says, that is what I will say’?”
If Balaam was torn between uttering a curse or blessing against Israel, in this final chapter of the story he appears to come around. It says the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he began to prophesy. Not only could he not curse Israel, but as he looks out over the valley and beholds their camp, he is overcome with a vision of the beauty of God’s people.
Like valleys they spread out,
like gardens beside a river,
like aloes planted by the Lord,
like cedars beside the waters.
Water will flow from their buckets;
their seed will have abundant water.
It is probably safe to say that when many people look upon the Church today, they do not marvel at our beauty and the life that flows from our habitation. With some justification, many people can only see the signs of death and corruption that seem to hover around our camps.
But there is a promise in this prophecy as well, that as the Lord moves in our midst and forms us in his image, we will one day glitter in the valley in the sight of the nations. There is hope that the waters of grace will overflow our buckets and bring life to the world around us, as the river of God flows from the new Jerusalem and heals the barren land that surrounds its edges.
The Rev. Dane Neufeld currently serves as the incumbent of St. James, Calgary, after serving 7 years in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Malek – The Episcopal Church of South Sudan
Grace Episcopal Church, Ocala, Fla.