For the week of July 7, 2012 / 17 Tammuz 5772
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 22:2 - 25:9
Haftarah: Micah 5:6 - 6:8


Blessed Is Blessed

God said to Balaam, "You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed." (Bemidbar / Numbers 22:12: ESV)

Intimidated by the Israelites, a king by the name of Balak hired Balaam, a sorcerer, to curse them. We don't know if Balaam expected to actually encounter the true Master of the Universe, but he did. As quoted, God's word to Balaam was clear, "You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed." What comes of this is complicated, but instructive, as Balak persists in his hiring of Balaam (see What I want to look at this week is what God says about the people of Israel, which is the controlling factor in this story.

God clearly told Balaam not to curse Israel, since they were blessed. That Israel was blessed was already established by God, rooted in his original promise to Abraham: "And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing" (Bereshit / Genesis 12:2; ESV). The blessing of God upon Israel was unconditional, for it was not based on anything they did or would do, but simply upon his promise to Abraham. That the blessing is also eternal is eloquently stated in the eleventh chapter of the New Covenant letter to the Romans: "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29; ESV).

To be blessed by God is to be filled with life. For Israel, at the very least, this means its survival is ensured. Whatever difficulties they may encounter, they will survive and thrive as a nation. Even God's disciplinary punishment will result for good in the long term. When Balak's scheme to curse them failed Balaam used sexual immorality to harm them. Yet they were not defeated (see Bemidbar / Numbers 25:1-3 and 31:16).

To be cursed is to have life removed; it's a death sentence. A cursed nation will eventually cease to exist. This is what Balak was hoping for when he hired Balaam. He believed that an effective pronouncement of cursing upon Israel would make them vulnerable to not only attack, but to defeat and extermination. He wasn't the first to desire such a thing for Israel and wasn't the last. But like those before and after, they could not be cursed, since God had blessed them.

What then does God's blessing of Israel mean in today's world? Some people, even those who adhere to the Bible, claim that Israel's relationship to God was for ancient times only. If that is true, so much for the New Covenant statement quoted earlier and the abundance of promises to Abraham's descendants through Isaac and Jacob. Others purport that the Israel of promise was some sort of spiritual entity not to be confused with the physical nation whose history is central to the whole Bible. This view disregards that the very promises which foretell salvation for both Israel and the nations were given to physical Israel during some its most difficult periods. It was to a troubled and often-time wayward Israel that the blessing of Abraham was confirmed over and over again. The other end of the spectrum sees God's blessing upon Israel as justifying every aspect of the existence of the modern State of Israel. The problem with this view is that it never meant that before. So why should it mean that now?

If the Scripture indeed teaches that God's blessing of Israel is unconditional and eternal, which I believe it does, then what should it mean for us today? It should mean to us what it meant to Balak and Balaam many years ago. Israel is blessed. Don't curse them. Don't align yourself with any scheme to undermine, harm, or destroy them. For such schemes will fail and you will find yourself at odds with God's plans and purposes; something to which God doesn't take kindly.

At the same time, however, God's blessing upon Israel doesn't justify every policy of the Israeli government just as it doesn't justify every action of every single Jewish person. What it means is that God is committed to Israel's welfare and therefore so should we be too. That may include disagreeing on policy or actions, but how that disagreement is expressed should be controlled by the high standard of love and concern for all people God calls us all to.

One more thing. Accepting God's continued blessing on Israel in no implies that we are to curse Israel's enemies. Far from it! The very nature of God demands that we treat all people fairly with love, mercy, and justice. Those who seek Israel or the Jewish people's demise need to be patiently and graciously shown that this is not God's will or in their best interest. As God said to Balaam, "You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed."

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