“When their eye rests on the world to come, a miracle is wrought in their speech so that, in accord with the things described, it borrows from the melodies of the other world.”
–Geerhardus Vos, speaking of the prophets of the Old Testament
I can’t take credit for discovering this gem of a quote. Pastor Don Aldin referenced it the other night when describing the poetry of Hosea 14. A call for Israel to return to the Lord, the 14th chapter of hope and love follows 13 chapters of frequent brutality, hardness, and judgement. We hear echoes of another world and one that is promised to come in God-spoken phrases like, “they shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:7, ESV). Though Hosea often uses harsh language in condemnation of Israel’s sin, we find in Chapter 14 words that seem to transcend his personal focus on judgment to deliver a message of healing that emanates from the renewing energy of the perfect world in which God resides.
I continue to work through the book of Numbers. Sometimes my eyes just run across the lines without hearing anything. Several times, though, I’ve stopped in amazement, as I’ve written about in previous posts. With the seeds of Vos’s words planted, I heard melodies of the other world in what I read this morning. Numbers 23-24. The background is Balak, king of Moab, trying to convince the diviner Balaam to curse Israel so Balak’s army could then engage Israel in battle and conquer them.
Promising only to do as God commands, three times Balaam seeks the Lord’s counsel to deliver God’s message to Balak. Balak, of course, wants to hear a curse, but instead Balaam continually affirms that Israel is God’s chosen people and that he cannot curse them.
What’s interesting is that, in Balaam’s first 2 attempts to seek God’s counsel, he first performs a divination rite, presumably with the organs of the animals they were sacrificing. In both cases, the message he delivers to Balak is blunt and dry, as if spoken solely in Balaam’s personal voice (e.g. “But how can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I condemn those whom the Lord has not condemned? I see them (Israelites) from the cliff tops; I watch them from the hills. I see a people who live by themselves, set apart from other nations…” Num 23:8-9, NLT). His second message is more of the same, Balaam speaking in what seems a worldly interpretation of what he sees: “Listen, I received a command to bless; God has blessed, and I cannot reverse it!” (Num 23:20).
But the third message is totally different. Balak takes Balaam to the top of Mount Peor overlooking an Israelite camp in a desert. This time Balaam “did not resort to divination as before. Instead, he turned and looked out toward the wilderness, where he saw the people of Israel camped, tribe by tribe. Then the Spirit of God came upon him” (Num 24:1-2).
The message he delivers is in a voice wholly different, as if spoken by God himself: “How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob; how lovely are your homes, O Israel! They spread before me like palm groves, like gardens by the riverside. The are like tall trees planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters” (Num 24:5-7).
Honestly, the Israelite camp was probably quite a mess. I’m picturing something along the lines of the Woodstock festival. A horde of people spread out in a wasteland, a desert, a wilderness. Beautiful?
As I look out at the world around me, consider the various struggles and difficulties of my friends and family, see the messiness, I try to speak and write words of encouragement that sound convincing and I hope are true, but in my mind, I still picture the lot of us camped in the wilderness, now and in the foreseeable future. It ain’t pretty.
These passages remind me that I must remember to see God’s kingdom in its true beauty, adorned with the love of Christ. Chosen and unforsaken. Destined for glory. We are pilgrims in the wilderness, yes, but, when seen with the eyes of God, we are trees planted by the riverside, flourishing together. And as we strive and persevere, the sound we might hear is that of the rushing of leaves blowing in the wind instead of the discord of brokenness.
I can write these words because I hope in the other world. That we’re not stranded here but are being led there. In so many ways, we sense it and follow. Balaam knew this, too. He says in his final message, “I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future. A star will rise from Jacob; a scepter will emerge from Israel” (Num 24: 17).
That star has already risen. We wait patiently for His return. And keep our ears tuned for the sweet melodies of God’s work of redemption.
** Photo source: http://crazycomposer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Harmony.jpg