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The customary mourning period is seven days, but as with Moses’ death later, they mourn for 30 days.
21 Meanwhile, the Canaanite king of Arad (which is in the Negev region) heard that the Israelites were approaching through Atharim, so he engaged them in battle. He even took some Israelites as prisoners of war.
Israelites (vowing to the Lord): 2 We pledge to You that if You help us win against these people, we will dedicate every last one of them to You and completely destroy their towns.
3 The Eternal One agreed to their proposal. He gave the Canaanites to the Israelites, and they promptly decimated the population and place. Consequently, the site is called Hormah, which means “destruction.”
4 And the Israelites set out again. They left Mount Hor and traveled by way of the Red Sea,[a] skirting Edom; but again, the difficult travel gave everyone a short temper. 5 They challenged both God and Moses.
Israelites: What were you thinking to bring us up out of Egypt and let us die out here in this desert land? There’s nothing to eat and no water either. We are sick and tired of living on what food we have.
6 As a divine response, the Eternal One sent venomous snakes[b] among them and the people were bitten. A number of Israelites were indeed killed by them. 7 They then appealed to Moses.
Israelites: We are so sorry! We know that it was wrong to speak against the Eternal and against you. Please talk to the Him, and get Him to take these awful snakes away.
So Moses appealed to God on behalf of the terrified and chastened congregation, 8 and He instructed Moses.
Eternal One: Make a venomous snake that looks like the ones tormenting the congregation, and put it on a pole. Everyone who gets bitten can simply look at your serpent and be healed.
9 So Moses took some bronze and cast a likeness of those vicious snakes to serve as an antidote for anyone who had been bitten. If they were to look on the bronze serpent, they would then live.
10-13 And the Israelites continued on their journey. They camped at Oboth; then at Iyeabarim (bordering Moab’s eastern border); then in the Wadi Zered; and then on the far side of the Arnon, which put them in the wilderness between the Moabite and Amorite territories. 14 This is what is described in The Book of the Eternal One’s Wars:
Waheb in Suphah[c]
and the river beds of Arnon;
15 The riverbeds that run right up to the settlement of Ar
and along the edge of Moab.
16 From there, they journeyed on to Beer, the place called “the well” where the Eternal One told Moses, “Gather the congregation, so I can give them water.” 17 At that time, they all sang the Song of the Well:
Israelites: Spring up, O well!
Sing, sing to the well,
18 The well our leaders dug for us,
our noblemen dug with their own scepters and staffs.
And they carried on from the wilderness to Mattanah, 19-20 and from there to Nahaliel, then Bamoth, and on to the valley that’s in the higher places of Moab, at Pisgah’s peak where one can look down on the Jeshimon Wilderness.
At that point, the Israelites came to the borderlands of another people and needed permission to pass through the land.
21 So Israel sent messengers to the Amorite king, Sihon.
Israel’s Message: 22 Please grant us permission to cross your country. We promise not to deviate and take anything from your seeded farmland or cultivated countryside. Nor will we drink from your wells. We will stick to the main road, the king’s highway, until we’re past your country’s far limits.
The Amorite King Sihon receives the same envoy as the Edomite king, and his response is the same: “You can’t pass through here.” Many of the other nations in this chronicle are aware of the divine provision of the Israelites because it is obvious that the survival of this enormous group in such an inhospitable environment is the work of God. With this understanding, the Amorite king nevertheless chooses to pick a fight with them. Not only did he say “no” to the Israelites crossing their territory, but he attacked. There is a very important principle here: don’t be on the opposite side of God in a fight.
23 Sihon would not allow them to pass. Instead, he roused all the Amorites and attacked the Israelites right there in the wilderness. They battled it out at Jahaz. 24 Israel met Sihon head-on and won the battle. They killed Sihon and took possession of the whole territory. That land goes from the Arnon to the Jabbok River and extends up to the Ammonites’ border, which is very well fortified.[d] 25-26 Israel took over all that area, claimed the Amorite cities and surrounding villages, and settled there. This included the capital city of Heshbon from where King Sihon ruled the Amorites. (It was Sihon who had challenged the late king of the Moabites and prevailed, making the territory of Moab all the way to the Arnon part of the Amorites’ lands.) 27 That’s where the singers get this taunting song:
Come gather at Heshbon, the city built up and strong—
the city of Sihon.
28 For a fire went out from Heshbon,
a flame from Sihon.
It consumed Ar of Moab,
swallowing the heights of Arnon.
29 How terrible for you, O Moab!
You are destroyed, O people of Chemosh!
Chemosh has made the Amorite, Sihon,
set your sons to rout
and take your daughters into slavery!
30 But we destroyed them, from Heshbon to Dibon,
and ravaged them to Nophah, even to Medeba.[e]
31 So it was that Israel then took this land from the Amorites and settled there. 32 They also captured the Amorite town of Jazer and took its villages and removed the Amorites living in the area.
33 Then they went northeast up the road to Bashan, where King Og and his people confronted the Israelites. When they clashed at Edrei, 34 the Eternal One encouraged Moses.
Eternal One: Don’t be afraid of him. I’ve already determined that you’ll defeat King Og. He, his people, and all his land shall be yours. You’ll treat him just as you did the Amorite king, Sihon, in Heshbon.
35 Sure enough, the Israelites defeated Og. They killed him, his sons, and everyone, for that matter. No one survived. So the Israelites took possession of Bashan.
22 But they didn’t remain there. The Israelites traveled on to the Moabite plains, where they set up camp, just across the Jordan River, east of Jericho. 2 The Moabite Balak (Zippor’s son) knew about the Israelites’ victory over the Amorites and what they had done there. 3 Actually, everyone in Moab was terrified of the Israelites. And Moab hated the Israelites, because there were so many of them!
Now we overhear this very unusual dialogue between the Moabite leader Balak and the respected prophet Balaam. While Balaam is not an Israelite, he has a healthy respect for the God of the Israelites. No matter how Balak tempts Balaam to curse the people of the Lord, God continues speaking to Balaam and frustrating Balak’s plans. Eventually it comes down to a not-so-dumb donkey instructing the great prophet. Both Balaam and Balak learn that God is not one to be toyed with. He can frustrate the plans of even the greatest kings and prophets.
Interestingly, a discovery was made in Jordan of an inscription containing prophecies of Balaam. He specialized in animal divination, slaughtering animals for his prophetic purposes. So Balaam was used to hearing God “speak” through animals, if not always so directly.
Moabites (to elders in the neighboring Midianite community): 4 This voracious horde, these Israelites, will wipe us out without so much as a second thought. They’ll devour us and move through our land as a herd of hungry cows mows a field.
Balak (Zippor’s son), you’ll remember, was then the king of Moab. 5 In the face of this threat, he sent messengers to the famous prophet Balaam (Beor’s son), who lived in a town that belonged to his country on the Euphrates River called Pethor. Balak wanted the prophet to come to Moab.
Since the victories over Sihon and Og, the Israelites have gained a reputation of taking over. Their size and strength frighten the local inhabitants.
Moab’s Message (to Balaam): There is a group of people who came from Egypt and who have settled right near me. They cover the land with their numbers. 6 Come quickly, and curse them for me. There’s no other hope that I have of defeating so many of them and driving the rest away. They’re too strong. But I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.
7 So the messengers went—elders, actually, from both Moab and Midian—with money in hand, to pay the prophet to come back with them and curse the Israelites. They gave him Balak’s message.
Balaam (to the messengers): 8 It’s been a long trip for you. Spend the night, and I’ll give you the prophecy the Eternal tells me.
So the Moabite and Midianite elders stayed overnight with Balaam. 9 But God came in the night to Balaam and questioned him.
Eternal One (to Balaam): Who are these people staying with you?
Balaam: 10 Messengers. Balak, the king of Moab and Zippor’s son, sent them to ask me for help on their behalf. 11 He says that a certain people, coming from Egypt, seem to be taking over the land. He wants me to curse those people for him so he can fight them and make the survivors leave.
Eternal One: 12 Don’t do it. The people whom Balak wants you to curse are already blessed.
13 So first thing in the morning, Balaam confronted Balak’s elders with the news.
Balaam: You’ll have to go back to your land without me. The Eternal has prohibited me from returning with you.
14 The Moabite contingent returned and told Balak that Balaam wouldn’t come. 15 But Balak wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He sent another, bigger contingent of even more highly esteemed men to solicit Balaam’s help.
Balak’s Second Message (to Balaam): 16 Don’t let anything stop you from coming to Moab; 17 there’s a lot in it for you—whatever you desire—and I’ll make sure you are treated with the greatest honors. Just, please, come and curse these people for me!
Balaam (to Balak’s messengers): 18 Even if Balak gave me everything he has, riches of silver and gold in his house, I simply couldn’t do it. It is impossible for me to say anything less or greater than what the Eternal One, my God, directs me to say. 19 But, listen, why don’t you spend the night, and I’ll let you know whatever else the Eternal might tell me in the meantime.
20 Again, God came to Balaam in the night and spoke with him.
Eternal One (to Balaam): If these men have indeed come to get you, go ahead. Go with them, but do only what I tell you to do.
26 Six months later in Nazareth, a city in the rural province of Galilee, the heavenly messenger Gabriel made another appearance. This time the messenger was sent by God 27 to meet with a virgin named Mary, who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David himself. 28 The messenger entered her home.
Messenger: Greetings! You are favored, and the Lord is with you! [Among all women on the earth, you have been blessed.][a]
29 The heavenly messenger’s words baffled Mary, and she wondered what type of greeting this was.
Messenger: 30 Mary, don’t be afraid. You have found favor with God. 31 Listen, you are going to become pregnant. You will have a son, and you must name Him “Savior,” or Jesus.[b] 32 Jesus will become the greatest among men. He will be known as the Son of the Highest God. God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David, 33 and He will reign over the covenant family of Jacob forever.
Mary: 34 But I have never been with a man. How can this be possible?
Messenger: 35 The Holy Spirit will come upon you. The Most High will overshadow you. That’s why this holy child will be known, as not just your son, but also as the Son of God. 36 It sounds impossible, but listen—you know your relative Elizabeth has been unable to bear children and is now far too old to be a mother. Yet she has become pregnant, as God willed it. Yes, in three months, she will have a son. 37 So the impossible is possible with God.
Mary (deciding in her heart): 38 Here I am, the Lord’s humble servant. As you have said, let it be done to me.
Luke is very interested in the ways that disadvantaged people of his day respond to God. Already there is a fascinating interplay between Zacharias’s response to God and Mary’s.
And the heavenly messenger was gone. 39 Mary immediately got up and hurried to the hill country, in the province of Judah, 40-41 where her cousins Zacharias and Elizabeth lived. When Mary entered their home and greeted Elizabeth, who felt her baby leap in her womb, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Elizabeth (shouting): 42 You are blessed, Mary, blessed among all women, and the child you bear is blessed! 43 And blessed I am as well, that the mother of my Lord has come to me! 44 As soon as I heard your voice greet me, my baby leaped for joy within me. 45 How fortunate you are, Mary, for you believed that what the Lord told you would be fulfilled.
Mary is deeply moved by these amazing encounters—first with the messenger and then with her cousin, Elizabeth. Mary’s response can’t be contained in normal prose; her noble soul overflows in poetry. And this poetry isn’t simply religious; it has powerful social and political overtones. It speaks of a great reversal—what might be called a social, economic, and political revolution. To people in Mary’s day, there is little question as to what she is talking about. The Jewish people are oppressed by the Roman Empire, and to speak of a King who will demote the powerful and rich and elevate the poor and humble means one thing: God is moving toward setting them free! Soon Zacharias will overflow in poetry of his own.
46 Mary: My soul lifts up the Lord!
47 My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
48 For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.
49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!
50 From generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures
for those who revere Him.
51 God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
52 The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.
53 The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
54 To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,
55 As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth in Judea for the next three months and then returned to her home in Galilee.
This individual lament refers back to those perilous times when David fled from Saul and hid in caves (1 Samuel 22; 24). David found real security not in the hidden recesses of the caves but in the shadow of God’s wings.
1 Mercy. May Your mercy come to me, O God,
for my soul is safe within You, the guardian of my life.
I will seek protection in the shade of Your wings
until the destruction has passed.
2 I cry out to God, the Most High,
to God who always does what is good for me.
3 Out of heaven my rescue comes.
He dispatches His mercy and truth
And goes after whoever tries to run over me.
4 I am surrounded by lions;
I lie in a den of ravenous beasts.
Those around me have spears and arrows for teeth,
a sharpened blade for a tongue.
5 O God, be lifted up above the heavens;
may Your glory cover the earth.
6 Yet my foes cast a net to catch my feet and bring me to my knees.
I am weary from all of this.
They dug a pit to snare me
but fell into their own trap.
7 My heart is ready, O God;
my heart is ready,
And I will sing!
Yes, I will sing praise!
8 Wake up, my glory!
Wake up, harp and lyre;
I will stir the sleepy dawn with praise!
9 I will offer You my thanks, O Lord, before the nations of the world;
I will sing of Your greatness no matter where I am.
10 For Your amazing mercy ascends far into the heavens;
Your truth rises above the clouds.
11 O God, be lifted up above the heavens;
may Your glory cover the earth.
9 The words of the godless ruin those close to them,
but through insight the right-living are spared.
10 When prosperity comes to those who do right, the whole city celebrates;
but when the wicked get their just punishment, there is joyous cheering.
11 A city thrives through the blessing of those living right,
but the words of a wrongdoer will bring it to ruin.