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24 Meanwhile, it was obvious to Balaam that the Eternal One was quite happy to bless Israel, so he didn’t go through the trouble of looking for omens of God’s intent. Instead, Balaam contemplated the wilderness stretched out before him. 2 Seeing the Israelites camping there, in their orderly arrangement by tribes, he was suddenly overcome by God’s Spirit. 3 He recited God’s words.
Balaam: This is an oracle of Balaam (Beor’s son),
a man whose eyes have been opened,
4 Whose ears hear God-given words,
and whose eyes see visions from the God of the Mountains.[a]
I fall down with eyes opened.
5 “O, the lovely tents of Jacob,
even the dwelling places of Israel.
6 Like date trees spread out as a garden along the river,
as aloe trees planted by the Eternal,
Like cedar trees along the waters.
7 I can see overflowing water, its seed in many waters
and its king lifted higher than Agag,[b]
even its kingdom lifted up.
8 God leads them from Egypt like the splendor of a wild bull.
He will devour the nations, even his adversaries,
And he will crush their bones and strike them through with his arrows.
9 He lies low and crouches down as a lion or lioness.
Who would dare rouse him?
Blessed are those who bless you and cursed those who curse you.”
Balak and his men have been engaged in preparing the altars and making the sacrifices; he doesn’t like the sound of this at all.
10 He was absolutely furious with Balaam, smacking his hands together with anger.
Balak (confronting Balaam): I can’t believe this! I brought you all this way and asked you to curse my enemies, but instead you actually blessed them. And you did that not just once, mind you, or twice, but three times. 11 Now get out of here! Get out of my sight—go back to that miserable place you call home. Yeah, sure, I said I’d greatly honor you, but the Eternal has withheld the honor that I had planned for you.
Balaam (to Balak): 12 Remember the first time that you sent messengers to get me? Even then I told them 13 I don’t care how much silver and gold you have or what all you’d give to me; I cannot alter what God would have me say. Whatever the Eternal One puts into my mouth is what will come out, whether good or evil words. 14 So, yes, I’m heading home. But before I go, I will tell you what those people will do to your nation when your time is up.
15 He recited God’s words.
Balaam: This is an oracle of Balaam (Beor’s son),
a man whose eye has been opened,
16 Whose ears hear God-given words,
who understands the very thoughts of the Most High God,
And whose eyes see visions from the God of the Mountains.
I fall down with eyes opened.
17 I see him, but at a later time, I’ll recognize him, even though he is far away.
A star will come out of Jacob,[c]
A scepter shall rise out of Israel.
It will break Moab and tear down the people of Seth.[d]
18 Edom will be its possession, even Seir will belong to its enemies,
but Israel will have power.
19 One from Jacob will rule,
and he’ll destroy whatever remains of the city.
20 Then Balaam turned toward the land of the Amalekites and spoke his prophecy.
Balaam: Amalek was first among the nations,
but its end is destruction.
21 Then Balaam turned toward the land of the Kenites and spoke his prophecy.
Balaam: Your dwelling is lasting,
and your nest is set on a rock;
22 Yet Kain will be burned up.
“Until when?” When Asshur takes you away as captives.
23 Balaam took up his answers:
25 Then Balaam went his way to his country, and Balak went his way toward his country.
25 Now it happened that while Israel was biding its time at Shittim, on the edge of the wilderness near Jericho, some of the men got mixed up with Moabite women. They got friendly and had sexual relations. 2 The Moabites invited these Israelites to participate in Moabite religious rituals and worship of their gods, 3 and God’s people bound themselves to the deity Baal of Peor, which made the Eternal One furious at Israel.
Eternal One (to Moses): 4 Grab them! Every wicked leader of this people. Then in broad daylight, in front of the Eternal, string them up on stakes to twist and turn so that My burning rage doesn’t consume the entire population.
Moses (to the Israelite judges): 5 Look to your people, and kill whoever pledged himself to the deity Baal of Peor.
6 Just then, even as people were dying right and left, one Israelite returned from among the Midianites with a woman whom he planned to make a part of his family. With her in tow, he walked right past Moses and everybody else while they were mourning in front of the congregation tent. 7 When Priest Aaron’s grandson Phinehas (Eleazar’s son) saw them, he took a spear in his hand. 8 He charged into the Israelite’s tent and ran the spear straight through the bellies of the couple. That one act appeased God’s anger and put an end to the death cascading through the Israelite camp. 9 Nevertheless, 24,000 people died before it was all over.
10 The Eternal One explained to Moses what had happened.
It is difficult in our age of diversity, tolerance, and equality to accept the prohibition of intermarriage between the Israelites and the peoples of the land and the command to eliminate the natives as the Israelites later occupy the land. Now this is not a command about ethnicity or purity of race; it is about shared purpose and complete devotion. The people cannot tolerate devotion to other deities and still serve the Lord. It is for their protection and well-being that God aggressively punishes those who pollute the faith.
Eternal One: 11 Phinehas (Eleazar’s son and Priest Aaron’s grandson) has done well. He saved the Israelites. Because he was so zealous on My account, tolerating no compromise, I did not consume the people of Israel with My jealousy. 12 So I want you to declare this: “I, your God, do pledge to Phinehas a covenant of peace, 13 not only for him but for his descendants too. I promise they will always be priests because in his jealousy for Me, Phinehas covered the wickedness of the Israelites.”
14 For the record, the Israelite man killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri (son of Salu, a leader of the Simeonite extended family). 15 The Midianite woman’s name was Cozbi. She was Zur’s daughter, and Zur was the leader of one of the extended families in Midian.
16 The Eternal One spoke to Moses.
Eternal One: 17 It’s time to go after the Midianites. Frustrate them, and crush them; 18 after all, they frustrated you by luring you into that Peor affair, including the business with Cozbi, who was killed to stop My punishing destruction from the plague, also because of that Peor affair. She was a Midianite leader’s daughter.
2 Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— 2 the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. 3 Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.
This political background isn’t incidental: it is crucial to the story. Conquering nations in the ancient world work in various ways. Some brutally destroy and plunder the nations they conquer. Some conquer people as slaves or servants. Other empires allow the people to remain in their land and work as before, but with one major change: the conquered people have to pay taxes to their rulers. The purpose of a census like the one Luke de-scribes is to be sure that everyone is appropriately taxed and knows who is in charge.
4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, 6 accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor 7 and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.
8 Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. 9 Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!
Messenger: 10 Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. 11 Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 12 You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.
13 At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.
14 Heavenly Choir: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!
15 As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.
Shepherds: Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!
16 So they ran into town, and eventually they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. After they saw the baby, 17 they spread the story of what they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child. 18 Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. 19 Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.
Here again is Luke’s fascination with disadvantaged people. Jesus’ first visitors are not ambassadors, dignitaries, or wealthy landowners. The first to pay Him homage are simple shepherds, minimum-wage workers in the ancient agrarian economy. They have little to no status in the world. They are the humble and the poor whom God is now raising up to receive heavenly messages and an audience with the great King. This theme recurs as the story continues.
21 Eight days after His birth, the baby was circumcised in keeping with Jewish religious requirements, and He was named Jesus, the name the messenger had given Him before His conception in Mary’s womb. 22 After Mary had observed the ceremonial days of postpartum purification required by Mosaic law, she and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. 23 They were fulfilling the Lord’s requirement that “every firstborn Israelite male will be dedicated to the Eternal One as holy.”[a] 24 They also offered the sacrifice required by the law of the Lord, “two turtledoves or two young pigeons.”[b]
25 While fulfilling these sacred obligations at the temple, they encountered a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was a just and pious man, anticipating the liberation of Israel from her troubles. He was a man in touch with the Holy Spirit. 26 The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Anointed One. 27 The Spirit had led him to the temple that day, and there he saw the child Jesus in the arms of His parents, who were fulfilling their sacred obligations. 28 Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God.
29 Simeon: Now, Lord and King, You can let me, Your humble servant, die in peace.
30 You promised me that I would see with my own eyes
what I’m seeing now: Your freedom,
31 Raised up in the presence of all peoples.
32 He is the light who reveals Your message to the other nations,
and He is the shining glory of Your covenant people, Israel.
33 His father and mother were stunned to hear Simeon say these things. 34 Simeon went on to bless them both, and to Mary in particular he gave predictions.
Simeon: Listen, this child will make many in Israel rise and fall. He will be a significant person whom many will oppose. 35 In the end, He will lay bare the secret thoughts of many hearts. And a sword will pierce even your own soul, Mary.
Psalm 59 was inspired by the time there was a plan to kill David that was thwarted by David’s wife, Michal, who was Saul’s own daughter. She warned her husband, lowered him out of a window, and then deceived her father’s officers into believing David was bedridden with illness (1 Samuel 19:11–17).
1 Rescue me! Save me, O my God, from my enemies;
set me in a safe place, far above any who come to attack me.
2 Rescue me from those malicious people,
and save me from blood-thirsty murderers.
3 They have staked out my life; they are going to ambush me!
Those brutes are aligned, ready to attack me
For no good cause, my Eternal One.
I have not crossed them.
4 I’ve done nothing wrong, yet they rush ahead to start the assault.
I beg You to help me; come and see for Yourself!
5 I plead with You, Eternal One, Commander of heavenly armies, True God of Israel,
to get up and punish these people;
do not let any betrayer off the hook; show no mercy to malicious evildoers!
6 Treacherous souls return to the city in the evening;
they prowl about,
howling like dogs.
7 Watch them! Snarling, dribbling their malicious insults.
Their words cut loose from their lips like swords,
and in their backstabbing they say, “Who’s listening anyway?”
8 But You, O Eternal One, laugh at them;
You make fun of all the nations.
9 I will watch for You, for You keep me strong.
God, You are my security!
10 My God is one step ahead of me with His mercy;
He will show me the victory I desire over my enemies.
11 Don’t wipe them out, or my people may one day forget.
Instead, use Your power to scatter and bring them to ruin.
O Lord, You are our protection.
12 Sin pours from their mouths, cruel words from their lips.
May they be caught in their pride.
For their foul curses and lies,
13 devour them with Your wrath,
eat them up, leave no one alive.
Then people will surely know that the one True God rules over Jacob,
even to the far ends of the earth.
14 Treacherous souls return to the city in the evening;
they prowl about,
howling like dogs.
15 They search through the city, scavenging for meat
as they growl and grumble in dissatisfaction.
16 But me? I will sing of Your strength.
I will awake with the sun to sing of Your loving mercy
Because in my most troubled hour,
You defended me. You were my shelter.
17 I will lift my voice to sing Your praise, O my Strength—
for You came to my defense.
O God, You have shown me Your loving mercy.
14 Without wise guidance, a nation falls;
but victory is certain when there are plenty of wise counselors.