Advent Midweek I (Text: Numbers 23:5-12 )

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

The story of Balaam is certainly a colorful one.  Balak, king of Moab is looking out for his kingdom, and he sees from the Amorites that, militarily, he’s up a creek.  So, he wisely chooses another method—an appeal straight to the top. So, Balak gets ahold of someone whom he knows has connections with the “man upstairs.”  For good measure, he even flatters Balaam by saying, “I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

It’s worthwhile to point out just two (out of many errors) of Balak.  First of all, he is under the impression that his way is best. He literally goes across hill and dale to achieve his goal: Israel must be gone.  He can’t be convinced otherwise. He is the very model of an unbeliever. My life, my way. If I’m going to appeal to God, it’s going to be on my terms.  I’ll decide when I ask for his help, and I’ll set the agenda for how the meeting is going to go.

If some of that sounds familiar, it’s because even believers sometimes approach God this way.  Not wanting (or trusting) God to have full control of our lives and future, we also make plans for how things should or must be.

Second (and an outgrowth of his unbelief), Balak sees the effectiveness in human actions.  He tries to buy the prophet’s favor with gifts, because he thinks it’s just a matter of buttering up Balaam to get him to speak powerful, divine words in his favor.  He’s under the impression that the spiritual world works like the rest of the earth—throw enough money at a problem, and you’ll eventually get your way. It goes completely over his head when Balaam says that he can only do what God tells Him.

It’s part of the sinful flesh to put trust in people.  We also tend to put our confidence in the man of God over the God whom that man serves.  He just preaches such fabulous sermons that surely he can get through to my hard-hearted relatives.  If I get in buddy-buddy and give him everything he wants, maybe he’ll give me special treatment and not call out my favorite sins.  Even though he has human failings and occasionally shows favoritism, when he’s doing his job rightly, what Balaam said is right: “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more.” (Num. 22:18)

So it’s pretty clear that Balak is not someone God wants us to be like.  What about Balaam? After all, he’s spiritually astute and has the gift of speaking God’s word.  Normally Scripture gives us the examples of prophets and apostles to emulate. Is that true with Balaam?  He had faith enough to call the Lord “my God,” and he understood obedience and duty to God.  But is that enough? (By ‘enough’ I mean, is that a complete, pleasing life before God?)  

God has shown His will to Balaam: “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed” (Num. 22:12).  But then God tests Balaam to see how deep his faith runs.  So far, Balaam has been boasting about how he can’t do anything beyond the word God gives him.  But then God appears to let off and change his mind: “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” (v. 20)  So Balaam turns around and goes with them.

Here’s where God’s gracious dealing with Balaam is a lesson and warning to us.  God is angered by Balaam going with them because He had already made His intentions known: Don’t go with the people who want Israel cursed. Israel is blessed and I’m not changing My mind.  So God teaches Balaam a lesson using his donkey.

Balaam’s donkey is able to see that God is not pleased with his course of action.  Yet, Balaam, thinks the animal should not use reason, and be more like cars that go and stop at the driver’s command.  Finally, the Lord talks out of Balaam’s ass and rebukes him. He opens Balaam’s eyes to see the Angel of the Lord with his sword drawn.  He says, “Your way is perverse before me” (literally, slippery), and He makes the point that Balaam’s bare-word obedience will earn him nothing less than being slain while his donkey rides off into the sunset.

The point is God does not want to deal with us the way a rider treats a stupid animal.  In Psalm 32, the Lord says, “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” (Ps. 32:9)

There are moments in our lives where our obedience as children of God is tested.  Is God toying with us to do that? No, His will is for us to be obedient from the heart, not just outward compulsion.  When He disciplines us in this way, He is treating us as children. He wants His children to grow into their own faith and keep His Word in their hearts.

God’s desire for His creatures is to restore us to fellowship with Him, a fellowship that comes from within and unites our will with His will.  The Lord was not done with Balaam, because despite his madness and his “slippery” ways, He turned a desire to curse into a reason to proclaim His mighty works on the horizon.

God’s salvation will not be thwarted by princes, human stumbling, or anything else.  God uses Balaam’s mouth to prophecy of His Christ: “Speak only the word which I tell you”

Balaam speaks of a people. No, wait, of one (v. 9a): “From the tops of the crags I see him, from the hills I behold him”  But, then again, “a people dwelling alone.” It is One, and yet of many. A people set apart. What Balaam sees is the promise of Offspring spoken to Abraham: In that Offspring, shall descendants be like the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5-6).

The sons of Israel thought they were set apart by their Laws, their covenant with God, their Temple and sacrifices.  And it’s true in the fact that they were not like the other nations around them, and they were commanded not to intermarry with them. (See Deuteronomy 4:1-14)  Yet God was not done with His people after having established holy boundaries and rules to regulate every aspect of life. This is no better than Balaam beating his donkey, thinking it’s stubborn.

No, God’s people are set apart through Jesus, the Christ.  He came to make a people holy to the Lord—Washed and set apart in the waters of Holy Baptism, joined to the sacrifice offered on the altar of the cross, recipients of the righteousness bestowed through faith, where God is worshipped not by outward obedience but through the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5-6).

Why was Balaam not able to curse the people God had blessed?  Because it was God’s will that all the disobedient, wandering, and foolish of the earth would die to sin and live to Him through the Offspring of Jacob.   And when our pilgrimage has come to a close, it is our confident hope that we will receive the “death of the upright” and be gathered into God’s house forever.  Thanks be to God through Jesus, our King! Amen.

Advent Midweek I (Jeremiah 23:5-8)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Advent Midweek I – December 6, 2017
Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8
True salvation vs. counterfeit hope
In the days of Jeremiah, every true Israelite was in expectation.  The nation was severely broken—ruled by kings who had more interest in feasts and fertility gods than the spiritual welfare of God’s holy nation.  But the problem wasn’t just the kings.  The prophets, who were supposed to shepherd God’s people in justice and righteousness, had come up with their own methods.  The prophets before them—Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha—had always been on the people’s bad side.  So, the modern prophets adopted a message that everyone liked: Peace be upon Israel![1]  Peace be within your walls and security within your towers![2]  The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.[3]  They preached good news!  It was even something God says…in certain circumstances.
But there was something wrong with when they were preaching that good news.  Yes, God has good news for people broken by sin and afraid of destruction.  But He has no good news for the unrepentant heart.  It’s not just the broken heart that God heals, but the broken and contrite heart, that is sorry for his or her sins, that God will not despise.[4]
In a time where Jerusalem and her kings were indulging in pagan worship despite multiple warning to repent and return to the Lord, it was not time for a message of “Comfort, comfort, ye my people.”[5]  The shepherds who were preaching nothing but good news were actually the ones the Lord spoke of immediately before our reading tonight:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 23:1-2)
They had set up their own brand of righteousness, and they were in competition with the Lord.  It was a good news that required no admission of wrongdoing.  Wouldn’t it be great to hear that God suddenly changed His mind about sin?
It was also good news that could be self-administered.  The Lord said of them, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”[6]  It was the equivalent of collecting only affirming Bible verses, so that no matter where you turn, God agrees with you and tells you that you’re on the right track.
Because of what the lying prophets were doing, the Lord promised to set things straight Himself: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days, Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.”   And this salvation and security will be no thanks to the prophets who maligned God’s Word.  By their consoling and pandering to the wicked,[7] they gave them the feeling of salvation and security.  But a feeling of salvation and peace is different from actual peace with God.  The true salvation came from outside of us, in this Righteous Branch.
The Righteous King did came, just as the mouth of the Lord had spoken.  The Lord, our righteousness was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.
The peace of Judah and the security of Israel are of the heart.  Yet, they are altogether real.
In these last days, the Righteous King, Jesus Christ, reigns through faith, and the signs of His Kingdom depend on faith.  But those signs have all the power of the Almighty King.
This is what the Lord, Our Righteousness does for His people even today by faith.
But it will be far more glorious when He comes again!  What only believers perceive now, all of creation will see when He comes in power.  The Lord God who once came in the lowliness of infancy and was placed in a manger, will come in His glory.  Before Him, all the dead will be raised from their graves, and every knee will bow before Him.  Those who, in their own righteousness, refused His, will face divine wrath, and their feelings and opinions will come to nothing.  Yet those who hungered and thirsted for the Lord’s righteousness, those who bemoaned their sin and the power it had over their flesh, those who clung to Jesus because only He has the words of eternal life—these will be received into His Kingdom.
In that place, Satan will be no more, neither will any lies be heard.  Everything will be good news, because sin will be gone.  We will live in justice and righteousness under our wise and righteous King, whose Name is the Lord.  He is our righteousness yesterday, today, and forever.  Amen.
A branch /sprout (denotes a separate plant) who is righteous, without fault who will be king
He will execute judgment by God’s Law and establish righteousness.
Laetsch: “All branches, leaves, fruits, are only products of the Zemach…springing up from the seemingly dead root of the house of David” p. 190
Not a term of His lowliness as much as His fulfillment of the Davidic dynasty
Righteousness is His very essence, His nature and being. p190
He will raise up a Kingdom where the Branch will give life “His kingdom partakes of the nature of this King, is like Him a living, life-producing kingdom”
This King establishes a new norm, a new righteousness. “It is a norm that is established by the righteous King, and a righteousness that this righteous King, whose righteousness is that of Jehovah, acknowledges as an all-sufficient righteousness.”
It is He who is called “The Lord, Our Righteousness” because He is the righteousness of all time, that covered the sin of Adam and Eve, and washes your sin today.
“Judah will be saved..Israel dwell securely” – A complete picture: the first describing deliverance, the second the freedom from fear and danger and want.  “Deliverance and safety here are spiritual blessings”
The title given Him is what He shall be called by all.

  1. The Lord establishes righteousness.
    1. He determines right from wrong, justice from injustice.
    2. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day thought it was more expedient to make their own righteousness.
    3. But the Lord would raise up a Righteous King who reigned who truly executed justice and righteousness.
  2. His first coming in lowliness established His reign of faith in human hearts.
    1. Everything which the Lord spoke was true: Judah saved, Israel secure—spiritually.
    2. It’s true today for everyone who believes in Him.
    3. And His reign is through means which depend on faith.
  • His second coming will establish His Kingdom in power.
    1. We also confess, He will come again to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. In that day, His will reign without a rival.
    2. In that day, we will be saved from every enemy, and dwell securely outwardly.

[1] Psalm 128:6
[2] Psalm 122:7
[3] Psalm 46:7
[4] Psalm 51:17
[5] Isaiah 40:1
[6] Jeremiah 6:14
[7] Jeremiah 23:14