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Vol.III Nov. '97

 

Obedient Like an Angel (Num 20,16 & 22-24)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

God established the Angels to be mediators. In order to honor them out of love and to help men out of mercy.

1. The people of Israel experienced this truth and showed themselves grateful by responding with their trust, though not always, in God's continuous help. Having faced many obstacles in his life, Moses confessed in the name of Israel, "You know all the adversity that has befallen us...and when we cried to the Lord, He heard our voice, and sent an Angel and brought us forth out of Egypt" (Num 20, 16). With patience God had taught them that trust and obedience brought them blessings, bread and water, free ways and open hearts; but rebellion and self-will brought them curse, hunger and pestilence, serpents and enemies. When Israel promised kings and nations: "Let us pass through your land. We will go along the king's highway, we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left" (Num 20, 17), this is similar with to the Angel who in the execution of his mission keeps his face fixed on God alone - SOLI DEO. Such sincere obedience is the theme of the next angelic intervention described in Sacred Scripture.

2. Continuing their way towards the Promised Land, Israel encounters the land of Moab which "was in great dread of the people" of Israel (Num 22, 3). Their king Balak had sent messengers to Balaam saying, "...come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me " (v.6).

Balaam was a foreign seer, as such he represents every man in what should be his contact and docility with respect to God. Like Balaam we are often placed in between God's Will and human expectations, between divine and human authorities, and it is not seldom that it develops into a drama. Here too, we may say, we assist a drama in three acts: as prophet between the pagan king and Yahwe, in his encounter with the Angel on his way to the king, and in his faithfulness to God before the king.

a) The messengers of Balak went to Balaam to persuade him to curse God's people; in this we can see similarities to the test in paradise and to the temptation of Christ in the desert. The princes of Balak presented the fee and their message, but Balaam made them wait until he had consulted God. Then God approached the prophet. To His questlon: "Who are these men with you?" Balaam presented their intention. God answered thus: "You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people for they are blessed" (v.9-12). The prophet obeyed God and refused to go with them.

However, Balak sent his messengers a second time, trying to win him with greater offers. Balaam rejected the seductive offer and confessed again his faithfulness to the Lord: "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" (v.18). And yet, he promised them to ask God once more; this could be seen as a example of disposition for all, but it could also indicate a material repetion of God’s command like Eve, in a lack of interior firmness and favorable decision. To the repeated question God answered; "Go..., but only what I bid you, that shall you do." Did God allow it now because the faithfulness of Balaam had been proven and God now wanted to prove more directly to Balak that the people God once blessed remain blessed? Or did God rather descend to the weakness of Balaam obliging him: "Only what I bid you, that shall you do" (v.20)? Whatever the reason may have been, God asks of him constant submission: he had to be listening and watchful, ever ready for a call from God, in order to be able to correspond to His will in this mission.

b) Then, being not just a few hours far away from the quietude and contemplative atmosphere of his common life as he is now surrounded by overwhelming dignities of princes offering gifts, the prophet seemed to be blinded in his spirit (cf. Wis 2,21) and to waver in his mind; for the Angel had to alert him saying; "Your way is perverse before me" (v.32). In fact, the Sacred text states immediately: "God's anger was kindled because he went" (v.22). God sent an Angel on his way who blocked the way of Balaam. The animal, which saw the Angel, first "turned aside out of the road and went into the field"; the second time he pressed Balaam's foot against the wall" and the third time the ass just layed down. But Balaam did not understand the sign of God, even when the animal spoke miraculously. His "anger was kindled" and he "struck the ass" three times, - Would his reaction to the behaviour of the animal be a sign of the need for his interior change? Did he expect that God communicate with him just verbally and directly? Why did God not have the Angel appear directly to him "with his drawn sword in his hand"? Would Balaam have accepted him or rather reacted rashly in his anger and in a wrong way? It is not easy to give an answer to all these questions. However, Balaam experienced his powerlessness as he said: "I wish I had a sword" (v.29); he could not force the ass to proceed. At that point. "Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam and he saw the Angel...he bowed his head, and fell on his face" (v.31) with repentance: "I have sinned...if it is evil in Thy sight. I will go back again" But the obedient Angel repeated the word of God: "Go..., but only the word which I bid you,...speak" (v.34f.). - Such a repeated alert may have been necessary that he be prepared for a mission among the enemies of God and of His people! If the man of God does not discern most carefully all that happens on such a mission he runs risk of failure. If he trusts in himself and does not live consciously in the awareness of heaven, he will end up doing wrong. The conscious convictlon of the own nothingness and of God's majesty is the guarantee of spiritual stability.

C) Seemingly Balaam has been prepared to meet Balak. He did not allow himself to be impressed by Balak's harsh words, nor by his repeated and different offers. Three times Balak brought him from one place to another, and yet, Balaam always withdrew himself, asked God for His word and then pronounced beautiful blessings upon Israel. Three times he gave testimony for God, so that his fidelity to God is the final word of this story! The enemy of the people of God knew very well the importance of the blessing; he believed in victory, if only he could win over the mediator between God and His people. Whoever gains the mediator gains the people.

3. Balaam is certainly an example for us who have to carry on the prophetic mission of Christ. Balaam is shown very humanly, interiorly shaking, influenced by circumstances, human initiatives and offers: he experienced God in His almighty presence, Who does not let a soul be tempted beyond its strength. We see in him the similarity not only to Christ Who allowed Himself to be tempted three times in the desert, Who met princes of this world and Who came out, trembling, from the solitude and prayer of Gethsemani, imploring:

"Father, not mine, but Your Will be done." Yet, we can see in him also similarity to St. Peter, not only in denying the Lord three times, but also - after his conversion - in confessing publicly his love and fidelity to the Lord. How often do we find ourselves in Balaam's situation: when the public expects our approval to their pagan projects; when politicians provoke open confrontation with the Catholic Church; when in the confessional souls ask to be accepted to the sacraments without the necessary conditions; and when in the office one is asked to bless a marriage against the determination of the Church, etc. Do we in such moments rely on our Lord? Do we ask for and expect that guidance be received as Balaam did? Do we dispute with God, be it just interiorly, as Balaam probably did; weakening ourselves by mistrust in God, even as it also happened to Moses (cf. Num 20,3-12)? Are we aware of how carefully God deals with us, so that even behind little events we come to count on His guidance? Do we take care to live in conditions and circumstances which allow us to listen and to discern, to understand God and to confess His Will before men? Are we aware that an entire community can run in error or remain without a pastor, when we preach errors or fall into sin ourselves?

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood, Balaam, standing between Balak and God, offers us an important meditation. We see the presence of God through His Angel everywhere and how Balaam becomes aware of it. As to the role of the Angel, we will return in another meditation. May God grant us the wisdom to discern between the inspirations of good and bad Angels in our daily life, to apply always the discernment of spirits -also with those who ask for the help of our priestly ministry- to be attentive to small adversities, to wake up, go first into our interior and listen to God before we react in an all too human fashion, to find time and ways for recollection in order to consult Our Lord whom we want to serve. Let us ask Him for the grace of fidelity.

"In the presence of God who gives life to alI things and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Tim 6,13-14).

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC