Weird Bible Stories, Part 3

It’s no secret: I love the Bible. I’ve always found it to be the most fascinating piece of literature I’ve ever studied. A lot of people don’t know this, but almost all of the best literary classics ever written found their origins in the Bible. For example, while it may not be a literary classic in the mold of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, a couple of Canadians no less, created one of the most enduring fictional characters ever, whose story is based on a Biblical story: Superman. Follow: Superman was sent to earth by his father, was raised by a humble family, grew up as a man with extraordinary powers, and went about doing good, and even saving the human race at least a dozen times. Sound vaguely familiar?

Steven King has used vague Biblical references in many of his books, but most obviously in The Green Mile, in which the protagonist with healing powers is executed alongside two criminals. And then another one of King’s works, The Stand, Mr King creates a post-apocalyptic world that sounds a lot like how the Bible predicts the world will end.

Archibald MacLeish wrote about a banker who sounds a lot like the Biblical character, Job. The book is called – are you ready? – J.B. Clever.

J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series uses a lot Biblical imagery that a lot of readers miss, sadly even confessing Christians.

So, to me it’s always been interesting how much a debt of gratitude secular literature owes to the Bible. Its great and timeless themes continue to influence and inspire the great stories of today.

And as great as the stories of the Bible are, there are some that are just plain weird. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at a handful of weird Bible stories. I say “weird” with respect. Perhaps “odd” would be a better word. But, then again, what better way to describe the story of a talking donkey than “weird.” Let’s take a gander at Balaam’s talking ass.

Two strange things that aren’t the talking donkey

So the next morning he saddled his donkey and started off with them. But God was angry about Balaam’s eager attitude, so he sent an Angel to stand in the road to kill him. As Balaam and two servants were riding along, Balaam’s donkey suddenly saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword. She bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat her back onto the road. Now the Angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road went between two vineyard walls. When the donkey saw him standing there, she squirmed past by pressing against the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot in the process. So he beat her again. Then the Angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place so narrow that the donkey couldn’t get by at all. So she lay down in the road! In a great fit of temper Balaam beat her again with his staff. Then the Lord caused the donkey to speak! “What have I done that deserves your beating me these three times?” she asked. “Because you have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “I wish I had a sword with me, for I would kill you.” “Have I ever done anything like this before in my entire life?” the donkey asked. “No,” he admitted. (Numbers 22:21 – 30 TLB)

Now, right off the bat, two things strike me about this story have nothing to do with the talking donkey. First, God would actually kill a prophet because of his sinful attitude. That’s really something, and it should make you want to double-check your attitude about things. We don’t often think about God taking such careful notice of our attitudes, but obviously He does. The second thing about this story that I think is mighty odd, besides the fact that the donkey spoke, is that Balaam carried on a conversation with it! Would you have done that? What if your dog, for example, started talking to you out of the blue, would you talk back? After recovering consciousness I might, but then again I might be tempted to call the media.

Yes, your attitude makes a difference

The always quotable Winston Churchill once remarked,

Attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference.

And he’s correct about that. In this life, your attitude will make the difference between success and failure; victory and defeat; sadness and happiness; frustration and contentment; hate and love. In this life, your attitude can stop you from doing great things or rush you headlong into doing stupid things. But even more significant than what your attitude can do for you in this life is how it affects you in the next!

For example, consider some of these verses and the attitudes they deal with:

Anger

Yes, “anger” is an emotion but it can also be an attitude. In his letter to the Ephesian church, here’s some advice Paul gave about the perils of “the anger attitude” –

If you are angry, don’t sin by nursing your grudge. Don’t let the sun go down with you still angry-get over it quickly; for when you are angry, you give a mighty foothold to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26, 27 | TLB)

There are a couple of ways of translating the first statement, and The Living Bible took one route that isn’t the most accurate. “If you are angry” is probably better translated as, “Be angry,” because there are times when it is entirely permissible from God’s perspective to be angry. A classic example of the proper kind of anger is this:

Looking around at them angrily, for he was deeply disturbed by their indifference to human need, he said to the man, “Reach out your hand.” He did, and instantly his hand was healed! (Mark 3:5 | TLB)

That’s Jesus who was seething at the hypocritical attitude and indifference of religious leaders to an obvious need someone had. Christ’s response to their indifference was to be “angry” and “disturbed,” and this led our Lord to act and to do something to meet that need. So, a proper anger would be anger over things like injustice or sin or when the Lord’s honor is questioned or His character impugned. But Paul’s caution is “don’t sin by nursing a grudge.” That’s a quaint way of telling us not to dwell an overly long time on it; don’t nurse the anger, even if it is a righteous anger. Paul’s advice is a take off on Psalm 4:

Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. (Psalm 4:4 | TNIV)

So, be angry at the appropriate thing, for the appropriate amount of time, and like Jesus, if you can do something about it, then do it, but then “search your hearts and be silent.” In other words, let your righteous anger last no longer than a day. Never go to bed angry. Even if you can’t straighten out the thing that has made you angry within a day, when you go to bed, pray about it and ask God to help you to let it go.

As to “why” you should “let it go,” the reason has more to do with the spirit world than with maintaining good mental health or a good marriage. Paul’s reasoning is that if you “nurse a grudge” or if you continue to dwell on the thing or person making you angry, you are opening up yourself to some serious spiritual difficulties. You may be giving the devil a chance to make it even worse. Paul’s friend Peter helps us understand what Paul is getting at when he described how the devil works to make life hard for you:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 | TNIV)

So never give the devil a chance to get ahold your heart and soul by nursing anger. Guard against that kind of attitude.

Fear

Another attitude that God really hates is one that might surprise you: fear. I say it might surprise you because in 21st century America, fear is looked at as almost a virtue! If you’re not afraid of certain things, then society thinks you’re either a nut or you don’t care. Especially in the area of child rearing, if you’re a parent and you don’t hound your kids constantly and dog their every step, you could very well be considered unfit! So much for faith and trusting God. There’s an incident back in the Old Testament – a very significant but obscure incident – that shows what God thinks of a person who is fearful.

And now, is anyone afraid? If you are, go home before you frighten the rest of us! (Deuteronomy 20:8 | TLB)

Now, some fear is healthy and exercising this proper form of fear will keep you alive. You should fear, or respect, fast moving water, for example. You should be careful around live wires. You shouldn’t necessarily run into a burning building. The kind of fear God hates has to do with fearing something or some situation that God has already told you not to be fearful about. The context of our verse, Deuteronomy 20:8, is given back in verse one:

When you go to war and see before you vast numbers of horses and chariots, an army far greater than yours, don’t be frightened! The Lord your God is with you-the same God who brought you safely out of Egypt!” (Deuteronomy 20:1 | TLB)

There was no need for anybody to be fearful because God told them not to be; because the same God who wrought miracles in the life of the nation was fighting for them. Being afraid and showing that fear made those individuals unfit to serve the Lord. They may have been wonderful people, but their fear was sinful and in direct defiance of God’s command. Therefore, they had to be separated from the larger group and isolated before their fear – their sin, really – began to infect the others.

You may think that’s harsh; that fear isn’t all that bad; maybe you’ve deluded yourself into thinking that being afraid is the same thing as being careful and cautious. But you’d be wrong. Harboring fear and manifesting it in direct disobedience to the will of God is a sin. It’s not virtuous. It will harm you and it will harm others. It will ruin your testimony and render you useless to God.

Fear is a terrible attitude for a Christian to have.

Contentious

Another horrible attitude for the Christian to have is what could be called “the contentious attitude.” That’s not the best name for it; there’s probably a better one, but Ephesians 6:4 gives us an example of what it’s like:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 | NIV84)

The context of this verse, obviously, is Paul’s general advice to fathers in the church. Paul could have given any advice but he gave this piece of advice dealing with the discipline of children. In trying to teach your children something good – the instruction of the Lord – don’t “exasperate” them. That’s a good translation of a Greek word that means “to irritate” or “to provoke.” It’s a rare word in the Bible, used only by Paul two times in all his writings. Essentially, fathers are to keep order and discipline their children, but not to go overboard with all kinds of rules and regulations, which invariably lead to nagging which will definitely lead to the children rebelling.

J.B. Phillips in his translation, puts Paul’s advice to fathers in easy-to-understand language:

Fathers, don’t overcorrect your children or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment.

That’s good advice for fathers, mothers, or just about anybody who is trying to lead others, especially in the way of faith. Don’t be contentious; hard to get along with; unbending. That kind of attitude will cause more harm than good no matter the purity of your motives.

How are some ways parents are “exasperating” their kids? William Hendriksen suggests a few:

Over-protection. Fathers and mothers (and others) can be so fearful that some kind of harm will befall their darlings that they fence them in from every direction. It does no good to remove all risk of harm from anybody, but especially children; risk is necessary for everybody’s physical, mental, moral, and spiritual well-being. Being over-protective can rob children and others from developing a sense of self-confidence, and instead depositing in them fear and apprehension.

Favoritism. Isaac preferred Esau over Jacob. Rebekah preferred Jacob. Nothing good comes from favoritism.

Discouragement. Every day, parents find creative ways to discourage their kids. Employers find ways to discourage their employees. Spouses find ways of discouraging their spouse. “You can’t do that.” “You’re not smart enough to take that class.” “You’re not tall enough.” “You’ve got your grandfather’s kinky hair.” “I wish you were more like his wife.” We’re very good at tearing each other down; we should be better at building each other up!

So, yes, God is very concerned and interested in your attitudes about all kinds of things. The prophet Balaam had the wrong attitude.  God didn’t like it, and God was willing to so far as to take his life because of it.

What was behind Balaam’s attitude of “eagerness?” Why did Balaam talk to his talking donkey? We’ll find out, next time.

 

 

 

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