Saturday, March 16, 2013

Supernatural Speech

Today's blog post is should have been posted yesterday.  That's because I was a little busy yesterday.  I'm delighted to announce the birth of my first grandchild, Elijah Alexander Drayer, who took his first breath just after midnight today--March 16, 2013.  Welcome to the world, Elijah!  May God guide every breath, and every step, my precious little one!

Today is the final day of week ten, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures are:  Numbers 22-25; Luke 1.

While I love the story of Balaam and his donkey, and while the beginning of Luke's gospel is dear to everyone's heart, I'd rather talk about a unifying theme that these two have in common.  In today's Old Testament and New Testament passages, we have examples of four different kinds of supernatural speech:  curses; blessings; and divination and oracles; and prophecies.  What are these?  How did they function in biblical times?  Do they function today--and if so, how? 

Throughout the Bible, curses are spoken against enemies and against those who are displeasing to the Lord.  Pagans as well as true believers invoked curses, each calling on his own deity to provide the power for the curse.  It's an oversimplification, but it's not incorrect to say that a curse spoken by a pagan is considered magic or witchcraft, while a curse spoken by a true believer is called an imprecation.  To read my blog posts about imprecations, click here.  Cursing is not the same thing as uttering vulgar words (called "cussing" in Virginia).  Cursing is the intentional casting of spiritual harm onto another person.  Click here for an article on cursing from the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia.

Cursing isn't just an Old Testament concept.  James writes:  "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (3:10-12)."  Clearly, Christians are not supposed to speak curses against people.  A believer might argue, "But Jesus cursed the fig tree in Mark 11:12-14."  While that's true, Jesus also possessed the wisdom and authority of God and could know the appropriate time to do such a thing.  I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't God Himself.

Balaam was paid to pronounce a curse against the Israelites--but God wanted him to bless them instead.   

In the same way that a curse is more than a mere wish, so also a blessing is more than a hope.  It is literally sending a positive spiritual gift to another person.  In the Old Testament, we read about Isaac blessing Jacob, calling him to be ruler over his brothers (Genesis 27:1-29).  Balaam spoke a blessing instead of a curse upon Israel, invoking God's protection and favor upon them.  In Deuteronomy 33:1-29, Moses blessed the people of Israel before his death.  Sometimes we refer to a "mixed blessing," meaning that a person receives both pleasant and unpleasant things at the same time.  Biblically, a mixed blessing might be when the people are told that if they follow God they will receive His blessings, yet if they turn away from Him they will be cursed.

In Numbers 6:22-27, Aaron the priest is instructed on how to bless the people.  You may hear this same blessing pronounced in Jewish and Christian worship services today:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

In the New Testament, we hear Jesus saying, "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:28)."  It's interesting that Jesus differentiates between pronouncing a blessing on someone and praying for them.  That's because praying for someone is asking God to do something good for someone, while blessing someone is when you actually send them a spiritual gift of your own.  

Divination and Oracles
Briefly put, divination is seeking supernatural knowledge from spirits other than the One True God.  This can be done through the manipulation of objects like tarot cards or entrails, or by reading the movement of intangible objects like clouds, fire, smoke, images inside a crystal ball, or the flight of birds.  Divination systems have been created out of almost everything, but their goal is to find supernatural messages in seemingly random occurrences.  

The purpose of divination is to learn something that's unknown to the person, but that may be revealed by the spirits.  Sometimes this involves the future, but it may involve the past or the present as well.   Divination was, and is, forbidden to believers (Leviticus 19:31; Deuteronomy 18:11; Isaiah 19:3).  In Isaiah 8:19, God says, "And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?"  God is jealous, and doesn't want His people to inquire of spirits.  He wants our attention and our love.  Besides, who's more likely to tell you the truth anyway--a rebellious spirit, or the God of all truth?  In our reading today, the elders of Moab paid money for divination (Numbers 22:7).  We see in Numbers 24:1 that Balaam was accustomed to reading omens, which is a form of divination.

The word "oracle" is used when a person is possessed of a spirit and used as a mouthpiece by that spirit.  The person is called an oracle.  Just to make it confusing, the message that the person gives is also called an oracle.  The word is used when a person gives a word-for-word message, rather than when they simply tell an impression that they have been given. Numbers 24:22-24 says:

And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said,“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
    the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
    who sees the vision of the Almighty,
    falling down with his eyes uncovered:

He then continues to speak the words of prophecy that God laid on his heart.


When the word "oracle" refers to the message rather than the person who gives the message, this is a prophecy.  When the word "oracle" refers to the messenger, this is a prophet.  Though some theologians will argue this point, prophesying is different from preaching or teaching today.  Preaching and teaching involve study and preparation, and sharing the message that the messenger believes that God would have for the people.  Prophesying is when the messenger hears the voice of God directly, and declares the message that God commands them to give to the people. 

Many people think of prophecy as foretelling the future...and it can be.  But more than that, prophecy is "forth-telling."  It's telling forth the message that God gives.

In the Numbers 24:17-19, Balaam prophesied the future, saying:

I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
    and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed;
    Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
    Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
    and destroy the survivors of cities!”

Some suggest that this is a prophecy of the Messiah.  Others say it is a prophecy about King David.  Whoever Balaam is talking about, the seer is prophesying about a future king.

In Luke 2:13-17, we have prophecy from the mouth of an angel, foretelling the birth of John: 

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,  for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.  And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,  and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Then, in verses 30-32, an angel prophesies the birth of Jesus:

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  

Finally, in verses 68-79, Zechariah prophesies, saying: 

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
    that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
    in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Listening to the voice of God is of paramount importance to the Christian.  Likewise, being able to discern God's voice from other voices is also imperative.  We have to make sure that the supernatural speech we listen to is actually the voice of God rather than the voices of people or the voices of errant spirits.  

Many Christian denominations have symbols that represents their belief.  Catholics have a crucifix.  United Methodists have a cross and flame.  Though I cannot espouse everything that they teach, I find the symbol of my brother's denomination intriguing.  It reminds them to listen carefully to God's voice, because in the words of Gracie Allen:


*All scripture taken from the ESV.

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