Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 24

Would you could see
What I see


With eyes wide-shut

[For full chapter, click here
We arrive at the climactic "third time" here in the series of three attempts. As in fairytales, this third time is fundamentally different: "Balaam saw that it was good in the eyes of God to bless Israel, so he went not, as at other times, to seek out enchantments (nehashim, cognate of "serpents")". Balaam is no longer trying to forces his way through, no longer attempting to find the perfect viewpoint to "cures Israel." Instead, "he sets his face to the  wilderness."
By seeing what is good in God's eyes, Balaam is suddenly able to finally use his own eyes. In contrast to his blindness before, he now can "see": "and he raised his eyes and saw Israel..." With the return of sight  comes the return of speech. No longer is he a ventriloquist dummy, with God's "word places in his mouth." Rather, the "spirit of God" rests upon him, and he speaks: "the oration of Balaam the son of Beor, the oration of the man whose eyes are blocked...who saw the vision of the Almighty, falling, but with eyes exposed."
Here, "blessing them this three time" Balaam returns to and ratifies God's original promise to Abraham: "Those who bless you I will bless; and those who curse you will be cursed."
Implicitly, he also returns to Moses' downfall around the "waters of contention"  Imagining Israel's glowing future in images out abundant water: "as gardens by the river’s cedar trees beside the waters.  He shall pour water from his pail, and his seed shall be in many waters."
The chapter closes with the widest viewpoint yet--an eschatological vision of the nations spanning from the primal brothers, "Shet" and "Cain," extending all the way to "forever." It is a panorama that is overwhelming even for the man of teh "open eye": "Alas, who shall live after God has appointed him?"
The direct contact with God's vision breaks the close contact between Balaam and Balak. Rather than Balak "standing" to await Balaam, the two split their separate ways] 

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