The Prophet of Profit

Scripture Focus: Numbers 22.32-33
32 The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.” 

Numbers 23.16, 27
5 The Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.” 

27 Then Balak said to Balaam, “Come, let me take you to another place. Perhaps it will please God to let you curse them for me from there.”

Jude 1.11-13
11 Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. 
12 These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

From John: In the early 2000s, some friends collaborating on children’s curriculum with a major Christian publisher were told that they couldn’t write about Balaam’s donkey because, “donkeys don’t talk.” I’m happy that later on, I joined my friends in writing about her in our own, independent curriculum. I love the story of Balaam’s donkey so much. This repost from 2019 reminds us that the best and most likeable character in Balaam’s story is the donkey.

Reflection: The Prophet of Profit
By John Tillman

The most relatable and likeable character in Balaam’s story is the donkey. Even the deadly angel who warned Balaam against colluding with Balak liked the donkey better than the man. The angel explained that if he had killed Balaam he would have been careful to spare the donkey’s life.  (Numbers 22.33)

Balaam may seem a minor, unpopular character but he has an impressive string of mentions throughout scripture which make clear he was unfaithful and deceptive. Despite this, he seemed to enjoy a relationship with God that sounds strangely similar to that of other prophets in scripture whose ethical principles were far higher.  Balaam made multiple prophecies about Israel that are not only true, but are often beautiful. For example:

“No misfortune is seen in Jacob,
   no misery observed in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them;
   the shout of the King is among them.”

Despite his seemingly close relationship with God and his ability to hear God speak, scripture is clear that Balaam showed the Lord little loyalty, reverence, or love. He continued attempting to do what Balak wanted. When God prevented him from doing it, he tried again. And again.

Modern believers have many advantages over prophets and priests in ancient times. We do not need to rely on divination, or strange practices to hear God. God’s Word is available to us in almost any language we could want and we have incredible opportunities for deep study and understanding of the Bible. Not only that, as Christians we have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit who Christ promised would teach us the Scriptures and what they mean.

Despite all our advantages, we can sometimes still fall into the error of Balaam, thinking that God and the Word of the Lord can be used in a utilitarian way, whether that is to curse others or to bless ourselves.

In our culture, as in Balaam’s, curses are more valuable, clickable, and profitable content than blessings. Despite our cultural and personal tendencies to desire to bless ourselves, may we seek God for the joy of his presence, rather than the marketability of his miracles. May our proclamation of God’s Word be a blessing to those who hear it and never a curse.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 58.13

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 23 (Listen – 4:01)
Psalm 64-65 (Listen – 2:39)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 24 (Listen – 3:37), Psalm 66-67 (Listen – 2:42)
Numbers 25 (Listen – 2:20), Psalm 68 (Listen – 4:26)

Read more about Unworthy Prophets
There will always be prophets like Balaam. These prophets…tickle the ears of the powerful in exchange for assurances of influence and power.

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/unworthy-prophets

Read more about Balaams and Balaks
Although God speaks through Balaam, there is no relationship of love or trust—no expectation of good faith.

How to Read Prophetic Judgment

Scripture Focus: Jude 5
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.

From John: We have referred to this post from 2018 frequently enough on our journey through the prophets this year that it seems fitting to repeat it here. It is never a good idea to dodge the convicting message of a prophet by imagining oneself as the prophet rather than the target of prophecy. May we be more prone to repentance than deflection of blame.

Reflection: How to Read Prophetic Judgment
By John Tillman

There are many passages in the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments that are meant to comfort us. But the more typical function of prophecy is to cause us discomfort.

Examples of both comforting and afflicting passages occur in our readings today—both in Jude and in Isaiah.

Comforting:
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! — Isaiah 30.18

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. — Jude 20-21

Afflicting:
“Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,
this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant. — Isaiah 30.12-13

Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. — Jude 10-11

When we read prophecy in the Old or New Testament, we often try to identify ourselves with one of the groups mentioned. Are we the prophet? Are we the Israelites? Are we Balaam? Are we the Gentile nations?

This can be an interesting intellectual exercise but is often a waste of time. One reason is it is unhelpful is that when we do this we take it easy on ourselves.

We tend to identify ourselves as the Israelites when prophets are saying comforting things to Israel, but when the prophet is condemning Israel, we imagine ourselves as the righteous prophet and our evil government or evil culture as the target.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that much if we understand who is analogous to the nation of Israel or who is analogous to the nation of Babylon. It matters far more to understand why God is angry, what he requires of us, and what he wants to do through us if we return to him.

Prophecy can spur us on to love and good deeds, to mark a clear path of repentance and clarify the consequences of disobedience. But we blunt the point of prophecy’s spurs when we avoid the probability that we are the ones a prophecy is about. We miss the point of prophecy entirely when we weaponize it to attack others.

The best way to read prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the speaker, but as the spoken to. Judgment-filled prophecy is one case in scripture where it is safer to assume it’s about you than others. Once you do this, you can take whatever steps of grace-filled repentance the Holy Spirit directs you to.

Following this approach, we will be far more uncomfortable reading prophecy, but our discomfort will lead to a more richly flourishing faith.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Everyone will stand in awe and declare God’s deeds, they will recognize his works. — Psalm 64.9

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 30 (Listen – 5:52)
Jude (Listen – 4:12)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 31 (Listen – 1:49) Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)
Isaiah 32 (Listen – 2:46) Revelation 2 (Listen – 4:59)

Read more about Different Kind of Exile
Living as outcasts in society has nearly always brought healing to the church through suffering.

Read more about Default Settings for Scripture
Scripture is not written as much to us, about us, or about the past as it is for us, about Jesus, and about our future.

Kept in Love :: Love of Advent

*Advent is a wonderful time for new readers to join us. At this time of year, we are covering familiar biblical content and people are open to spiritual pursuits. Also at this time, people desperately need the balance of spiritual practice that The Park Forum provides. In this season, consider sharing our devotionals with others and inviting them to join our community. Share this post on social media to help others subscribe.

Scripture Focus: Jude 20-21
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Reflection: Kept in Love :: Love of Advent
By John Tillman

In a time of waiting like Advent, we can become discouraged. We long for “the day when our faith will be sight.” We grow tired rather than excited. The darkness can fill up with doubt instead of anticipation, and apathy instead of engagement. What are we waiting for, anyway? Is what we are waiting for worth it? And will it ever come?

We are waiting, in a very literal sense, for love. 

In Advent, we wait for a love more loving than the most rapturous physical touch. It is more caring than the love of the most loving earthly mother or father. It is more self-sacrificing than a soldier dying that others might live. All metaphors of God’s love fall flat in comparison to Christ. We glimpse the love of God in these examples, as Moses glimpsed God passing by while waiting in the cleft of the rock. The best of them are merely the fringes on the garment of the love that comes to us in Christ. Yes. The love we wait for is worth the wait.

God’s love is both coming to us, and already with us. Jude tells us that we keep ourselves in God’s love through faith and prayer.

The word Jude uses implies being guarded, and kept safe, preserved. This “keeping” is something for which Christ himself prayed in John 17. Christ prayed not that we would be taken out of this world, but that we would be “kept” in the world—protected and maintained.

As we wait in the dark, the comforter that Christ prayed for is here with us. When we “mourn in lonely exile here,” the Holy Spirit echoes and harmonizes with our cries. He is our emmanuel. 

The love of God approaches during Advent. Rather than being gripped with doubt, we will soon be embraced by our God. The arm of the Lord is being revealed to us as he embraces us as his children. His arms are not too short to save. They are not too weak to carry our cross and die upon it. 

Reach out through faith and prayer and you will find there is a spiritual embrace waiting to “keep you” in God’s love as we wait for “this same Jesus” to return. Come Lord Jesus!

Prayer: Jude 24-25:
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”

We will resume Divine Hours Prayers tomorrow.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 9 (Listen -5:07), Jude (Listen -4:12)

Thank You, Donors!
Thanks to our donors, in 2019 we will publish approximately 100,000 words of free, and ad-free, devotional content. Without donor support, continuing this ministry would be impossible. As the end of the year approaches, consider whether the Holy Spirit might be prompting you to help support our 2020 content with an end-of-year gift or by becoming a monthly donor. Follow this link to our giving page.

Read more about His Loving Presence :: Love of Advent
Where is God when we don’t see him? He is among us, leading us, and coming to us.

Read more about The Value of Words
Our purpose at The Park Forum is to produce words that are filled with life, not death. Words that spur, but do not abuse.
Words that challenge, but lovingly guide.
Words that bless and do not curse.

How to Read Prophetic Judgment

Scripture: Jude 5
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.

Reflection: How to Read Prophetic Judgment
By John Tillman

There are many passages in the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments that are meant to comfort us. But the more typical function of prophecy is to cause us discomfort.

Examples of both comforting and afflicting passages occur in our readings today—both in Jude and in Isaiah.

Comforting:
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! — Isaiah 30.18

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. — Jude 20-21

Afflicting:
“Because you have rejected this message,
relied on oppression
and depended on deceit,
this sin will become for you
like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
that collapses suddenly, in an instant. — Isaiah 30.12-13

Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. — Jude 10-11

When we read prophecy in the Old or New Testament, we often try to identify ourselves with one of the groups mentioned. Are we the prophet? Are we the Israelites? Are we Balaam? Are we the Gentile nations?

This can be an interesting intellectual exercise, but is often a waste of time. One reason is it is unhelpful is that when we do this we take it easy on ourselves.

We tend to identify ourselves as the Israelites when prophets are saying comforting things to Israel, but when the prophet is condemning Israel, we imagine ourselves as the righteous prophet and our evil government or evil culture as the target.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that much if we understand who is analogous to the nation of Israel or who is analogous to the nation of Babylon. It matters far more to understand why God is angry, what he requires of us, and what he wants to do through us if we return to him.

Prophecy can spur us on to love and good deeds, to mark a clear path of repentance and clarify the consequences of disobedience. But we blunt the point of prophecy’s spurs when we avoid the probability that we are the ones a prophecy is about. We miss the point of prophecy entirely when we weaponize it to attack others.

The best way to read prophecy is to imagine yourself not as the speaker, but as the spoken to. Judgment-filled prophecy is one case in scripture where it is safer to assume it’s about you than others. Once you do this, you can take whatever steps of grace-filled repentance the Holy Spirit directs you to.

Following this approach we will be far more uncomfortable reading prophecy, but our discomfort will lead to a more richly flourishing faith.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Open my eyes, that I may see the wonders of your law. — Psalm 119.18

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 30 (Listen – 5:52)
Jude 1 (Listen – 4:12)

Love’s Journey :: Advent’s Love

Reflection: Love’s Journey :: Advent’s Love
The Park Forum

The town of St. Joseph, 60 miles north of Kansas City, MO, originally served as a starting point for the Oregon Trail. In its heyday, the streets would have been filled with thousands of pioneers provisioning for the final time before “jumping off”—a term used for leaving civilization behind for the nearly half-year journey west.

Almost thirty years after the Civil War, in 1892, Katherine Kennicott Davis was born into a second-generation pioneer family who had settled in the old trailhead town. By the time Davis was born the railroad had expanded and St. Joseph was no longer as influential. Much like the town they lived in, Davis’ family was neither culturally elite or affluent, but even as a child she showed unique talent which would shape her life.

While pioneers risked everything to travel from St. Joseph into the promise and peril of the Wild West, Davis would take her own risks, cutting her own path east. After graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she braved trans-Atlantic travel to study at the Royal Academy of Music.

Davis returned to the US and, with a world-class education, dedicated herself to teaching children music at various schools across New England. The majority of the more than 600 pieces Davis composed during her lifetime were for the children she taught.

In 1941 Davis penned, “The Carol of the Drum,” which would be popularized as, “Little Drummer Boy” when the Trapp Family Singers picked it up in 1955. Despite her volume of work and level of talent, Davis isn’t widely known for any other song.

The story of the “Little Drummer Boy” embodies part of the beauty of Davis’ story. The song begins with a boy taking a risk to travel and sit with someone great. The boy is aware of—but undeterred by—his simple heritage, offering his musical talent with great diligence. Though many might overlook such a musician, he receives the prize upon which his hope was set: the love of the One whom he has been playing for all along.

ListenLittle Drummer Boy by Dolly Parton (4:36)

The Morning Psalm
Therefore my heart dances for joy, and in my song will I praise him. — Psalm 28.7

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 8 (Listen – 3:02)
3 John (Listen – 1:51)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 9 (Listen – 5:07) Jude (Listen – 4:12)
2 Chronicles 10 (Listen – 3:01) Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)

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