The Smell of Our Sacrifices

Scripture Focus: Numbers 22.2
2 “Give this command to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Make sure that you present to me at the appointed time my food offerings, as an aroma pleasing to me.’

Reflection: The Smell of Our Sacrifices
By John Tillman

Based on Numbers 22 and similar scriptures, I have often joked at a barbeque that “Even God likes the smell of meat cooking over a fire.” This marginally “biblical” joke is a good chuckle for Bible nerds but also raises legitimate questions to ponder. 

The smell of sacrifices that pleased God was not pleasing to his stomach, as if God were hungry for the flesh of his own creatures. So what did it please?

Smells stir up powerful emotions and memories within us. This is a part of God’s design in us, so when God tells us that smells bring him pleasure, emotional connection and memory seem the likely intention of God’s meaning. What emotions or memories are stirred in an eternal being like God, when the smell of sacrifices wafts through his tabernacle?

The ceremonies of the Tabernacle and Temple point both backwards and forwards. The spaces and their design evoke images of Eden and images of God’s Temple as described in Revelation and other visions of prophets throughout the Bible. The activities, such as sacrifices, also point both forward and backward in time.

The sacrifices point back to Eden. Acting as priest for his newly sinful and flawed children, Adam and Eve, God made the first animal sacrifice. These animal’s skins “covered” the nakedness of Adam and Eve. Their inner shame, that expressed itself in fear and a desire to hide, was comforted and covered tenderly by God.

The sacrifices point forward to the cross and to Christ’s victory. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the last, and only, sufficient sacrifice for sin. In Revelation, Jesus is the Lamb, slain but still living, victorious and triumphant.

How do our sacrifices smell?

When our sacrifices (our tithes, our offerings, our volunteering, our serving others, our forgiving of wrongs, etc.) are given today, they also have a wafting influence that testifies to God, to each other, and to the world. Paul interprets this metaphorically and spiritually in examples of living our faith before others, sacrificing to give aid to each other, and as Christ giving himself for us. (2 Corinthians 2.15-16; Philippians 4.18; Ephesians 5.2)

Let us then take the command of God seriously, and make our daily sacrifices ones which aid one another, aid our communities, and aid the body of Christ as it serves the world.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will offer you a freewilll sacrifice and praise your Name, O Lord, for it is good. — Psalm 54.6

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 28 (Listen – 3:51)
Psalm 72 (Listen – 2:21)

Read more about Sacrifice of Self
We have been called to imitate our self-sacrificing savior, Jesus, by giving of ourselves to do good for the benefit of others.

Read more about Anointed Servants
Sometimes when we think of sacrifices, and especially of the cross, we think of God demanding to be “satisfied.” This is an incorrect/incomplete picture.

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.

Unworthy Prophets

Scripture Focus: Number 22.6
6 Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”

Psalm 62.4
4 Surely they intend to topple me
    from my lofty place;
    they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
    but in their hearts they curse.

Reflection: Unworthy Prophets
By John Tillman

The prophets we have needed in recent times are those like Nathan, Daniel, and Jeremiah, who would not shirk their duty to speak the truth in order to stay in the good graces of kings. The kind of unworthy prophets we seem to have in abundance are Balaams and Pashhurs, (Jeremiah 19.14-20.6) who comfort and coddle kings to stay close to power.

Balaam was not concerned with the king’s morals. Balaam’s prophecies were for sale. Balaam intended to cash in by putting words in God’s mouth, but God put his words in Balaam’s mouth instead. (Numbers 23.16)

Balaam said what God commanded. This could be because he was overwhelmed by supernatural visions or because he obeyed out of fear of the angel who threatened him. Scripture does not tell us. Although God spoke through Balaam, there was no relationship of love or trust—no expectation of good faith.

We must remember that there will always be political leaders like Balak. They want prophets of God to identify with them, stand with them, and give blessing to their policies in exchange for favors. 

We must also remember that there will always be prophets like Balaam. These prophets claim to speak for God but, instead, tickle the ears of the powerful in exchange for assurances of influence and power. These modern Balaams do their best to put words in God’s mouth that are pleasing to the powerful.

Along their desert sojourn, the Israelites faced being hated by Balaks and cursed by Balaams. In our political realms, we will more likely be wooed by Balaks, and have our ears tickled by the Balaams doing their bidding.

As God’s people, we may feel powerless against the Balaams or the Balaks of the world. We can be assured that God is more than able to deal with them according to their sins. This world, ruled by Balaks and preached to by Balaams is not our home. It is the land of our sojourn.

May we keep serving our God and following him through this desert. As Balaam could not deny the beauty of the tents of Israel (Numbers 24.5), may the conspiring prophets and rulers of our culture not be able to deny the beauty of the love of God that works among us.

May a better class of prophets speak the truth to power and to God’s people.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me. — Psalm 101.6

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 22 (Listen – 5:55)
Psalm 62-63 (Listen – 2:44)

Read more about Balaam’s Success
Balaam’s strategy of people-pleasing pandering to powerful politicians is still alive today. So are his methods of deceit and temptation.

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
Not one of those glowingly positive, king-praising prophets’ writings are in our Bible. Instead we have the writings of the losers.

Balaams and Balaks

Number 22.6
Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.

Reflection: Balaams and Balaks
By John Tillman

Last week we celebrated the bravery of the prophet, Nathan, who confronted King David with his sins and described the terrible consequences that would be the result of the king’s actions.

This week’s readings begin with a very different prophet—one who could not be further from the ethical stance of Nathan—Balaam. Balaam is not concerned with whether what the king wants is right or moral. He does not care about reconciling men or nations to God as Nathan does. Balaam’s prophecies are for sale. But rather than allow Balaam to put words in his mouth, God puts his words in Balaam’s mouth.

God takes extreme measures. He causes Balaam’s donkey to speak to him to get his attention. Then, once Balaam sees the threatening, angel, God sternly warns Balaam to only say what God tells him to say. Although God speaks through Balaam, there is no relationship of love or trust—no expectation of good faith.

In the end, Balaam says what God commands. This could be because he is overwhelmed by the visions or because he is simply obeying out of fear of the angel who threatened him. Scripture does not tell us.

Perhaps the best lesson we can learn from Balaam is that there will always be prophets willing to buddy up to powerful, political leaders. These modern Balaams do their best to put words in God’s mouth that are pleasing to the powerful.

There are many political leaders today who are just like Balak. They want prophets of God to come to them, stand with them, worship with them, and bless their evil practices and desires. And there are many Balaams in the world today who claim to speak for God and yet seem willing to tickle the ears of the powerful in exchange for assurances of influence and power.

As God’s people, we can’t do much about the Balaams or the Balaks of the world. We must leave them up to God, for he is more than able to deal with them according to their sins.

Instead, we must simply keep serving our God and following him through our desert of sojourn. When the Balaams look down on us, may they be unable to deny the beauty of the love of God that is among us.

Prayer: The Call To Prayer
Let my mouth be full of your praise and your glory all the day long. — Psalm 71.8

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 22 (Listen – 5:55) 
Psalm 62-63 (Listen – 2:44)

Thank You!
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Read more about In The Face of Wonder
Mary’s powerful confession, prayer, and prophecy, shows her familiarity with the scriptures and an intimate connection with God like the prophets of old.

Read more about The Losers Who Write History
It has been said that winners write history books, but in the case of the Bible, that is decidedly not true. Scripture, especially when it comes to the prophets, passes the microphone to the losers of history.

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