Greed and Envy

Psalm 73.2-3
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
   I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
   when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Reflection: Greed and Envy
By John Tillman

The psalmist, is thrown into doubt and pushed to the limits of his understanding by the inequality he sees in the world.

Inequality is a double-edged sword.

One edge is called envy. It is dulled from overuse and makes up for being unsharpened with a harsh, serrated edge. It saws at its victims rather than slices them.

One edge is called greed. It is sharp and quick, and drips with an anesthetizing coating. It slices to the bone, yet victims hardly feel pain. Most don’t realize they have been wounded or don’t realize its severity.

The psalmist is cut by the edge of envy and the wound grieves him. How can God be just if wicked people are so prosperous? How can God be caring if those he loves suffer? But as he pursues God in worship, he comes to understand the other side of the sword.There are traps here for all of us.

The trap the psalmist escapes is to mistake stored up justice for absence of justice.The wealthy who ignore the poor are not escaping justice and we are not responsible or qualified to carry out justice.  We are not to eat the rich, but the bread of life.

The trap for the wealthy, is to think that we are not that wealthy, or that the poor are not that worthy. After all, those richer than we are should do the heavy lifting of caring for the poor, shouldn’t they? And too often we think that poor is a synonym for lazy. We think we are prudent, not greedy—responsible, not cruel.

(And as to whether the poor are undeserving, there could not be a more apt description of us, when Christ gave all he had to cancel our debt of sin.)

Psalms like this have, at times, been used to shush protesters. “Don’t be so angry. Just preach the gospel and rely on God.” This pie-in-the-sky kind of cold comfort ignores one of the frequent commands of scripture—that the powerful must care for the weak and God will hold them to account.

May we humbly seek the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is in Christ that we will find the compassion to overcome our cynicism and the generosity of spirit to overcome our jealousy and greed. And may we never doubt God’s goodness based on earthly evil.

When men doubt the righteousness of God, their own integrity begins to waver. — Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. — Psalm 103.1-2

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 29 (Listen – 5:05) 
Psalm 73 (Listen – 2:56)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about In Denial about Greed and Power
If there is anything that can still be shocking in today’s world, it is that we still don’t fully admit or understand the destructive nature of the sins of greed and power.

Read more about Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts
Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, that will surface during fasting.

Hope Still Rises :: Worldwide Prayer

Psalm 69.29, 33
But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
   may your salvation, God, protect me.

The Lord hears the needy
   and does not despise his captive people.

Reflection: Hope Still Rises :: Worldwide Prayer
Prayer of Hope from South Africa

This prayer we feature today was originally published in a book of prayers prepared for a worship conference in Berlin in 1998.

In the years prior to that conference, Nelson Mandela began his first term as president and the end of Apartheid was in the immediate past. In 1995, the Rugby World Cup was hosted and won by the South African team. In 2009, the story was turned into an inspiring film starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. But as powerful as sports metaphors are and as inspiring as any movie might be, the struggle for greater peace and freedom in South Africa was just beginning and 1998 saw bombings in South Africa and attacks scattered over the entire continent.

Today, in Africa, peace and freedom are often in short supply. The problems lifted to God in this prayer, still exist in one way or another, popping up in one country, then another. Abuse, disease, rape as a weapon of war, and mass killings motivated by tribal conflicts or religious radicalization are still common events, even though they rarely make the current events section of Western newspapers. Often the chief victims of these events are women.

We join this prayer today for the people of Africa and for all people across the world experiencing oppression, violence, disease, and exile because of their religious beliefs.

May the church follow Christ’s footsteps as he moves to help those affected by these persistent signs of the sinfulness and greed of our world.

A Prayer of Hope
Oh, God,

You can do anything, anywhere, any time.
All knowing, all seeing God,
There is nothing hidden from you.

You see the women of Africa:
Who are refugees,
Fleeing their war-torn countries
With babies on their backs and luggage on their heads.

Some who are victims of human rights violations, abuse, infected with AIDS.
We put our hope in you, oh God.

For you hear even our unmentioned prayers
You watch not only the sparrow, but you see us too.
And your hands guide us all the way.

Above all, you offer us the gift of eternal life.

We praise your holy name.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Thy Name, L. A. (Tony) Cupit, ed., Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world

Prayer: A Reading
Then he told them a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. “There was a judge in a certain town,” he said, “who had neither fear of God nor respect for anyone. In the same town there was also a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘I want justice from you against my enemy!’ For a long time he refused, but as last he said to himself, ‘Even though I have neither fear of God nor respect for any human person, I must give this widow her just rights since she keeps pestering me, or she will come and slap me in the face.’ And the Lord said, “You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now, will not God see justice done to his elect if they keep calling him day and night even though he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily.” — Luke 18.1-8

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 26 (Listen – 7:47) 
Psalm 69 (Listen – 4:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 27 (Listen – 3:08) Psalm 70-71 (Listen – 3:29)
Numbers 28 (Listen – 3:51) Psalm 72 (Listen – 2:21)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Where Martyrdom Begins Part 1
Does martyrdom begin when a knife is held to your throat? If laying down our lives for another shows the greatest love, is it not possible to show that love unless our lives are taken in violence?

Read more about Reflecting the Unity of Christ :: Worldwide Prayer
Help us to share the blessings of knowing you with others and be at peace with you and with each other.

Too Good Not to Be True

Psalm 68.11
Your procession, God, has come into view,
   the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary.
In front are the singers, after them the musicians;
   with them are the young women playing the timbrels.

Reflection: Too Good Not to Be True
By John Tillman

I have personally always been drawn to the unusual stories of the Bible and I pray that many of you have benefited from an extended look at Balaam this week.

I worked with some writing partners on a children’s Bible teaching curriculum for many years. But before that curriculum, my partners had worked on another curriculum with a major Christian publisher. My partners wanted to tell the story of Balaam, but got pushback from the publishers, “Donkeys don’t talk and we don’t want to confuse the children.” My friends responded, “Does that mean we can’t teach Lazarus because dead men don’t come out of the grave?” The publisher eventually got their way and the Balaam lesson was cut.

It was a deep feeling of accomplishment when we eventually put a lesson on Balaam in the curriculum we wrote together later.

In his book, Telling the Truth, Frederick Buechner challenges preachers not to shy away from the fantastic and the miraculous, but to tell the truth in all its childishness.

“The preacher is apt to preach the gospel with the high magic taken out, the deep mystery reduced to a manageable size.

The wild and joyful promise of the gospel is reduced to promises more easily kept. The peace that passeth all understanding is reduced to peace that anybody can understand. The faith that can move mountains and raise the dead becomes faith that can help make life bearable until death ends it. Eternal life becomes a metaphor for the way the good a man does lives after him.

Let the preacher stretch our imagination and strain our credulity and make our jaws drop because the sad joke of it is that if he does not, then of all people he is almost the only one left who does not…

The joke of it is that often it is the preacher who as steward of the wildest mystery of them all is the one who hangs back, prudent, cautious, hopelessly mature and wise to the last when no less than Saint Paul tells him to be a fool for Christ’s sake, no less than Christ tells him to be a child for his own and the kingdom’s sake.

Let the preacher tell the truth…Let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true.” 

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

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 25 (Listen – 2:20) 
Psalm 68 (Listen – 4:26)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Balaams and Balaks
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. Balaam’s prophecies are for sale.

Read more about The Prophet of Profit
Despite his close relationship with God and his ability to hear God speak Balaam seems to show the Lord no loyalty, reverence, or love.

Balaam’s Success

Numbers 24.10-14
“I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times….I said I would reward you handsomely, but the Lord has kept you from being rewarded.”

Balaam answered Balak, “Did I not tell the messengers you sent me, ‘Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything of my own accord, good or bad, to go beyond the command of the Lord—and I must say only what the Lord says’? Now I am going back to my people, but come, let me warn you of what this people will do to your people in days to come.”

Psalm 66.16-19
Come and hear, all you who fear God;
   let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
   his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
   the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
   and has heard my prayer.

Reflection: Balaam’s Success
By John Tillman

If all one ever read of Balaam was Numbers 22-24, one might think of him as a somewhat unwilling prophet. After all, he blesses Israel three times, rather than curse them as he was hired to do. In doing this he angers Balak and Balak cancels his planned payment. If we aren’t careful, we could mistake Balaam for someone who, in the end, honorably delivered God’s message despite relational and financial loss.

One could attempt to make a comparison to Jonah. Like Jonah, Balaam attempts to do the opposite of what God commands. Both prophets’ travels get interrupted by a life threatening event. Jonah and Balaam both have a miraculous intervention by an animal. Balaam is run off the road three times. Jonah is in the belly of the fish for three days. Jonah is reluctant to see God’s message accepted. Balaam is reluctant to give up his attempts to curse Israel. But the comparison falls flat.

The rest of scripture makes it clear that Balaam did nothing honorably. Multiple scriptures testify that God, through his power, overcame what Balaam attempted. Balaam never gave up helping Balak to defeat and destroy Israel. Although Balak dismisses Balaam without payment in this chapter, it is clear from the rest of scripture that their prophet-for-hire relationship was maintained.

Every other mention of Balaam remarks on either his deception of the Israelites or his attempts at monetary gain by betraying them.

In Balaam’s last mention in scripture, John records in Revelation that Balaam tried a backdoor method to curse the Israelites. After being unable to curse the Israelites directly, as he was asked by Balak, Balaam coached Balak on a conspiracy to tempt Israel to sins that their culture was prone to.

Balaam failed to curse the Israelites, but he succeeded in tempting the Israelites to curse themselves with sins. Balaam’s strategy of people-pleasing pandering to powerful politicians is still alive today. So are his methods of deceit and temptation.

The Israelites’ culture was most susceptible to the sexual temptations of ancient fertility cults, In our culture, sexuality might have less of a sensual pull than financial sins. Greed is the fertility god of our age and our culture is addicted to it.

No matter what sins or idols we are tempted with, may we approach God humbly, seeking repentance and redemption through Christ.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
It is better to rely on the Lord than to put any trust in rulers. All the ungodly encompass me; in the name of the Lord I will repel them. — Psalm 118.9-10

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

Today’s Readings
Numbers 24 (Listen – 3:37) 
Psalm 66-67 (Listen – 2:44)

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Lamenting Materialism :: A Guided Prayer
In ancient agrarian society if you worshiped a sun god or a fertility goddess or a god of weather or a god of bountiful harvest you were worshiping a god of financial success. It is akin to our worship of stock performance or financial forecasts or political economic policies.

Read more about The Idol of Immorality, Impurity, and Greed
We are correct when we assess idolatry’s primitive nature. Where we are wrong is in thinking that our modernity exempts us from its allure.

The Prophet of Profit

Numbers 23.16, 27-28
The Lord met with Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, “Go back to Balak and give him this word.”

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.” And Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor, overlooking the wasteland.

Jude 1.11
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.

Reflection: The Prophet of Profit
By John Tillman

Many Sunday school lessons and sermons about Balaam focus on the most relatable and likeable character in the story—the donkey. Even the deady angel who comes to warn Balaam against colluding with Balak likes the donkey better than the man. The angel goes to the effort to explain that if he had killed Balaam he would have been careful to spare the donkey’s life.

Balaam may seem a minor, unpopular character but he has an impressive string of mentions throughout scripture and seems to enjoy a relationship with God that sounds remarkably similar to that of other prophets in scripture whose ethical principles are far higher. Balaam also makes multiple prophecies about Israel that are not only correct, 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.”

Yet despite his close relationship with God and his ability to hear God speak Balaam seems to show the Lord no loyalty, reverence, or love. He is focused on attempting to do what Balak wants, even when God had prevented him from doing it, he tries again. And again.

As modern believers we 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 huge opportunities for deep study and understanding of the Bible. Not only that, but as Christians we have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit who Christ promised would teach us the Scriptures and what they mean.

But 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, profitable content than blessings. But despite our culture and our tendency to desire to bless ourselves, may we seek God for the joy of his presence, rather than the marketability of his miracles. And may we make our proclamation of God’s Word a blessing to those who hear it and never a curse.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. — Psalm 7.18

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

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

Thank You!
Thank you for reading and a huge thank you to those who donate to our ministry, keeping The Park Forum ad-free and enabling us to continue to produce fresh content. Every year our donors help us produce over 100,000 words of free devotionals. Follow this link to support our readers.

Read more about Political Promises
May we not trade our role as ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom for an inferior role as a political party’s “yes-men.”

Read more about The Seductive Idolatry of Politics
Politics is the idol we bring with us to church just as the Israelites worshiped Baal alongside Jehovah. Israel continued this practice until eventually, altars to Baal were set up in God’s temple supplanting true worship.

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