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The Bible In A Year: Day 69

Numbers 23-24
Psalm 66
Luke 1:26-56

Numbers 23-24

Balaam the prophet and Balak the king both go up on top of a hill that overlooks where the Israelites had camped at the border of Moab. After initially refusing to go to the king, Balaam was told by God to go and only say what he’s told to say. So now here he is, and after offering sacrifices he prays and receives an oracle about Israel.

He delivered the oracle and it’s nothing but good things. This displeased the king, but he had been forewarned that Balaam wouldn’t curse the Israelites unless that was what he received from God.

He decides to try again from another place, and it’s the same story. He blesses Israel and refuses to curse them. He does this three times and then Balak tells him to leave, but before he does, Balaam offers a fourth prophecy. This one is very interesting for several reasons.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come forth 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.

Numbers 24:17

This is obviously a prophecy of the greatest of Israelite kings, and that’s king David. He united all the tribes, and created a kingdom who’s dynasty lasted through the entire lifespan of the southern kingdom of Judah, and with the birth of Jesus, it continues forever.

It is also a prophecy about Jesus, because David was a type and forerunner of Jesus. He was the son of David and the king of all the tribes of the earth. And there’s evidence that Balaam was a well known prophet in the lands east of Israel, who spoke of a star rising out of Israel, so it’s possible that this prophecy is part of what inspired the Magi to seek out the one whom the star was pointing to.

And there’s also a very interesting historical connection to this prophecy that changed world history. During the first Jewish revolt, the emperor Nero sent a general named Vespasian to put down the rabble and restore order. While in Judea, he comes across a Jewish rebel/historian who changes sides after being captured in AD 67. During his time in captivity, Josephus became very close with Vespasian and his son Titus, and shared with them many prophecies about a coming king in Judea who Josephus was growing increasingly convinced was Vespasian himself.

The next year, AD68, Nero has a rebellion against him brewing in Gaul, he then has a falling out with the senate and is declared an “enemy of the state” leading him to flee, but ultimately committing suicide. The governor of Hispania is proclaimed emperor Galba by the senate, but less that a year later he is dead and the multi faceted civil war simmers on.

It’s unclear if he really believed Josephus that he was the great king prophecied about by Balaam in Numbers 24:17, but he played it up like he did. Now knowing that there’s no stable candidate for emperor, Vespasian makes his play. He leaves his son Titus in charge of moping up in Judea (it’s Titus that eventually destroys the temple and burns down Jerusalem in AD70), and he heads for Rome. He eventually wins this mess and is the last man standing in what becomes known as the Year of the Four Emperors.

According to church historian Eusebius, Vespasian order the hunting down of all descendants of the line of David. This led to a Jewish persecution outside of Judea and was a way for him to eliminate any other claimants to the throne of David. But apparently he was unaware that he was almost 40 years too late in that respect.

After his victory he adopts the man who may have put this all in his head by telling him about these prophecies. Josephus takes on the Flavian family name of Vespasian, and will from then on be known as Flavius Josephus.

So Balaam’s prophecy ended up influencing a Roman general to take the imperial throne, and set up the Flavian dynasty that would rule Rome with more of an iron fisted military-type dictatorship than any previous government, and would eventually have one of the most brutal emperors in regards to Christian persecution sitting on the throne.

Luke 1:26-56

It’s now six months after he appeared to Zachariah in the temple, and now Gabriel appears to a young Jewish girl in Nazareth. Her name was Mary, and this conversation they have changes not just world history, but salvation history and everything else. When Mary gives her “yes” to the angel, she accepts the plan of God and his perfect will for the incarnation of his son to come and take away the sins of the world.

Eve said yes to an angel, and accepted his offer of taking control of her will and life into her own hands, and by doing so she caused the downfall of mankind. Mary also says yes to an angel, but her yes is a submission to the will of God, not grasping at the prerogatives of God, but a humble and faith filled submission. This is the recapitulation of the fall and the first sin of our first parents.

Gabriel greets Mary with “hail, full of grace” and this, along with the greeting of her cousin Elizabeth form the beginning of the great Catholic prayer, the Hail Mary. (See The Biblical Foundations Of The Hail Mary Prayer for more on this)

When the Blessed Mother asks how this is going to happen, she’s not doubting it will happen, she’s just wondering what the plan is because she’s a virgin and is being told she’s going to give birth Son of God. Unlike Zachariah, who questioned how this would be possible, Mary believed what she was hearing, she just wanted to know the how. This is why Zachariah is called out by Gabriel for his questioning, while Mary doesn’t receive a rebuke.

When Mary arrives in the village outside Jerusalem where John the Baptist is born, she is greeted by her cousin and the baby in her womb. Mary then sings a song of praise, that glorifies God and gives him honors and praise. It is still recited and prayed by the church as one of the most beautiful songs of praise to God.

Tomorrow’s Readings:
Numbers 25-27
Psalm 67
Luke 1:57-80

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