24 1-3 By now Balaam realized that God wanted to bless Israel. So he didn’t work in any sorcery as he had done earlier. He turned and looked out over the wilderness. As Balaam looked, he saw Israel camped tribe by tribe. The Spirit of God came on him, and he spoke his oracle-message:
3-9 Decree of Balaam son of Beor,
yes, decree of a man with 20/20 vision;
Decree of a man who hears God speak,
who sees what The Strong God shows him,
Who falls on his face in worship,
who sees what’s really going on.
What beautiful tents, Jacob,
oh, your homes, Israel!
Like valleys stretching out in the distance,
like gardens planted by rivers,
Like sweet herbs planted by the gardener God,
like red cedars by pools and springs,
Their buckets will brim with water,
their seed will spread life everywhere.
Their king will tower over Agag and his ilk,
their kingdom surpassingly majestic.
God brought them out of Egypt,
rampaging like a wild ox,
Gulping enemies like morsels of meat,
crushing their bones, snapping their arrows.
Israel crouches like a lion and naps,
king-of-the-beasts—who dares disturb him?
Whoever blesses you is blessed,
whoever curses you is cursed.
10-11 Balak lost his temper with Balaam. He shook his fist. He said to Balaam: “I got you in here to curse my enemies and what have you done? Blessed them! Blessed them three times! Get out of here! Go home! I told you I would pay you well, but you’re getting nothing. You can blame God.”
12-15 Balaam said to Balak, “Didn’t I tell you up front when you sent your emissaries, ‘Even if Balak gave me his palace stuffed with silver and gold, I couldn’t do anything on my own, whether good or bad, that went against God’s command’? I’m leaving for home and my people, but I warn you of what this people will do to your people in the days to come.” Then he spoke his oracle-message:
15-19 Decree of Balaam son of Beor,
decree of the man with 20/20 vision,
Decree of the man who hears godly speech,
who knows what’s going on with the High God,
Who sees what The Strong God reveals,
who bows in worship and sees what’s real.
I see him, but not right now,
I perceive him, but not right here;
A star rises from Jacob
a scepter from Israel,
Crushing the heads of Moab,
the skulls of all the noisy windbags;
I see Edom sold off at auction,
enemy Seir marked down at the flea market,
while Israel walks off with the trophies.
A ruler is coming from Jacob
who’ll destroy what’s left in the city.
20 Then Balaam spotted Amalek and delivered an oracle-message. He said,
Amalek, you’re in first place among nations right now,
but you’re going to come in last, ruined.
21-22 He saw the Kenites and delivered his oracle-message to them:
Your home is in a nice secure place,
like a nest high on the face of a cliff.
Still, you Kenites will look stupid
when Asshur takes you prisoner.
23-24 Balaam spoke his final oracle-message:
Doom! Who stands a chance
when God starts in?
Sea-Peoples, raiders from across the sea,
will harass Asshur and Eber,
But they’ll also come to nothing,
just like all the rest.
25 Balaam got up and went home. Balak also went on his way.
The Orgy at Shittim
25 1-3 While Israel was camped at Shittim (Acacia Grove), the men began to have sex with the Moabite women. It started when the women invited the men to their sex-and-religion worship. They ate together and then worshiped their gods. Israel ended up joining in the worship of the Baal of Peor. God was furious, his anger blazing out against Israel.
4 God said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of Israel and kill them by hanging, leaving them publicly exposed in order to turn God’s anger away from Israel.”
5 Moses issued orders to the judges of Israel: “Each of you must execute the men under your jurisdiction who joined in the worship of Baal Peor.”
6-9 Just then, while everyone was weeping in penitence at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, an Israelite man, flaunting his behavior in front of Moses and the whole assembly, paraded a Midianite woman into his family tent. Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw what he was doing, grabbed his spear, and followed them into the tent. With one thrust he drove the spear through the two of them, the man of Israel and the woman, right through their private parts. That stopped the plague from continuing among the People of Israel. But 24,000 had already died.
10-13 God spoke to Moses: “Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has stopped my anger against the People of Israel. Because he was as zealous for my honor as I myself am, I didn’t kill all the People of Israel in my zeal. So tell him that I am making a Covenant-of-Peace with him. He and his descendants are joined in a covenant of eternal priesthood, because he was zealous for his God and made atonement for the People of Israel.”
14-15 The name of the man of Israel who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the head of the Simeonite family. And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family.
16-18 God spoke to Moses: “From here on make the Midianites your enemies. Fight them tooth and nail. They turned out to be your enemies when they seduced you in the business of Peor and that woman Cozbi, daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed at the time of the plague in the matter of Peor.”
The Birth of Jesus
2 1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.
An Event for Everyone
8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
21 When the eighth day arrived, the day of circumcision, the child was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.
22-24 Then when the days stipulated by Moses for purification were complete, they took him up to Jerusalem to offer him to God as commanded in God’s Law: “Every male who opens the womb shall be a holy offering to God,” and also to sacrifice the “pair of doves or two young pigeons” prescribed in God’s Law.
25-32 In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:
God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.
33-35 Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,
This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.
A David Psalm, When Saul Set a Watch on David’s House in Order to Kill Him
59 1-2 My God! Rescue me from my enemies,
defend me from these mutineers.
Rescue me from their dirty tricks,
save me from their hit men.
3-4 Desperadoes have ganged up on me,
they’re hiding in ambush for me.
I did nothing to deserve this, God,
crossed no one, wronged no one.
All the same, they’re after me,
determined to get me.
4-5 Wake up and see for yourself! You’re God,
God-of-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God!
Get on the job and take care of these pagans,
don’t be soft on these hard cases.
6-7 They return when the sun goes down,
They howl like coyotes, ringing the city.
Then suddenly they’re all at the gate,
Snarling invective, drawn daggers in their teeth.
They think they’ll never get caught.
8-10 But you, God, break out laughing;
you treat the godless nations like jokes.
Strong God, I’m watching you do it,
I can always count on you.
God in dependable love shows up on time,
shows me my enemies in ruin.
11-13 Don’t make quick work of them, God,
lest my people forget.
Bring them down in slow motion,
take them apart piece by piece.
Let all their mean-mouthed arrogance
catch up with them,
Catch them out and bring them down
—every muttered curse
—every barefaced lie.
Finish them off in fine style!
Finish them off for good!
Then all the world will see
that God rules well in Jacob,
everywhere that God’s in charge.
14-15 They return when the sun goes down,
They howl like coyotes, ringing the city.
They scavenge for bones,
And bite the hand that feeds them.
16-17 And me? I’m singing your prowess,
shouting at cockcrow your largesse,
For you’ve been a safe place for me,
a good place to hide.
Strong God, I’m watching you do it,
I can always count on you—
God, my dependable love.
14 Without good direction, people lose their way;
the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.