If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
20 February, Numbers 21-22
There are two miracles presented here, one in each of these chapters. In the first, people who were bitten by venomous snakes could be healed by looking at a bronze serpent on a pole. Apparently this imagery was known throughout the ancient near east, and the Canaanites had serpent idols of similar form. So why does God invite Moses to make what could so easily be taken as an idol, in order to bring genuine healing? Jesus famously made a comparison between “the serpent lifted up in the wilderness” and his own crucifixion, by which he became the saviour of the world. Perhaps the point is that the healing miracle would be dependent on the sufferer’s faith in God, rather than in the image itself, just as salvation through Jesus is always to be through faith and not “magic”.
The other miracle is Balaam’s ass (donkey), which sees the angel that was invisible to its rider, and turned aside three times, being beaten for what Balaam presumed was stubbornness. The donkey then speaks to its rider who does not seem at all astonished by this, and the angel (who had come to warn Balaam not to curse God’s chosen people) is then revealed. What are we to make of all this? It is true that some animals can detect things that humans cannot – there are many stories of dogs or cats apparently seeing ghosts, for example. Some Christians would add that animals can actually have faith in God – after all, Jesus did speak of the “birds of the air” who do not worry because they know that God will feed them. But a talking donkey? That really is a miracle!