5O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
I like that line. I also like the Hebrew that just hangs out there “from Shittim to Gilgal.” It is one of those little phrases that the hearer understands.
Shittim was the last encampment after 40 years in the wilderness. From there they crossed the Jordan River and made their first encampment in the Promised Land at Gilgal. From Shittim to Gilgal represents the fulfillment of God’s promise. It is like saying “the grave is empty” – you don’t have to explain whose grave, when and where; we know what this means.
From Shittim to Gilgal. Israel had been led out from Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea. With the Egyptian army behind them and the sea in front of them it seemed as though their journey to freedom would fail. But the breath/wind of God blew through the night and at morning there was a path. They crossed on dry ground.
Forty years later, Israel is again at the edge of its promised future. King Balak of Moab, the kingdom east of the Jordan River, fearing this great host, hires the holy man/prophet Balaam to pronounce a curse on this people. Words are power; they create what they speak. It is a powerful weapon. But every time Balaam opens his mouth, out comes a blessing. God has chosen to bless.
But the Jordan is at flood stage. God tells the priests to lead the way and stand in the river holding the Ark of the Covenant, the sign of God’s promise and presence. God promises that, again, they shall cross on dry land. As the priests step into the river, the flow of water ceases – and the deliverance from Egypt is lived anew as the people enter in to the fulfillment of God’s ancient promise. Slaves are free. The homeless receive a home. The landless receive a land of milk and honey.
From Shittim to Gilgal. But there is a wound in this story. For at Shittim the Israelites were seduced into worshipping the god of Moab, the Ba’al of Peor. After all God had done, after the 40 years wandering due to their faithlessness, in sight of the fulfillment of God’s promise, they are led astray to bow to other gods. They are faithless – but God is faithful.
From Shittim to Gilgal. From Good Friday to Easter. From our frailty to God’s unfathomable faithfulness. Remember. The prophet says these two words: from_Shittim to_Gilgal, and the whole story of faithlessness and faithfulness is spoken. And the people of Micah’s day are asked to remember – and to return: to return to the path of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with their faithful God.