Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #40 Balak B’Midbar (Numbers) 22:2-25:9
Haftarah: Mikhah (Micah) 5:6(7)-6:8
B’rit Chadashah: 2 Kefa (Peter) 2:1-22
Although this parashah is read with Parashah #39 in regular years, it is the focus teaching for this week. Therefore, I am presenting this teaching from a deeper perspective than that covered last week.
This week we will examine the character of Balaam the son of B’or as the focus of this week’s parashah. Understanding his character and his sin will facilitate our understanding of why the pig is considered the epitome of uncleanliness. Swine is the only animal that appears to be kosher on the outside while being unclean on the inside. Unlike the pig however, Balaam is even more unclean because he had free will and chose a life of engaging in pagan soothsaying that is an abomination. New International Version (©2011) “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft,…”
Bil’am is a name with an uncertain etymology. However, it has been translated in Jewish and Christian literature as meaning glutton or foreigner. Balaam loved money and prestige more than truth and who ended up in hell. The reasons for such judgment are not so much in the “Book of Balaam” (Num.22:2-24:25) as in the latter passages in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, all of which paint a negative description of him. Deuteronomy 23:6 reads “G-d refused to heed Balaam,” suggesting that Balaam had intended to carry out Balak’s wish. Joshua 13:22 calls Balaam a soothsayer or sorcerer (kosem), and notes he was killed by the Israelites in their war with the Midianites. Numbers 31:16 makes Balaam responsible for inducing Israel to go “whoring,” an incident reported at the conclusion and his failure of his mission to curse the nation.
There are four oracles involved in this parashah: a miracle when an animal can see what man cannot; a slowly building drama with G-d as both Balaam’s confidant and counterfoil; and Balaam himself, a pagan soothsayer who is on speaking terms with G-d, a man driven by a Force he cannot control, whose oracles can be said to summarize the revelation of G-d’s purpose for Israel.
To the uninitiated in the four levels of scriptural understanding (PaRDeS), there would seem to be many contradictions. Some passages associate Balaam with Midian, most others with Moab. G-d allows Balaam to go Num. 22:20 but previously forbade him to go with Balak’s men (Num. 22:12) and is angry with him when he goes. Balaam would have Balak believe he is a man of G-d but he clearly violates G-d’s instructions not to go with Balak’s men and not to curse Israel. Balaam delivers four prophecies in place of the curses desired and expected by Balak. In the first two he proclaims that he is speaking in the Name of G-d; both times Balak fails to grasp that his intention has been thwarted. Blinded by deep-seated preconceptions, he thinks that mechanical preparations for the oracles are incomplete and that, if proper arrangements can be made, Balaam will pronounce the desired curses.
At times G-d uses the vilest individuals to accomplish His will. So, it is with this narrative. Balaam’s oracles are cast in poetic form. They sing of Israel, its place among the nations, and its relationship to G-d. G-d places these oracles in Balaam’s mouth against his will to curse Israel.
The oracles of Balaam describe the entire history of Israel and its relationship to G-d. This concept is similar to examining rocks from the Grand Canyon. The entire history of the canyon is represented in the rock. In the first oracle, Balaam speaks of Israel’s nature, of its protection from curse and foe. Can you imagine how Balaam must have felt with these words coming from his mouth when he believed Israel could be cursed and accepted the job to curse Israel himself? In the second oracle Balaam speaks of G-d’s unalterable promise to Israel and His continuing presence in its midst. In the third oracle Balaam sings of the beauty of Israel’s habitation and predicts that Israel will be victorious over its enemies. This beautiful irony comes full circle as Balaam prepares to return home. He prophecies once again legitimizing his own special connection with G-d and then predicting the downfall of Moab and some of the neighboring nations. Balak who sought to curse Israel is instead cursed himself. Balaam’s error and the source of his wickedness came from sabotaging the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land. According to Numbers 31:16 and St. John (Revelation 2:14), Balaam returned to King Balak and informed the king on how to get the Israelites to curse themselves by enticing them with prostitutes and unclean food sacrificed to idols. The Israelites fell into transgression due to these traps and God sent a deadly plague to them as a result (Numbers 31:16).
The Power of a Curse
The Torah approaches the act of pronouncing fateful words- both for good and evil- with great seriousness. Among ancient and primitive peoples, a curse was considered a method of translating harmful efforts into reality. The belief in curses was current among the Babylonians, who relied on professional sorcerers such as Balaam to curse their enemies before battle. It was also current among the Israelites also as evidenced by description of several cases in the Bible. For example, when children mocked the prophet Elisha, he “cursed them in the name of the L-rd. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood and tore forth and two children of them” (II Kings 2:23, 24). The invocation of a curse also played a role in the ordeal of jealousy, when the words of the curse were rubbed from the scroll into the bitter water, which was then drunk by the woman accused of adultery (Num. 5:11-29).
The Ass has the Last Word
Traditional Jewish and Christian interpreters considered the ass which opened its mouth to rebuke its master as a religious wonder, and its speech a miracle designed to magnify G-d’s name and to demonstrate His special love for Israel. It is G-f who gives speech and controls it in both man and beast. This narrative utilizes its imagery to make a point of great importance. That is that a great and powerful man was incapable of seeing what a dumb ass could see and that however exalted a human being-or however close to G-d- his vision was limited and his sureness frail. The main burden of this story, which is full of irony and subtle humor, is not in fact the speaking but the seeing ass, contrasted with the prophet who looks and yet is blind. Over against both man and beast stands their Creator, and in their common physical frailness they are bound to the ultimate purposes of G-d.
Points to Ponder
Why did Balak compare Israel to an ox licking the grass (Num. 22:4)? Because the ox uses his tongue to conquer, and so does Israel, a people who conquer with the power of the tongue and the word. As Israel relies on words of prayer and blessing, so Balak wanted Balaam to counteract his foes with words of curses.
At first G-d told Balaam not to go with the men sent by Balak. When he insisted through repetitive questioning of G-d, he was given permission to go. From this we learn just as in the case of Pharaoh, G-d lets man go the way which he chooses. But the choice to contradict or act against G-d’s will is certainly not without consequences.
Even though Balak knew cursing Israel was contrary to G-d’s will, he insisted on trying to his own destruction. So it will be with every enemy of Israel.
With respect to G-d, “once” means once and for all. He who tries to find out if G-d has changed his mind or if His rules really apply to him will be punished. If we cannot take G-d’s unequivocal word as sufficient as when He told Balaam not to go with the men, then the next time G-d will without fail speak the words of the demon that is within us; “you may go.”
Haftarah: Mikhah (Micah) 5:6(7)-6:8
The prophet Micah saw the Balaam story as a counterpart to that of the Exodus; A te beginning of the wandering, G-d manifested his love for Israel by thwarting Pharaoh’s plans and physically demonstrating a power far and above that of Pharaoh’s magicians. Forty years later at the gates of the Promised Land he opposed the last foe so that Israel “might know the righteous acts of the L-rd” (Micah 6:4, 5). Micah prophesies about what will occur after the war of Gog and Magog, the war which precedes the coming of the Messiah and the Final Redemption.
“And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples — like dew sent by G‑d, like torrents of rain upon vegetation that does not hope for any man and does not wait for the sons of men.” The prophet describes how G‑d will remove the idols and sorcerers and how He will destroy the Jews’ enemies.
The prophet Micah then goes on to rebuke the Jewish people for not observing G‑d’s commandments, calling as witness the “mountains and hills” — a reference to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs — and reminding them of the great things G‑d had done for them. He took them out of Egypt and replaced the curses that Balaam son of Beor wanted to utter against them with blessings.
The Jewish people respond by saying that they do not know how to serve G‑d and ask for guidance. The prophet reminds them of the Torah, and that all they need to do is contained within it: “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what G‑d demands of you: but to do justice, love kindness, and walk discreetly with your G‑d.”
B’rit Chadashah: 2 Kefa (Peter) 2:1-22
Peter warns the people that there will be false prophets in the future as cunning as Balaam. There are false prophets today and it is sad to see how easily people who profess to be believers fall for these charlatans (2 Pet. 2:2). Peter tells us there will be many who will fall. As a result, the true Way will be maligned just as true Messianic Judaism is maligned by Christian churches who adopt some of the Jewish rituals and practices and call themselves Messianic without teaching the truth of G-d’s Torah. We also see this prophecy fulfilled through the actions of our government. Microchips for pets and babies under the guise of protection is only the beginning; a bait and switch tactic., monitoring of private phone calls and internet communications; and targeting groups who oppose the government. Peter reminds us that such people are bringing destruction upon themselves. Not simply punishment, these people will be sent to Hell (2 Pet. 2:3-6; 12-13). Peter recalls the events at S’dom and ‘Amora as a warning to people who choose to live anti-Torah lives. But lest the righteous among such people fear indiscriminate destruction, Peter assures the believer that G-d knows how to recognize and save out true believers from trials and condemnation to Hell (2 Pet. 2:9-10). True believers must be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves in the midst of such people. For like their father (satan), they prowl about in our social circles, eating and drinking with us in attempts to bring us down to their level (2 Pet. 2:14).
A sobering reality is that many of these people once followed the “straight path” but fell away and now follow the path of Balaam “who loved the wages of doing harm” (2 Pet. 2:15). This passage provides further proof that the doctrine of “once-saved always-saved” is a false doctrine. These people speak of things that have no significant meaning only to aggrandize themselves (2 Pet. 2:18).
More sobering is that people who come to know the Truth of G-d’s Torah and then fall away into apostasy in one form or another are worse off than those who never came to the knowledge of Yahshua as Messiah and His Torah: “ It would have been better for them not to have known the Way of righteousness than, fully knowing, to turn from the holy command delivered to them. What has happened to them accords with the true proverb,’ a dog returns to its own vomit.’” Yes the pig washed itself, only to wallow in the mud.” (2 Pet. 2:21-22). Balaam was the perfect illustration of this concept and type of evil disguised as holy and acceptable mentioned in the opening paragraph of this teaching. We should carefully consider Peter’s words and internalize them so as we are exposed to such people, we separate ourselves physically and spiritually and arm ourselves with G-d’s Torah. Some of these people will be those closest to us. However, there are no exceptions when it comes to putting G-d and His Torah first. Our current times are just a preview of coming events. We must study, pray, and show ourselves approved before G-d for He will be our shelter in the midst of the storm.
- Tamah Davis